Fri | May 26, 2017

Walk good! Paying tribute to a cultural icon

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2015 | 8:00 AM
The Honourable Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett Coverley.
Amitabh Sharma
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"Howdy, how yu do. Tenki, thank yu. Beg yu pardon, excuse me. Practise up yu courtesy," greetings from Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett-Coverley, Jamaica's cultural icon, poet, folklore aficionado, and a proud Jamaican, who proved that "Wi little but wi tallawah".

Miss Lou's legacy is unparalleled and iconic, an individual who gave her lifetime to promote and popularise Jamaican folklore, with down-to-earth tones and words which encapsulated the voice of the people through their language.

Her poems painted the island's many colours, as an artist whose brushstrokes seamlessly mix tones on a palette and gives life to a blank canvas. Miss Lou's folklore resonated on the theatre stage, ruled the airwaves as she used humour and comedy to spread social messages.

Noh Lickle Twang, she said in her poem, taking a recent repatriated Jamaican who returned from the United States to task, that he, even after spending six months didn't change:

Bwoy yuh couldn't improve

yuhself!

An yuh get soh much pay?

Yuh spen six mont' a foreign,

an

Come back ugly same way?

 

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She uses language as the medium, with 'twang' denoting the swagger and the mojo, and the best practices which this person did not inculcate.

In Back to Africa, Miss Lou sends a profound message, imploring Jamaicans to seek their identity, not desolate of their lineage or singling out one race in their genepool, an ode to cultural and ethnic diversity of Jamaica, a land where 'Out of Many, One People' was the motto coined by the founding fathers of the nation. She said:

Go a foreign, seek yuh

fortune,

But no tell nobody seh

Yuh dah go fi seek yuh

homelan,

For a right deh so yuh deh!

The simplicity of her language and the mass appeal earned Miss Lou millions of followers and critically planted Jamaica's name on the cultural map of the world.

Miss Lou poems took Jamaican Patios to a different level, exposing the world to the language. Born on September 7, 1919 in Kingston, Miss Lou first performed at pantomime in 1943-44 'Soliday and the Wicked Bird' in the chorus role - Big Sambo Gal.

She, along with Ranny Williams, was pivotal in giving the pantomime the Jamaican flavour - Miss Lou wrote Anancy & Pandora in 1949 and Evening Time from Bluebeard and Brer Anancy, which has become a Jamaican classic. She performed in 25 pantomimes from 1943 to 1975.

She last performed in the pantomime The Witch.

Miss Lou spread Jamaica's footprints far and wide, lecturing and performing in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada.

She died on July 26, 2006 in Toronto. Miss Lou was accorded an official funeral and has her final resting place at National Heroes Park in Kingston beside her husband, Eric 'Chalk-Talk' Coverley.

Miss Lou is one of the souls of this island, who was, perhaps, never born, can never die. She visited the earth as she journeys into the universe - and as she would say - "walk good".

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com