Thu | Oct 19, 2017

Carolyn Cooper | I have a tablecloth dress

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

When Moses 'Beenie Man' Davis and Michelle 'D'Angel' Downer were getting married in 2006, they asked guests to dress in white. The invitation reminded me of Toots and the Maytals' Sweet and Dandy: "All di people dem dress up inna white fi go eat out Johnson wedding cake."

I did have a couple of white dresses. But none of them was splendiferous enough for the occasion. Incidentally, 'splendiferous' is not a Jamaican word. It is perfectly good English, of impeccable pedigree. Well, it's not exactly English. In the 15th century, it was borrowed from Latin. The English word 'splendorifer' is a combination of two Latin words: 'splendor', meaning brilliance and brightness, and 'ferre', meaning to bear or carry.

My old white dresses simply could not bear the weight of this brilliant occasion. This was dancehall royalty: Beenie Man, King of the Dancehall, and D'Angel, his celestial bride. I needed to bling elegantly. A contradiction in terms, but I had to try. I was going to shock out in muted dancehall style.

 

VIRGINAL CONDITION

 

I had a splendid white linen tablecloth that was in virginal condition. My husband, at the time, and I had got it as a wedding present. A decade later, we still hadn't used it. It didn't fit our dining table, which was not the usual rectangular shape. Our table was beautifully irregular. It was carved out of the trunk of a grand old guango tree.

Master craftsman Gilbert Nicely had made it. His organic studio in Gayle, St Mary, is an inviting work of art. And, just in case you're wondering, Mr Nicely never cuts down trees. He always works with wood from fallen trees that he finds far and wide. You can see his distinctive furniture at the Liguanea Art Festival in December.

I took my tablecloth to Elaine 'Layne' Witter, one of Jamaica's most inventive designers. She turned my tablecloth into an elegant dress that I still wear. And I was the first guest picked up by the camera in CVM's 'On Stage' coverage of the wedding. An edge of the tablecloth made an eloquent fashion statement as the neckline of my dress. Pure bling!

I'd like to think that Ishawna would approve of the haute couture transformation. She probably wouldn't wear the dress. Too much coverage for her liking! But she just might be able to see the fashionable possibilities of a tablecloth. True, my tablecloth was beautifully embroidered linen. Not the much-disdained bandanna.

 

CLEAR CONSCIENCE

 

I'm sorry to hear that Ishawna has been dropped by her management team. My conscience is clear. It happened before my column was published last Sunday. So I am not to blame. And, perhaps the decision wasn't even triggered by the DJ's now infamous Instagram post: "Mi nuh dress inna tablecloth like Miss Lou."

I don't know the ins and outs of the case. All the same, I wonder if Ishawna's team couldn't have found a way to work with her. With typical irreverent wit, Peter Tosh liked to brand managers in the music business as damagers. Good managers should certainly be able to do damage control on behalf of their clients.

Ishawna has been reprimanded for her statement and her refusal to apologise. But an apology, by its very nature, cannot be legislated. You really shouldn't apologise if you don't think you've done anything wrong. And, to be fair to the DJ, her post was much more about her own fashionable modernity than Miss Lou's old-fashioned costume.

 

NO RING DING!

 

It's a pity Ishawna dragged Miss Lou into it. The bandanna is one thing. But Miss Lou is a sacred figure for old people in Jamaica and the diaspora. Not quite so for young people! Old people forget that each generation creates its own icons. And the only way that icons of the past are going to mean anything to young people is if old people make an effort to keep them alive.

Miss Lou will have to find her way into a video game or become the retro heroine of an animated series in order to remain relevant for young people in the digital age. They can't even watch her classic 'Ring Ding' TV series to learn about her appeal. Some shortsighted person at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) taped over the 'Ring Ding' programmes because they didn't have money to buy new tapes. What shame! The culture of poverty!

Louise Bennett's mission was essentially about black power. She said, "When I was a child, nearly everything about us was bad, yuh know; they would tell yuh seh yuh have bad hair, that black people bad, and that the language yuh talk was bad. And I know that a lot people I knew were not bad at all - they were nice people and they talked this language."

The lasting insult to Miss Lou is not the tablecloth dress. It's our continuing refusal to acknowledge the power of our Jamaican language. At home and in school! The Ministry of Education must ensure that every child is able to learn in his or her home language. It's a human right. That's one of the ways in which we will continue to honour Louise Bennett for generations to come. And while we're at it, we should just officially recognise the fact that Miss Lou is a national heroine.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.