Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Miss Lou Gone–But Noh Fahgatten

Beloved Jamaican folklore poet and decorated national figure Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett was laid to rest today in Jamaica's National Heroes Park.

Her dialect poems and radio programs popularized common Jamaican speech and wisdom of the island's poorer classes.

Miss Lou was internationally recognized for bringing Jamaican "patois" dialect abroad to many countries and legitimizing the lives and stories of countless Jamaicans.

Observe how Bennett cleverly and comically deals with race issues in this excerpt from her collection of poems Jamaican Labrish (Sangster, 1966):

Pass Fe White

[Miss Jane's brown skin daughter has one thing to her credit in the United States where she is studying–she "passes" there as white. This poem was written in 1949 and is an amusing comment on some Jamaicans' sensativity to skin tones.]

Miss Jane jus hear from 'Merica
Her daughta proudly write
Fe say she fail her exam, but
She passin' dere fe wite!

She say fe tell de truth she know
Her brain part not so bright,
She couldn' pass tru college
So she try pass fe wite.

She passin wid her work-mate dem,
She passin wid her boss,
An a nice wite bwoy she love, dah–
Gwan wid her like say she pass.

But sometime she get fretful an
Her heart start gallop fas'
An she bruk out eena cole-sweat
Jus a-wonder ef she pass!

Jane get bex, sey she sen de gal
Fe learn bout edication,
It look like sey de gal gawn weh
Gwan work pon her complexion.

She noh haffe tan a foreign
Under dat deh strain an fright
For plenty copper-colour gal
Deh home yah dah-play wite.

Her fambily is nayga, but
Dem pedigree is right,
She hope de gal noh gawn an tun
No boogooyagga wite.

De gal pupa dah-laugh an sey
It serve 'Merica right
Five year back dem Jim-Crow him now
Dem pass him pickney wite.

Him dah-boas' all bout de districk
How him daughta is fus-class
How she smarter dan American
An over deh dah-pass!

Some people tink she pass B.A.
Some tink she pass D.R.
Wait till dem fine out sey she ongle
Pass de colour-bar.