July 27, 2006

Give Thanks, Miss Lou!

Mis LouWhen I began blogging and doing the livications of great Caribbean writers/artists, I told myself that I would not crowd this space with obituaries. Most of my adolescent years were spent in the company of Rastafari who believe in ever-living life. So, the word “death” or any homophone such as “ded”-dication is not in Rastafari vocabulary. I agree with that philosophy. It’s not a Pollyanna point-of-view. Death is a reality. It is companion that I know only too well. Jamaica has killed some of my dearest friends, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to walk with death.

I had planned to write a livication for Louise Bennett-Coverly on September 17, 2006, and I still plan to do so. And although I don’t want to write obits for Caribbean artists in the blog (I resisted writing one for Desmond Dekker), Miss Lou is greater than all of that. Her life is more significant than this belief (which I will have to rethink) because she has contributed so much to my life and the lives of Caribbean people. Jeremy Taylor over at Caribbean Beat has said it better than I ever could in the post: Miss Lou 1919-2006:

“In most Caribbean countries, you can identify an artist (sometimes a group of artists) who managed to engineer crucial cultural change in parallel with the movement for political independence. After long periods as colonies, these countries had to learn that it's all right to be yourself: to use your own language, sing your own songs, dance your own dances, and put them at the centre of your life, not hidden away as something to be apologised for. You don't have to mimic the colonial culture, speak like the colonisers, sing like the colonisers, or (heaven help us) dance like the colonisers.”

Miss Lou made many of us feel at home in our own skins. I may be giving some of the planned livication away, but I didn’t always feel this way about Miss Lou. As a youngster, I viewed Miss Lou as a embarrassment. Here was this “Mammy”-looking Black woman in a tie-head that looked like she just stepped off a banana boat. She appeared to be reinforcing every stereotype of the fat, Black woman that many of us were trying to eliminate from our consciousness. It was a shame! Then, I started reading her poetry and recognized the revolutionary stance behind poems such as “Colonization in Reverse.” Still, I wasn’t convinced and I read Mervyn Morris’ review of her work, and felt more confident about my estimation. Miss Lou was a poet of consummate craft.

The work of Miss Lou and artists such as Bob Marley, Sparrow, and Kitchener is the reason why so many Jamaican/Caribbean people can walk around as if they own planet.

Just being yourself. What a wonderful feeling.

Give thanks, Miss Lou.



Stephen A. Bess said...

I am reminded of Zora Neale Hurston as I'm reading this. Zora embraced the language and culture of the black south while others were trying to forget it. Miss Lou was a remarkable woman! It sounds like she was proud of both her African and Caribbean heritage. I'm excited because she is someone else from the Diaspora that I can research and read. Thanks!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Stephen, in many ways Zora and Miss Lou are alike. The only difference was that Miss Lou was embraced by most of the Jamaican people as an artist. She was recognized within her time and celebrated for her integrity. People from all walks of life, from country parts to Kingston knew, loved and respected Miss Lou.
She was a national treasure!

Gela said...

Beautiful Post GP.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks. Gela's words!