Miss Lou, the defender of Jamaican culture
Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (right), minister of culture, gender affairs, entertainment and sport, greets Miss Lou’s son, Fabian Coverley (centre), and Professor Mervyn Morris (left), Poet Laureate of Jamaica, at the recent launch of Miss Lou Archives at the National Library of Jamaica.
GETTING MANY of Jamaica’s colonially educated persons to value aspects of Jamaican Heritage was a task that Louise Bennett-Coverley (‘Miss Lou’) stuck to throughout her life, despite much opposition.
Miss Lou, who was a poet, writer and folklorist, was chastised, particularly during the earlier stages of her career, for the language she used in her work, which many felt did not coincide with what was supposedly accepted dialect.
As told by Professor Mervin Morris, Poet Laureate of Jamaica, at one of Miss Lou’s early performances, delivering Creole material, a voice called out from the audience, “A dat your modda send you a school fah?”
“In 1943 when The Gleaner started publishing a column of her verse each week, there were people writing to say no one will be able to speak the standard language (English) if Louise Bennett is allowed to continue. But she said, ‘mi never tek notice, and The Gleaner never tek notice, because Gleaner was a sell’,” Morris told a gathering at the launch of the Louise Bennett Archives at the National Library of Jamaica last Friday.
To Morris, Miss Lou was a profoundly influential figure in the development of our selfconfidence as a people. She was seen as someone who spoke the Jamaican language with love, and one who represented her people well.
“She investigated and taught Jamaicans about the beliefs and practices inherited from African ancestors, which were transplanted in the Caribbean. Miss Lou’s nationalism did not seek to exclude. Its mission was to deepen self-recognition and to encourage respect. She was also a diligent researcher who became an authority on Jamaican language and culture, and she was a sensitive teacher, formally and informally, of adults as well as children,” Morris said.
Miss Lou simply promoted a language that most of the people of Jamaica could understand and relate to.