The Creole language is part of Saint Lucia’s culture; it goes way back to the initiation of the African slave trade. People from West Africa could not communicate with their French masters due to the language barrier so they combined French with the African language and Creole was birthed.
Even though most Saint Lucians celebrate the island’s culture with traditionally festive customs, it is hard not to notice that the Creole lnaguage, an essential token of who we are, is hardly appreciated, let alone passed down through the generations. What we have today is a situation where only segments of our population are able to speak the language fluently, mostly in the rural parts of the island. It’s a different story altogether for others, some of whom were raised in homes where parents didn’t bother to teach the dialect, or perhaps didn’t speak much of it themselves.
I found myself recently contemplating why students didn’t have the opportunity to learn Creole in the classroom; we were taught French and Spanish, languages most of us don’t use at all, or have since forgotten. In other parts of the world where English is not the first language, it is compulsory to learn it at school. So why not a similar practice here in Saint Lucia where in some parts of the island, Creole is essential for clear communication?
This week found me sitting at the Folk Research Centre with Executive Director Mr Hilary Laforce. Just as I’d suspected, he informed me that there had been in the past, and still existed, a stigma; a trend of thought that suggested Creole, or patois, was for the illiterate, therefore parents never bothered to teach, or learn for themselves how to speak the language. In some cases, they believed it would affect their competency in English.
Laforce said over the years Creole had been spoken on television and radio, and noted two radio stations in Saint Lucia, Hot FM and Radio Saint Lucia, as having heavy Creole programming. Even with the challenges, the FRC Executive Director said Creole was currently the most popular language of CARICOM.
I expressed to him my belief that nowadays youth who cannot speak Creole wish to learn the dialect, and that the introduction of the ‘Dennery Segment’ has somewhat influenced persons to speak the language. Laforce agreed though he added that the songs contained therein don’t always have the most “appropriate” content. Still, he was of the opinion that it was perhaps “one of the mediums that can be used to push the creole language”.
I left my meeting at the FRC feeling a little more hopeful that Creole is not dying. Similar dialects are spoken in other countries in the Caribbean including Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti. Just last weekend Martiniquan rapper Kalash performed in Saint Lucia, his first performance in an English-speaking country, and the artist expressed satisfaction that the event had managed to bring together the French-speaking Caribbean.
In his words: “Everybody can see that we can live together, Martinique, Saint Lucia, and Guadaloupe. I like when everybody gets together.”
The presence of the artist on island added to the influx of French visitors flocking to Saint Lucian shores in recent times for various activities, including Creole month. The relationship between Saint Lucians and their French-speaking neighbours has been blossoming over time, much due to ease of communication when compared to other nearby territories.
Last month at a press conference Minister of Tourism Dominic Fedee opined that Saint Lucia simply could not expect to thrive on beaches and sand alone.
“What we’re selling now is our culture and the experience of being Saint Lucian,” he said. Tourism was, after, all Saint Lucia’s most essential industry, and if we’re not able to, or we are not taught how to speak our mother tongue, how do we expect to sell and embrace our culture?
There’s no getting around it. The benefits of embracing Creole are endless – if not for culture and communication, then for laughs; we all know direct translations never do any justice!
In my interview with the FRC Director he’d brought into focus a quote by Marcus Garvey: “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
When we learn our past, origin and culture then we know who we truly are. I believe teaching Creole in schools is something that should be considered; I know myself and many others wish they’d had the option to learn how to speak patios because we do actually want to be able to understand and speak our mother tongue, socialise, and pass it on. After all, we are Saint Lucian!