What will hap­pen to Her­itage Tourism if Cre­ole Dies?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michele-Lau­ren Hack­shaw

The Cre­ole lan­guage is part of Saint Lu­cia’s cul­ture; it goes way back to the ini­ti­a­tion of the African slave trade. Peo­ple from West Africa could not com­mu­ni­cate with their French mas­ters due to the lan­guage bar­rier so they com­bined French with the African lan­guage and Cre­ole was birthed.

Even though most Saint Lu­cians cel­e­brate the is­land’s cul­ture with tra­di­tion­ally fes­tive cus­toms, it is hard not to no­tice that the Cre­ole lnaguage, an es­sen­tial to­ken of who we are, is hardly ap­pre­ci­ated, let alone passed down through the gen­er­a­tions. What we have to­day is a sit­u­a­tion where only seg­ments of our pop­u­la­tion are able to speak the lan­guage flu­ently, mostly in the ru­ral parts of the is­land. It’s a dif­fer­ent story al­to­gether for oth­ers, some of whom were raised in homes where par­ents didn’t bother to teach the di­alect, or per­haps didn’t speak much of it them­selves.

I found my­self re­cently con­tem­plat­ing why stu­dents didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to learn Cre­ole in the class­room; we were taught French and Span­ish, lan­guages most of us don’t use at all, or have since for­got­ten. In other parts of the world where English is not the first lan­guage, it is com­pul­sory to learn it at school. So why not a sim­i­lar prac­tice here in Saint Lu­cia where in some parts of the is­land, Cre­ole is es­sen­tial for clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion?

This week found me sit­ting at the Folk Re­search Cen­tre with Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Mr Hilary Laforce. Just as I’d sus­pected, he in­formed me that there had been in the past, and still ex­isted, a stigma; a trend of thought that sug­gested Cre­ole, or pa­tois, was for the il­lit­er­ate, there­fore par­ents never both­ered to teach, or learn for them­selves how to speak the lan­guage. In some cases, they be­lieved it would af­fect their com­pe­tency in English.

Laforce said over the years Cre­ole had been spo­ken on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio, and noted two ra­dio sta­tions in Saint Lu­cia, Hot FM and Ra­dio Saint Lu­cia, as hav­ing heavy Cre­ole pro­gram­ming. Even with the chal­lenges, the FRC Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor said Cre­ole was cur­rently the most pop­u­lar lan­guage of CARI­COM.

I ex­pressed to him my be­lief that nowa­days youth who can­not speak Cre­ole wish to learn the di­alect, and that the in­tro­duc­tion of the ‘Den­nery Seg­ment’ has some­what in­flu­enced per­sons to speak the lan­guage. Laforce agreed though he added that the songs con­tained therein don’t al­ways have the most “ap­pro­pri­ate” con­tent. Still, he was of the opin­ion that it was per­haps “one of the medi­ums that can be used to push the cre­ole lan­guage”.

I left my meet­ing at the FRC feel­ing a lit­tle more hope­ful that Cre­ole is not dy­ing. Sim­i­lar di­alects are spo­ken in other coun­tries in the Caribbean in­clud­ing Do­minica, Guade­loupe, Mar­tinique and Haiti. Just last week­end Mar­tini­quan rapper Kalash per­formed in Saint Lu­cia, his first per­for­mance in an English-speak­ing coun­try, and the artist ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion that the event had man­aged to bring to­gether the French­s­peak­ing Caribbean.

In his words: “Ev­ery­body can see that we can live to­gether, Mar­tinique, Saint Lu­cia, and Guadaloupe. I like when ev­ery­body gets to­gether.”

The pres­ence of the artist on is­land added to the in­flux of French visi­tors flock­ing to Saint Lu­cian shores in re­cent times for var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing Cre­ole month. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Saint Lu­cians and their French-speak­ing neigh­bours has been blos­som­ing over time, much due to ease of com­mu­ni­ca­tion when com­pared to other nearby ter­ri­to­ries.

Last month at a press con­fer­ence Min­is­ter of Tourism Do­minic Fedee opined that Saint Lu­cia sim­ply could not ex­pect to thrive on beaches and sand alone.

“What we’re sell­ing now is our cul­ture and the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing Saint Lu­cian,” he said. Tourism was, af­ter, all Saint Lu­cia’s most es­sen­tial in­dus­try, and if we’re not able to, or we are not taught how to speak our mother tongue, how do we ex­pect to sell and em­brace our cul­ture?

There’s no get­ting around it. The ben­e­fits of em­brac­ing Cre­ole are end­less - if not for cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, then for laughs; we all know di­rect trans­la­tions never do any jus­tice!

In my in­ter­view with the FRC Di­rec­tor he’d brought into fo­cus a quote by Mar­cus Gar­vey: “A peo­ple with­out knowl­edge of their past his­tory, ori­gin and cul­ture is like a tree with­out roots.”

When we learn our past, ori­gin and cul­ture then we know who we truly are. I be­lieve teach­ing Cre­ole in schools is some­thing that should be con­sid­ered; I know my­self and many oth­ers wish they’d had the op­tion to learn how to speak pa­tios be­cause we do ac­tu­ally want to be able to un­der­stand and speak our mother tongue, so­cialise, and pass it on. Af­ter all, we are Saint Lu­cian!

‘Young Ladies’ paint­ing by Jonathan Guy-Gladding. Lo­cally-based ar­ti­sans seek to cap­ture the essence of Saint Lu­cia in their work, in an at­tempt to help keep cul­ture and tra­di­tion alive.

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