Miss Lou’s View ( Patwa):
Celebrating a Jamaican Oman

In Language by Angelo Grant

Fram reggae tu dub poetry tu pride in a wi culcha, nationality, and dialek, whole eep a ting bout wi Jamaican culcha wi owe nuff respek to one oman. As a poet, comedian, folklorist, television and radio personality, singer and actor, di whole a Jamaica luv har like fambily and call har Miss Lou – not Louise Bennett-Coverley. Di way how she tek pride inna wi culcha and chat di patwa mek di whole a wi feel good. Pon toppa dat she inspire a whole heap a Jamaican artists to buss out with boasiness. Mi mudda tell mi dat as a likkle girl how powaful it was fi si Miss Lou pon TV a chat patwa.

Baan in 1919, Miss Lou tek up writin poetry from shi a likkle pickney. Shi quick quick luv di patwa as di language of di people betta dan di stush English dem did a teach inna school. Mi mudda explain dat:

“‘Proper English’ was the language of the colonizers… So when we were in school and our colonizers were teaching us we could only speak English, and then we spoke patois at home and our grandparents spoke patois.”

Miss Lou did write har first poem at di tenda age of 14 and inna no time shi write har poem dem inna di Gleana. Pon toppa dat, shi study Jamaican folklore an den she learn more bout oral tradition, proverbs, and riddles dat shi big up in har work, chat bout. Quick quick shi gaan a foreign pon scholarship to di Royal Academy a Dramatic Art. When shi come back a yaad shi set up har theatre, den shi guh back a foreign to England and den America where shi nuh tap educate di people dem in a di patwa through folklore and music. When shi come back a yaad, shi would teach di young people dem at UWI bout Jamaican folklore and drama. Shi get more famous cuz di people dem luv har, dem big har up wid har own radio show: Miss Lou’s Views.

Likkle bit from dat shi get a show call Ring Ding pon di TV. She tell di pickney dem Anansi stories an sing an dance an dem luv it. Dis was my muddas first time wid Miss Lou. 

“Ring Ding really was just her sitting with a bunch of children around her and telling stories. And really that is how Jamaicans socialize, I mean we used to go through our days and get dressed and go into the neighbourhood and talk with our neighbourhood friends and sit in a circle.”

Dis was a time when everybody si success an steppin up inna life as talkin like di Queen of England. Miss Lou dared to big up all tings Jamaican.

“Jamaica has always been described as two Jamaicas: the very uniquely European, British, colonized Jamaica, and the Jamaica of the African slaves that spoke patois.”

Di way shi chat di patwa wid respectability mek har an expert til Bajan poet Kamau Braithwaite call it a “nation language.” As oppose to di English of di Queen, Braithwaite seh “nation language” is like di English of di slaves dat was full a African speech riddims like Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, or Twi. Di colonizers put dung di patwa – dem neva like di patwa at all, an neva seet as respectable. But Miss Lou neva stap, and Brathwaite seh “the hurricane does not roar in pentameter” – wi kno fi sure dat di English of Shakespeare caan match di true vibe of di Caribbean people.

When you see Miss Lou pon TV, sometimes shi start tings off vibin wid di audience, getting dem tu sing along: “Come mek mi hol yuh han.” Di audience jump in, den shi cut dem off: 

“Oh wate wate wate wate… You know dis ting a appen too offen yunnuh… somebody a seh “yOuR hAnD”. Its not your hand, its yuh han! Nuh pwoil up di culcha!”

When shi duh dis, everybody laugh. Miss Lou show us what is di language and culcha of di people, an what is di colonized language. As mi mudda explain:

“When she says something like “mi glad fi see yuh bwoi”… “I’m happy to see you, boy” does not capture “Mi glad fi see yuh bwoi”. That captures exactly how we feel… a message that the English language can’t convey.”

From har poetry tu har musical tu Ring Ding, Miss Lou’s wuk fi eva fulla Jamaican vibe and culcha. Di way shi talk wid di children, an nuh tap wear di traditional Jamaican bandana dress, and di uppity weh shi chat patwa wid pride, even when di stush people dem try tu put har dung inspire di yute dem tu walk wid pride in demself. 

“You could actually see the language, and hear the language, and feel the people and the emotions of the people through the language. She spoke patois in a way that embodied exactly how people were feeling.”

“Miss Lou, before reggae music and dub poetry, instilled a sense of pride through art in our own Jamaicanness, and in everything that it is to be Jamaican. She told our story in such a dignified way that it instilled a sense of pride in our own culture and our own country and our own people.”

Di way shi use di patwa wid pride an bragadoshiousness an di tings in a it like immigration, status, uppitiness, stushness, and folk antics (like di Ashanti trickster spida “Anansi always in a har stories) set up tings fi dub poetry and reggae music fi buss out wid di people. All a dem perform in patwa an talk bout di struggle of di people, fi sure poets and artiste like Bob Marley, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Mutabaruka owe har nuff respeck. Mi haffi mention dat Big Youth (mi favourite deejay) duh a song name “Miss Lou Ring Ding.” Everybody know dat widdout Miss Lou, reggae and di whole a Jamaican music dat wi kno right now wouldn’t be di same.

Fi sure wi wear patwa wid suh much pride dat it bleed inna other culcha. Alla da Jamaican inna Canada bring patwa wid dem an talk it at home an at school an everywhere into di meltin pot. When Miss Lou said “Colonization in Reverse,” dis can also reffa to di patwa of fus an secon generation Jamaicans dat is di “Toronto slang” chat by all kinda people inna Toronto.

Even doe Miss Lou mek Jamaicans proud, mi mudda pine dat “patois can take you very far if you’re an artist, poet or musician, but it will not take you anywhere if you want to be a lawyer or politician.” Shi seh dat, even doe tings improve di trute is yuh haffi drop di patwa an try talk proppa English if yuh waan tu move up an “navigate colonized spaces.” Jamaicans at home and Black people all ova di worl ave to code switch, leave di language and dem tru vibe when dem seekin success.

“What people would call successful spaces are white spaces, colonized spaces… And white people speak English. A friend of mine told her VPs: ‘I have to code switch so you can understand me, you guys can come here and be yourselves but I have to codeswitch so that I can lead you in a way that you understand and respect me.’”

Even doe dem caana wi an wi haffi use di Queen English fi step up ina life, Miss Lou bring pride an dignity to all a wi an mek wi luv wi culcha. Shi a wi hero an wi luv har because “She wrote and spoke these poems and stories and she made us proud of our own traditions. I think that is the root of the pride that we have in Miss Lou and in ourselves. We saw ourselves reflected in her, and in a way that was very dignified and uniquely Jamaican. And so, if we could be proud of Miss Lou, then we could be proud of ourselves too.”