As the October full moon hovered over the Castries harbour on Wednesday October 24, guests trickled through the open doors of Alliance Française to take their seats. The occasion was the launch of another one of Jacintha Annius-Lee’s literary contributions. The author was hard to miss, as she stood out in madras, in her way reminding one and all it was the season of Jounen Kweyol. Ms Annius-Lee is a well-known promoter of local culture. Her most recent work, a collection of local folk tales, is titled ‘Once Upon a Time in Saint Lucia’.
Bamboo Productions, a collective of young Saint Lucian actors, kicked off Wednesday’s launch with a hearty short play rendition of “The Great Wonders of Obeah”—one of the stories featured in Annius-Lee’s latest book.
In attendance were the Alliance Française Saint Lucia Director, Evelyne Gasse; Mr. Stephane Dovert from the French Embassy, and OECS Director General Didacus Jules—all of whom share an appreciation of storytelling. According to Director Gasse, Alliance Française considered it an honour to host the launch. “I always say a place without books is a place without soul,” Gasse told the audience, before announcing that next year the AF would open a library called ‘Ti Mamai’ dedicated to French, English and Creole children’s books.
Mr. Stephane Dovert treated everyone to a personal experience of his about an old folk tale. As a young boy, he recalled, he enjoyed reading a particular children’s book, which explored themes of alienation and identity. Years later, he would serve as a cultural attaché in Vietnam, where he visited a library in a remote location. Among the books at the beat-up library he came upon the novel from his childhood. “I was so emotional to have rediscovered this book. This should tell you how important these books are, you never know what role they will play in a child’s life.”
Dr. Didacus Jules, on the other hand, touched on what the absence of cultural preservers can do to a society. “Cultural amnesia is a sociological process that is often accelerated by the pressures of modernization and the forces of globalization,” he said. “Caught in this vortex, the societies that are referred to as primitive can easily disappear as the gap between their level of technology and scientific development and that of the wider world is too wide a chasm to bridge. Caught in this vortex as well, our society may instead suffer the fate of the spiritual diaspora. As small islanders, we may lose conviction of our own capacities to navigate the global currents. We seek individual mobility in wider foreign pastures and this too often happens at the expense of our original identity. We assimilate while shedding the baggage of original identity.”
Dr. Jules encouraged ideas that seek to preserve and pass on tradition and heritage. He offered as an example Nina Compton’s use of Saint Lucia’s famous folk character Compère Lapin, after whom she named her renowned Louisiana restaurant. Of course, the popular character features in Annius-Lee’s latest work.
When finally she made it to the podium, Ms Lee thanked all who had contributed to the publication, including its illustrator, local artist Naja Simeon, her editors, her daughters Davina Lee and Esther Lee-Leach. She also announced that she will be working with Alliance Française to translate ‘Once Upon A Time in Saint Lucia’ into French. The book is now available at the Alliance Française in Pointe Seraphine and at amazon.com.