Language is the foundation of civilization and without a systematic form of communication used and understood by all, then nothing could ever be done. Language is older than history, so the actual birth of language, metaphorically speaking, took place too long ago to be recorded. However, in Waitikubuli we are lucky to be able to live at an exciting time when there is the opportunity to fully create a language from the bottom up-our ”lange maman nou” Creole tongue.
Our creole language was in danger of becoming extinct with the coming of increased access to radio and the proper English BBC news until the Leblanc administration of the sixties introduced the National Day Gala with its ‘patwa’ dominated competitions. However there was a disdainful and dismissive attitude towards it by the Roseau based population who referred to the participants as clownish ‘country bookie”.
At the end of the sixteenth century, European expansion and colonization was a primary catalyst for many of the Creoles known today. In the horrible days of the African slave trade after months of being together and coming from different backgrounds the slaves were ingenious enough to create a makeshift language or pidgin to facilitate interaction.. In Waitikubuli the slaves adopted a French pidgin and in time it was adopted by the community as a language, becoming creole through a process of expansion of vocabulary and grammar called creolisation.
The capitalist and materialistic culture of America and Europe is still enslaving the culture of Waitikubuli. In the seventies the late Orlando (PIWI) Peltier and followed later by the Gaylords Power Union Talent Committee held weekly talent shows in the then Carib Cinema and the talent leaned towards foreign cultures. It is the same today though it had been hoped that with the introduction of Cadence. Zook, and Bouyon it would have been less so but it cannot be when it appears that the biggest thing in our World Creole Music Festival (WCMF) is most times a reggae band from Jamaica. I am not knocking reggae the Bob Marley estate earned USD17 million in the last 12 months and set to do it again. If our island home is not to be absorbed, we must struggle to keep the things that identify us and one of them is our Creole tongue which for us could be more properly called Kweyol..
I recall in 1969 when the band, with which I performed, the Gaylords Power Union (GPU), released its first album titled ‘To Dominica with Love’ one of the efforts I made, as a composer and producer of the album was to include ‘patwa’ in the lyrics of some of the songs. Some fans of the GPU were totally disgusted and made me hear that in really creative, yes, ‘patwa’.
I decided to continue when I was appointed Manager of Radio Dominica in 1975. and successfully sought to change the name to (Dominica Broadcasting Service)DBS. I then took up the challenge with the support of the staff of introducing for the first time regular ‘patwa’ programs. This set off a firestorm placing the station staff and myself in the line of sickening attacks from a significant section of the population who promoted a “high culture” and who saw ‘patwa’ as a ‘dirty language’ and an expression of social and intellectual backwardness. Ferdinand Frampton with his engaging ‘patwa’ style was the station’s front man on air at that time.
Even our promotion of Cadence Music by its creators Exile One and others like, yes, Jeff Joseph and Grammacks though it seems unbelievable today, met with stiff criticism by those who simply believed that anything with local ‘patwa’ was degrading. But I refused to budge and though there was this resistance to cadence music dominating DBS music output it was that very music that brought out the formidable talent of our artists and a number of bands were formed that ended up in Guadeloupe joyfully performing ‘patwa’ songs and adopting the description of their music style as Creole music. It was satisfying that by the time I left the station four years later the ‘patwa’ programs had become so popular that no one would have dared put the brakes on them. By then it was known as Creole.
In the years 1975 – 1979 in particular DBS Radio stood like a linguistic agent in the continued resistance to outside domination of the island’s culture. The station struggled against the notions that denounced ‘patwa’ because it emerged from black slaves and was the language ghettoed to the “country folk.” Today our creole tongue surges as King every time we hit the month of October and we hear of multitudes of things that are Creole. It is time to formalize and teach the language in our schools and use this gift more productively and indeed more proudly. It is time that the language be truly crowned and be part of our formal learning experience. It is time to work on it and text book it. After all we teach Spanish and French in our schools, why not our mother’s tongue?
P.S : Please note that my final article in this series will be next week. Based and depending on your reviews and feedback to the editor the series will continue in January 2013.
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