Most people who know me know how much I support the Creole language. They also know how much I dislike the sham of Creole Month. If the people of Saint Lucia and those who wield power in Saint Lucia loved their Creole heritage as much as they profess to, then they would have taken steps to preserve and honour their history and national language years ago.
Anybody who knows anything about educating, teaching and learning knows that RELEVANCE is key to success, and what could be more relevant than a language that the majority of the population speaks, however badly? But more of that later.
According to Dictionary.com, Creole as a noun can be defined as ‘a person born in the West Indies or Spanish America but of European, usually Spanish, ancestry’, which frankly I find nonsensical. Perhaps a little more acceptable is the dictionary’s second definition, ‘a person born in Louisiana but of usually French ancestry’. The third definition is a little more dubious, ‘a person of mixed black and European, especially French or Spanish, ancestry who speaks a creolized form of French or Spanish’ not that I fully understood how a language becomes creolized until I went on to read that ‘a creolized language’ is ‘a pidgin that has become the native language of a speech community’ as in ‘the creolized French language of the descendants of the original settlers of Louisiana’.
Then there is Haitian Creole, the language of one of the poorest countries in the world, a fact that is used by the detractors of Creole as proof in some odd way that the language has caused their poverty. Are there no poverty-stricken English-speaking countries in the world?
Finally, the dictionary gets round to something we might recognize: an ‘archaic’ usage, namely, ‘a black person born in the New World, as distinguished from one brought there from Africa’. Huh?
Then, of course, we have the adjectival use of creole, ‘relating to, or characteristic of a Creole or Creoles’ which doesn’t make anyone any wiser. Creole can be used when speaking of cooking, ‘indicating a spicy sauce or dish made especially with tomatoes, peppers, onions, celery, and seasonings, and often served with rice’.
Finally, the dictionary comes up with a usage that I find fairly disturbing, ‘bred or growing in a country, but of foreign origin, as an animal or plant’. Animal or plant indeed! Who would have guessed?
I spoke of pidgin earlier. Well, pidgin is defined as ‘an auxiliary language that has come into existence through the attempts by the speakers of two different languages to communicate and that is primarily a simplified form of one of the languages, with a reduced vocabulary and grammatical structure and considerable variation in pronunciation’. I hope you get that. A pidgin is also ‘any simplified or broken form of a language, especially when used for communication between speakers of different languages’.
So back to Creole Month, if you don’t mind. Once a year, for one month, we are all supposed to celebrate our Creole heritage and out come all the trappings of prehistoric bits and pieces, quite oblivious to the fact that much of what is put on display dates back to pre-slavery times. Well, not all Saint Lucians can trace their heritage to the evils of slavery. Some have ancestors that lived on the island much earlier than that. Many turned up on these shores as indentured labourers seeking a better life than they could expect in the country they left behind. The point is, we are not all Creoles, unless living in a predominantly Black society defines us as such.
Don’t get me wrong. I support the Creole language. I would love it to be taught in schools. I would love kids to learn to read and write Creole to keep the language alive. I would love kids to learn to cook traditional dishes. I would love the island’s history and the traditions of ‘Creolism’ to be celebrated on a regular basis, but visiting a Creole Day awash with Heineken and reeking of rum with my ears blasted out of existence almost, left flapping in the wind like two uselessly impotent appendages stuck to the sides of my head, is not my idea of celebrating our rich Creole heritage.
We at IETV are constantly being encouraged to produce more programmes in Creole, which we will happily do. Somebody, after all, has to dedicate more than a month a year to our heritage!