October 28, 2014 marks the 31st Anniversary of International Creole Day. This has special significance for Dominica and the rest of the creole community of nations. Dominica in particular was instrumental in the establishment of this special day.
The first Joune Kwéyòl or Creole Day was held in Dominica in October 1981. In May 1983, members of Bann Zil Kwéyòl, met in Louisiana, USA and decided that October 28 would be observed as International Creole Day. As a result, International Creole Day was observed on October 28, 1983 for the very first time.
In time, the celebrations evolved to a week and then a month. October is generally regarded as Creole Heritage month. Activities are diverse and include festivals such as the World Creole Music Festival in Dominica, Festival Kreol in Seychelles and Joune Kwéyòl in St. Lucia.
Other festivals have sprung up based on the creole theme. These include Festival Kriol Jazz (Cape Verde) Jazz n’ Creole (Dominica), Creole Blues Festival (Marie Galante/Guadeloupe), Ilo Jazz Festival (Guadeloupe), Lamentin Jazz Festival (Martinique) and Jazz in the South (St. Lucia).
Thirty one years on, the impact of Creole Day and creole cultural advocacy is apparent in the affirmation and consolidation of a creole cultural identity in Bann Zil member countries as well as the growth of the cultural industries such as music, entertainment, cuisine and fashion. The tourism sector, notably hotels, restaurants, bars and night entertainment, has benefited.
Kwéyòl has received official recognition and has been elevated to national or official languages in Haiti and Seychelles. Kwéyòl is a subject in the school curriculum in the Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana, Haiti and Seychelles. Standard orthographies (writing systems) have been developed by individual countries. With this, a body of literature including dictionaries, textbooks and novels has emerged.
Kwéyòl is the language of contemporary creole music genres such as cadence-lypso, zouk and konpa. Use of Kwéyòl has extended to the media, the internet (web sites), advertising and signage. St. Lucia has introduced the use of the language in its national parliament.
While there is much to celebrate, there are however a number of challenges. In terms the language, these include the teaching of Kwéyòl as a subject in schools, extending the use of Kwéyòl in the media, wider adoption and use of the standard orthography and making the language an official mode of communication among others. With respect to creole culture in the broad sense, the key challenges include strengthening regional cooperation and broadening the scope and opportunities in the creative industries.
The 31st Anniversary of International Creole Day is therefore an important milestone in many ways.
It provides an opportunity to celebrate our successes and reflect on present challenges and to chart the way forward.