Creole Heritage Month is much easier to appreciate while attending school. I remember the teachers at the Gros Islet Infant and Primary Schools encouraging us to wear our National Wear on Jounen Kweyol. We were taught and reminded of its description always. They also directed festivities every year, religiously and each grade was guided to contribute something meaningful to the Creole concerts. We made acoustic instruments from recycled materials, pans, beans and string, modeled madras outfits, and performed folk songs and dances.
Then, I spent most of my secondary school life at Castries Comprehensive Secondary School, where teachers would be collecting ingredients throughout the month of October. On the morning of Jounen Kweyol, these same teachers arrived at 4 a.m. to begin preparing creole breakfast. By the time students arrived fires were already crackling for the lunch menu.
I remember riding horses in my madras (which got me in trouble), watching boys chase the pig meant to be slaughtered, eating so much, I didn’t have space for accras at home, and bursting bamboo in the rock garden. Our celebrations were so exciting that the security had to be chasing outsiders every year. Jounen Kweyol at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College was insignificant to me; I think that’s when I realized how different it was when we didn’t have teachers to make all the effort.
I was ushered out of my ignorance, when I also realized Jounen Kweyol is the last Sunday in October. The Friday of Creole weekend does not matter after age sixteen. Only the skimpy outfits made from madras to tour the island on Creole Sunday to eat. Well, this is what parents notice the young generation appreciates most about Creole Heritage Month. The older generation really complains that our culture is dying too.
Creole month has always been a little special to me, for number of reasons. I have always had a keen interest in culture, history and art forms. Not just that of my country, but others as well. Despite my personal interest, there are still many things I do not know about my own heritage, far less, others in my generation who have little to no interest. Maybe our culture is actually dying.
But here’s some food for thought: The concept of culture continuously evolves with setting, and Petite Ste. Lucie is inevitably evolving. Over time our cultural traditions will gain more additions. So, while I whole-heartedly agree that we should celebrate and keep the flame alive in our heritage: folk dance, solo bands, and definitely our Kweyol language, our culture is not YET dying. It’s just that, maybe by the time I have children “brr pap” and “split in d middle” will be folk songs too.
Also, the younger generation is not as completely culturally oblivious as some may think. Disinterested maybe, but not completely. Our past two National Carnival Queens won their titles performing their talents in a Wob Dwiyet. Their calypsos were written fully in Kweyol. There are still some of us who practice the language. Some of us do not know it fluently (myself included), only because our parents did not speak Kweyol with us.
A popular quote from Mahatma Gandhi says: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and soul of its people.” In Saint Lucia however, our culture resides in our stomachs. As a young person, I can proudly say this generation’s national dish has not become macaroni & cheese. We still very much enjoy our local foods, and on Jounen Kweyol there is nothing we look forward to more than coal pot accras, crab calalou and of course greenfigs and saltfish. We still burst bamboo (I surely do) and are very familiar with the masquerade tune.
Like I said, we’re not completely disinterested. This year plenty activities were organized for the month of October as usual. I was privileged enough to attend a workshop organized by the Gros-Islet Cultural Heritage Month Committee, (Oui, mweh se jenn Gros-Islet). I learnt a number of folk dances from members of Helen Folk Dancers, a creole poem by Derek Walcott, how to properly wear a Wob Dwiyet, how to make head-pieces and so many other interesting aspects of our heritage. I am happy that these efforts still exist and that some young people willingly attend. It shows that our culture and heritage will not die out completely in our generation.