Lest We For­get Se­senne!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - CULTURE - By Keith­lin Ca­roo

If you’re a Saint Lu­cian, then you know the sig­nif­i­cance of the name Se­senne Descartes, and if you’re a mil­len­nial like me, then the name brings to life im­ages of Jounen Kwéyòl and folk singing with­out truly un­der­stand­ing the im­pact of this ‘chantwelle’ (folk singer). At first I re­ally didn’t mean to make this ar­ti­cle a “Did you know” piece but I can’t help my­self be­cause of all I’ve come to learn about the cul­tural queen.

While it’s right to equate Se­senne’s con­tri­bu­tions to folk singing with the preser­va­tion of cul­ture, she was quite the rebel; one could even say Saint Lucia’s first fe­male cul­tural ac­tivist. Let me ex­plain: while we live in a time when, for the most part, the Kwéyòl lan­guage has be­come syn­ony­mous with Saint Lu­cian cul­ture, in Se­senne’s days, Kwéyòl speak­ing and even the cus­toms of flower fes­ti­vals were frowned upon, and in some cases pro­hib­ited, by the British elite who gov­erned the is­land. While I can go on and on about Dame Se­senne’s bi­og­ra­phy, what strikes me is her per­sis­tence in pre­serv­ing Cre­ole cul­ture and her non­con­for­mance to colo­nial laws that were put in place to erase our Cre­ole her­itage.

We know the his­tory of the Har­lem Re­nais­sance and names like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, who used their art as cul­tural ac­tivism against racism, and the Jim Crow era in the South of the United States; but we don’t quite rec­og­nize the con­tri­bu­tions of our own like Se­senne, who mu­si­cally took a stance against British colo­nial­ism and its ef­forts to frag­ment Saint Lu­cian so­ci­ety and to make us loathe what is our own.

I grew up with par­ents who told me that at one point they were treated with con­tempt for speak­ing Cre­ole be­cause it was a “bush” lan­guage, but that’s how colo­nial­ism works, right? Our for­mer “mas­ters” told us that our lan­guage was un­re­fined, and in many ways we be­lieved it. To­day, Cre­ole is a her­itage cel­e­brated around the world, and it is very present in the mu­sic and cul­ture that is ex­ported from Saint Lucia (just look at the rise of Den­nery Seg­ment).

Sim­ply put, a Saint Lucia with­out the con­tri­bu­tion of Se­senne, is a Saint Lucia that I would not want to call home. So now when I hear the Taboo Melee, shak-shak or even see the madras cloth, they won’t be sym­bols of pa­tri­o­tism that I don’t un­der­stand, but will rep­re­sent a vic­tory over colo­nial strug­gle. All praise to you Se­senne, a true “Cul­tural Rebel”. He­len’s Daugh­ters is a Saint Lu­cian non-profit with a spe­cial fo­cus on ru­ral women’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment through im­proved mar­ket ac­cess, adap­tive agri­cul­tural tech­niques, and ca­pac­i­ty­build­ing. It was formed in 2016 in a win­ning pro­posal for UN Women Em­power Women Cham­pi­ons for Change Pro­gram. To learn more about the ini­tia­tive, you can visit: Face­book page: He­len’s Daugh­ters In­sta­gram page: he­lens­daugh­ters.slu Web­site: he­lens­daugh­ters.org

Dame Se­senne Descartes; she was a true cul­tural rebel.

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