The traditional pepper-seed hairstyle of those multiple, twisted buns secured with a little hairpin, paired with my mother’s favourite “pepper red” lipstick was something I rejoiced in every last Friday of October. I would walk to Gros Islet Primary School clad in the white and madras of my national wear with a homemade shak-shak of a tin can and uncooked beans in one hand and an empty calabash shell in the other. By the time I got to secondary school though, my national wear was deserving of humiliation. This is when I learnt that madras could adapt to various cuts, styles and designs once it was not shorter than two inches above my knees.
Jounen Kwéyòl, the school version, was no longer a class lunch with local dishes and musical fun, or folk songs and old-time instruments. I now experienced bamboo bursting in the yard, pigs being slaughtered at the far end of the field, horse-riding, steaming bouillon and sizzling floats for sale, a deejay who didn’t play only creole music, and a session for I suppose, traditional gyrating. It was a drastic change from my younger years and the subtler, yet tastier celebrations at my church, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The extravagant celebrations, however, make it hard to believe that the original Jounen Kwéyòl in Saint Lucia was only celebrated with a fifteen-hour radio show, a panel discussion in Laborie and a Kwéyòl assembly at Fond Assau Combined School in 1983. Creole Day has come a long way!
Jounen Kwéyòl is part of a bigger celebration among “Creolephone” countries: Saint Lucia, Martinique, Haiti, Dominica, French Guiana and all creole-speaking peoples around the world.
Soon after Dominica and Saint Lucia gained independence in 1978 and 1979 respectively, Bannzil Kwéyòl was founded on October 28, 1981 as an organisation to keep aflame the traditions associated with the creole language
and heritage. Bannzil Kwéyòl was birthed on Saint Lucian shores in Vieux Fort. Two years later, the first International Creole Day (Jounen Kwéyòl) was celebrated on October 28, 1983 focussing solely on the importance of the Kwéyòl language. The date was designated as International Creole Day but it is celebrated on the nearest Sunday. At its inception, various non-governmental groups including Mouvman Kwéyòl Sent Lisi (MOKWEYOL), of which Pearlette Louisy was president, orchestrated Jounen Kwéyòl.
By the following year, Mon Repos was selected to host the first creole community day. It required months of preparation and almost rolled over the brink of underachievement. However, the community managed to host hundreds more people than it originally planned for. The celebration moved from radio to featuring a Kwéyòl church service, the honouring of Sesenne Descartes, and traditional foods, games, song and dance. Oral traditions were also relayed with live drumming. Jounen Kwéyòl’s first community affair attracted visitors island-wide and since then the day has never lost its cultural vitality. Attendees say that the roads to selected communities were “jam-packed” and after entering it was difficult to get out, not that people wanted to.
By October 1990 creole community day had to be expanded to three communities and by1991 there were four host communities, rather than one. It reverted to one community in 1998 when festivities were held in Central Castries. By 1996, five communities were scheduled to host but activities were cancelled for Soufriere. For thirty-three years the Folk Research Centre, along with other non-governmental and governmental entities, has successfully executed a culturally infused Jounen Kwéyòl, attracting visitors from around the world. The only memorable, unprecedented and disappointing exception was 2010 when Hurricane Tomas ousted the activity.
Tomorrow Jounen Kwéyòl will be hosted in Babonneau, La Ressource Dennery, Marigot and, for the thirteenth time, Vieux Fort. Come out and enjoy over three decades of effort and experience culture, Saint Lucian style!