January 31, 2011

Patwah & Somebodiness

Mikey Smith

Bald heded John Crow
siddung pon tree top
look dung pon ded English speech cock
  a patwah dat
  a patwah dat

“A Patwah Dat” by Mikey Smith

I’m thinking of signing up for Inglés sin Barreras because as the web site explains, “Knowing English has become a basic necessity. That is why Inglés sin Barreras is here to help.”

I kid, of course. Not about the “knowing English” part, but the signing up for the course. I think I know enough English to get around Miami pretty well. Throw in un poquito de español and the only words I know in Kreyol, Sak pase? and I’m a veritable man about town.

I swear, living in Miami sometimes feels like the opening scene in Bladerunner.  We recognize language for what it is: a tool for communicating a need or for accomplishing a task—from buying a Red Stripe y para buscando el cuarto de baño.

So I was surprised at the bangarang in Jamaica over the Patois Bible and the assertion of one journalist: “If you take the Bible and its theological meaning seriously, it is clearly unsatisfactory to have it translated into a style of speaking which was never meant to be set out on paper and convey precise theological concepts.”

If you believe that, then you believe that God only speaks in the Queen’s English. Now I know why my prayers have not been answered! Especially the ones about writing the Great Caribbean Novel. I’ve been praying, “Do, Massa God. Ah beg yu,” and the Archangel Gabriel has been picking up the celestial iPhone (no Samsungs in heaven) and saying to the Most High, “Yea, verily, it is that lad from yonder isle who speaketh in an unknown tongue. Moreover, he doth listen to that infernal doom-di-doom-doom music." Then, Gabriel blocks all future calls. And you can forget about texting or tweeting. Those, too, are not allowed in heaven.

But fun and joke aside, as my friends used to say, I’ve listened to the translation by the Bible Society and if the words can move an old reprobate like me to repent, then the translation has fulfilled its intended purpose.

And what "precise theological concepts" is she talking about? The message of the Bible is very clear: Love InI.

The esteemed journalist even had the temerity to suggest: “Patois has it charms and should never die. But stories in the British media about translating the Bible into patois only play into a stereotype that Jamaicans are ignorant, and do the island a huge disservice.” This reminds me of a routine by Wanda Sykes in I’ma Be Me: “White people are lookin' at chu!'' 

If white people want to equate patwah with ignorance, let them do so at their own peril. Are Miss Lou or the dub poets such as Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Mutabaruka, Jean “Binta” Breeze, Malachi Smith, or Linton Kwesi Johnson, “the first black poet to have his work published in Penguin's Modern Classics series” ignorant?

But this goes to a deeper issue. The equation of patwah with ignorance.

What’s even worse is that by devaluing patwah, we wound children who have been hearing patwah from the day they born. Patwah is as natural to them as mother’s milk. We may also be reviving the last vestiges of British colonialism that suppressed the “local” tongue throughout the Empire. The British did it in Ireland, India, and the Caribbean. The French and the Dutch (read about Trefossa) also practiced the same policy in their territories. This has been a long standing practice of conquerors since Nimrod was a boy.

Instead of saying to our children, “You are less than others” for speaking patwah, we should be saying, “You are someone. We can help to make your light shine even brighter by learning Standard English, Spanish and perhaps Mandarin?”

Language is breath is life.

We must assert our children’s somebodiness  and never let doubt in the form of breath, make them feel less than others by denigrating patwah. The ability to compete in the world market is not just possessing skill sets; it comes from a confidence in one’s abilities--the kind of mindset that Marcus Garvey urged when he said, “Always think of yourself as a perfect being… Never allow anyone to convince you of your inferiority as a man. Rise in your dignity to justify all that is noble in your manhood as a race.”1 Only then, will our children have the ability as our esteemed journalist suggests, “to compete in the international marketplace.”

1 Marcus Garvey.  Life and Lessons. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).


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clarabella said...

Geoff: Me inna one time warp! Me did tink all a dis fooliness done wid lang time! Meanwhile, we are making inroads here, steadily. For example, last Easter Sunday at St Stephen's Anglican Church in Calgary, I preached the homily for the main service, that is, after we had read the whole of DE MAN as part of the Good Friday service. The sermon, which was very well received, was based on the insights to be offered by translating the story of Jesus's first miracle, the changing of the wine into water, into patwa. My translation, my insights. I'm hoping that before I die I can tackle many more of the Gospel stories for the dimensions offered when they are put into the creole. In addition, perhaps Miss Abbott should inform herself. Jesus spoke Aramaic in his daily interchanges, a deprecated code at the time, Hebrew being the language of the temple. But how I thought we'd long since gotten over these attitudes. As me beloved Mikey Smith of blessed memory would say, "Me cyaaan believe it!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Pam, is like if you turn you back for an instant, them want clap chain on you.
I am happy to hear about the inroads with DE MAN & at St. Stephen's. Give thanks also for "esus spoke Aramaic in his daily interchanges, a deprecated code at the time, Hebrew being the language of the temple."

Truly as Mikey Smith would say,'"Me cyaaan believe it!"

clarabella said...

Geoff: But de chain bizniz is no slavery ting? An ebribadi no hab dem free paper long time since? Of course, me a reread and see say me did write "changing the wine into water..." when it is indeed "changing the water into wine!" Still, at the rate we are going with our abuse of the environment, we may yet arrive at the time when de good Lawd will have to do de miracle in reverse! Pray it is not so! 1Luv, pam

Geoffrey Philp said...

I'm praying, Pam. I'm praying.