Finding Miss Lou


Finding Miss Lou

Observer writer

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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Amina Blackwood-Meeks, an authority on oral history in Jamaica, says more should be done to teach Jamaica's youth about legendary folklorist Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley.

“People are always saying Miss Lou's poems in schools, but in terms of getting to actually know her and the contributions that she has made, many people, both young and old cannot speak much on her, which is a major concern,” Blackwood-Meeks told the Jamaica Observer.

“So what we need to teach our children is much more about what happened between life and death. Many times, all that is mentioned is when she was born and when she died…but what about her work, the impact that she has made? More work needs to be done in terms of highlighting who she was and what she did for Jamaica,” she continued.

Miss Lou is a pioneer of teaching Jamaican culture in schools during the years of British colonialism. She died July 26, 2006 in Canada at age 87.

She is known for poems, including Colonization in Reverse, Noh Lickle Twang, Dutty Tough and Cuss Cuss. Miss Lou appeared in pantomimes Anancy and Pandora, Bluebeard and Brer Anancy, and Carib Gold.

There are plans by the government and the arts community to celebrate her 100th birthday in September. One of those events, the annual Jamaica Poetry Festival, takes place today at the newly-renovated Louise Bennett Garden Theatre in Kingston.

Head of Sen Yacum Entertainment, Yasus Afari, is the founder and organiser of the event. He gave his take on the importance of saluting Miss Lou.

“The event started nine years ago to commemorate Jamaican poetry. We have always had Miss Lou in the forefront so this year, as we celebrate her centenary it is going to be much more significant. We are into validating her and her contribution to language and speech; getting more young people to be more aware of who she was and reinforcing her to those who already knew her. Our aim is to reach out to people on all levels, from the grassroot level to the corporate level. If your work isn't validated den yuh nah go feel like somebody pickney too,” he told the Observer.

Yasus added that it was a delight to have known Miss Lou.

“I met her in about 2001 in person at the University of the West Indies, but before I met her, it was like we always knew each other. She was like a mother. She was the first lady of acting and patois…her personality, her laughter, her smile... everything. She had a larger than life personality,” he said.

Themed 'The Canadian Infusion', organisers of the festival will also pay homage to Jamaican poet, professor Edward Baugh.

“Professor Edward Baugh will receive the Jamaica Poetry Festival Lifetime Achievement Award. But besides that, there will be a strong Canadian presence. In 2015, I was invited to a summit in Canada and they spoke about building a bridge between Canada and Jamaica, so this year the spotlight will be on some Canadian poets. We are also introducing talking books led by Ka'Bu Ma'at Kheru, which will be recorded and played on Irie FM's The Africa Forum. In addition, we are introducing an art of life magazine, which focuses on poetry. There is also a feature article on Francis Williams who was Jamaica's first poet. Many people have it that Claude McKay was the first poet, but after doing our research we found Williams' birth certificate and christening papers. He was born in 1697, so he would have preceded Claude McKay by 200 years,” Yasus revealed.

He and Baugh will be joined by a diverse cast of performers, including El Jones and Cue Kirk from Canada; professor Fred Hickling, Ka'Bu, Coleen Douglas, Akinsanya, Amaziyah and Mik.

Special guest artiste will be veteran roots singer I-Kong (formerly of The Jamaicans).

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