Letters & Opinion

Kittan Kweyol Kai Lekol? (When will Kweyol go to school?)

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

The Second Kweyol Heritage Month Under COVID-19 ends tomorrow, this time Under Lockdown.

Call it ‘Kweyol La Caye’ or ‘Kweyol Lakai-Nou’, Jounen Kweyol 2021 is meant to be observed indoors, within fences and behind locked gates.

But this not-unexpected reality has largely been met and treated like another regret, instead of a challenge with opportunities.

The emphasis is (again) on ‘virtually’ taking activities from communities to homes, substituting live performances with replays of recordings and live-streaming of crowd-controlled activities.

Like fighting COVID, there’s no ‘How To’ manual on hosting Jounen Kweyol with strict English-language protocols.

But the language and culture are flexible enough to fit or apply to any situation or occasion, creativity of application being the key.

Jounen Kweyol and Mwa Hewitaj Kweyol were never intended to be fed and shared to and with captured audiences at home, so it might have been a better idea to encourage people to observe them doing other equally-enjoyable but more fruitful things during COVID.

How about ongoing cyclical programmes (prepared in advance) to actually teach the language and about the island’s unwritten history, how to play traditional games with historical roots (like ‘Wawi’) and taking Kweyol to people sitting at home, in offices or schools, in ways all will both learn and enjoy?

In the over-four-decades since the (original) Folk Research Center (FRC), Mokweyol and other small entities and individuals with large commitments to culture started the movement that led to the first Jounen Kweyol, much has taken it to where it stands proudly today.

It’s no longer seen as the native language of ‘toothless old women’ as described by Henry H. Breen, but instead has taken its pride of place in the island’s parliament and helped make the man who won the nation’s second Nobel Prize.

Today, the FRC has collaborated with partners to produce the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kweyol.

Yet, while the Kweyol Movement has transcended the earlier boundaries and overcome the hurdles that stifled its development in colonial times, the language itself, virtually, still hasn’t gone to school.

It’s long being written at home and taught at university level in France, but approaching 50 years after the first Kweyol literacy classes taught to prisoners at The Royal Jail (Her Majesty’s Prison) in Castries and after 42 years of Independence, Kweyol — our First Tongue — is yet to start going to school in Saint Lucia.

Kweyol has gone viral: annual conferences attended online with appropriate PowerPoint presentations on shared screens and monitors, with virtual teaching-and-learning very-much-alive, everywhere-else than at schools, or in offices.

The Morne Plaisance fire was a costly reminder to FRC (and everyone else concerned) of the need to not only always record oral history, but to also store it ‘for ever and ever, Amen…’

And what about safely restoring and permanently storing the History of Kweyol? When, how and where did it start? How many other countries observe Jounen Kweyol?

How do we bake and serve the language with ‘thought as food’ and ‘food for thought’, in ways that current and future generations can and will want to share?

There’s always a need for contemporary continuity, but not only through futuristic designs that only some will understand.

It’s not just about online uploads, offline downloads or giving virtual life to the national tongue, but also about always keeping the language and culture alive and insulating them (where and when necessary) from the deleting effects of necessary abbreviation associated with the ‘texting’ culture that’s so-long-ago (and before COVID) become the new global norm.

How to protect and preserve the language without isolating it?

How to ensure it’s not dwarfed or consumed at a time when Globalization is erasing national borders and symbols of nationhood have to take a back seat to regional and international matters of common interest to different nations and people united by Time and History?

These and those are today’s questions begging for answers.

My brother ‘Alex’ was an amazing Kweyol communicator, but that only became widely known and nationally appreciated after his untimely death, on the tenth day of the tenth month – in Kweyol Heritage Month — in the 21st Year of the 21st Century.

The inimitable and indomitable ‘Jook Bwa’ continues keeping his tongue in our ears every morning and we pray for him every time he is hospitalized, then we Thank God when he comes back – and after that, ‘Chou Mack for the balance’, until the next time…

It shouldn’t be like that.

We always preach about honouring people while alive and not after their Last Post, but we continue to always believe that we will always meet again.

The Monsignor Patrick Anthony Folk Research Center has in recent times lost or given-up its traditional responsibility for organizing Kweyol activities nationally, funding and responsibilities deposited elsewhere with entities with prescribed objectives that don’t necessarily coincide with those envisaged by the original missions and visions.

Kweyol is, most-of-all, a national cultural and heritage asset not only to be keyworded or keyboarded into virtual reality in the name of polishing tradition into modernity.

Its progress must be measured in and over time with local and regional yardsticks, instead of the new global developmental gauges used to reconfigure the world as a global village where ‘Blacks Still Stay Back’ and ‘The Poor Always Need More!’

Time and History always present challenges and opportunities and this is another of those moments when the Kweyol clock should be reset, not at Square One or Ground Zero, but within and around the places and spaces that allow for progress in phases.

Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre on August 1st promised to take Kweyol and the island’s history to the nation’s schools.

Maybe that speech — four days after being sworn-in — was too early to be remembered, but I suspect that under his watch we’ll be reminded by his doings, while we keep watching.

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