Mon | Sep 25, 2023

Joan Andrea Hutchinson - Seasoned Jamaican language advocate

Published:Sunday | February 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

Acting in plays/TV commercials, teaching, singing, motivational speaking and designing advertising campaigns are some of the many things Joan Andrea Hutchinson does. However, she is better known locally and internationally for her poems, monologues, stories and performances, written and done in Jamaican Creole (JC). This multi-faceted cultural exponent has done extensive work in preserving the Jamaican-language heritage in ways only she can. And her dynamic repertoire is replete with the comedic and dramatic slices of Jamaican life.

This is hardly surprising since her literary work is greatly influenced by none other than the late bastion of the Jamaican language, Louise Bennett-Coverley, with whom she is widely compared.

"I think we are both chroniclers and scribes reflecting our society," Hutchinson said. "Miss Lou has a piece called 'South Parade Peddlar', I have a piece called 'King Street Palaava'. There is no copying here but the storyline is the same, vendors heckling passers-by, trying to get them to buy their goods and cussing them when they don't. I personally lived that experience while trying to shop on King Street."

Some people have gone even further to designate Hutchinson heir to Miss Lou's cultural throne. To this, she said, "I am honoured when those references are made and surely, Miss Lou, as a trailblazer, paved the way for people like me to make our mark. I recall listening to interviews which Miss Lou did long ago, and people would ask her, "Miss Lou, you see anybody who's going to take up the mantle of your work and run with it?", and she would say, 'Dat lickle Hutchinson child'."

Her first book, Meck Mi Tell Youh, in which there are two poems in tribute to Miss Lou, was endorsed by the icon herself. However, Hutchinson is not selfish in appreciation, for she said, "I applaud the work of people like Mutabaruka, Blakka Ellis, Amina Blackwood Meeks, Yasus Afari, Vivienne Morris Brown, all the primary school teachers who prepare children for the annual JCDC Festival, and all the children who perform Jamaican-language pieces in festival. They are the heirs and successors to Miss Lou's legacy."

energy from everyday people

While Miss Lou is her foremost inspiration, she gets energy from her mother, family and the Jamaican people, whom she observes daily. There are other reasons for writing her pieces.

"To chronicle and document the society in which I live so that succeeding generations can get a sense of what was obtained at this time - our attitudes, our outlook on life … In the same way when I look at Miss Lou's wartime poems, I get a good sense of how the war impacted life in Jamaica.

"I also use my work to erode stereotypical notions of Jamaica and Jamaicans, so I spend a lot of time painting Jamaicans as wonderful, witty, creative, resourceful and resilient people who 'kin teet kibba heart bun' and work their way through any and everything."

Obviously, Hutchinson doesn't buy into the argument that most Jamaicans can't read JC because of its non-standard lexicon and regional differences. She has been writing in JC since she was eight or nine years old. In addition to her numerous stage performances, the graduate of Providence Primary School, St Andrew High School for Girls and the University of the West Indies, has written three books - Kin Teet Kibba Heart Bun (a celebration of the creativity of Jamaican 'poor' people), Meck Mi Tell Youh (Jamaican-language poems, stories and dramatic monologues) and Inna Mi Heart (Jamaican-style love poems done to background music).

For those who can't read JC, there are seven CDs to listen to: Kin Teet Kibba Heart Bun, Jamaica Riddim and Ryme (Jamaican-language poems and stories), Wild About Jamaica (Jamaican-language poems and stories), Hamper of Jamaican Proverbs (Jamaican proverbs with explanations), Jamaican Proverbs Pretty and Proud (Jamaican Proverbs with explanations), Anancy and Aunty Joan (Anancy stories) and Inna Mi Heart.

There are many who wish to hear the last sound and see the last letter of Jamaican Creole, language bigots, if you will, but Joan Andrea Hutchinson is keeping it on the front burners of our linguistic heritage, it being the greatest exponent of our culture.

"The Jamaican language is another vehicle in which I write. I have written and won awards for works in Spanish and French. I revere the Jamaican language, as it is reflective of strong sociocultural elements which are distinctly Jamaican," she said, and that's why she's this week's keeper of our heritage.