Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bonjou! Bon dimanch!: "Haiti will Reborn"

This photo of a tap-tap in Port au Prince was pasted on Facebook.

Trust the Brits to do the right thing. While our newswomen and men are contorting their mouths reproducing peculiar versions of the Queen's English, British broadcasters are broadcasting to Haitians in their mother tongue--Kreyol. The BBC is doing what the University of the West Indies Linguistics Department has been recommending in Jamaica for years. Of course here in Jamaica where most of the middle class dismiss their native Patwa as 'yahoolish' (and no doubt the people who speak it as yahoos) there are NO newscasts in Jamaican.

The BBC newscast in question is Connexion Haiti, a 20-minute daily program that "focuses on practical information and public health advice. The aim is to provide a lifeline to the survivors of the tragedy and to try to bring information about missing people."

Haitian Cat at Roktowa in Kingston, brought back from PaP by Melinda Brown, two weeks before the earth quake

Apparently this is the first time the BBC is broadcasting in Creole, Haiti's national language and the new programme "is being produced in Miami by a multilingual team assembled especially for this task."

Nicholas Laughlin has also drawn my attention to "a Creole-language humanitarian information broadcast" by Internews which you can listen to by clicking here.

The program,Nouvelles-Utiles(News You Can Use) will be produced daily and distributed to local radio stations, which are eager to air it.

Thursday’s program included stories refuting rumors that there was an imposed curfew in Port-au-Prince, and notice of water distribution locations, bank re-openings, and waste management services. Information from the Red Cross discouraged hasty and uncoordinated disposal of bodies, and dispelled rumors that dead bodies cause disease.

Late last year when i arrived in Miami for Art Basel Miami i noticed while waiting to be processed by US Immigration that instructions were displayed in four languages. English and Spanish were easy to recognize, the third was either German or Italian, i really don't remember, and the fourth language i thought was Dutch. But as i stood there staring at the sentences in different languages (what did they say? I don't remember. Probably things like No Photography allowed. No Cellphones etc) i started to have a doubt about the language i thought was Dutch. i noticed that it seemed to take less words in that language to convey the same information as the sentences in that tongue were always shorter than the others.

Slowly something about the way the words looked and the sound they made when i tried to pronounce them made me wonder if it was Haitian Creole.

Fortunately i didn't have to wait long to find out. I was after all en route to Little Haiti and Edouard Duval-Carrie's studio. As soon as i arrived i asked if the fourth language was Creole and found out that it was indeed 'kreyòl ayisyen' and that the French had been quite miffed when the US decided to substitute Kreyol for French at the Miami airport. Of course it makes absolute sense as more Haitians use that airport than do the French.

Meanwhile locally the Haitian earthquake victims are very much on everyone's mind. Jamaicans from all walks of life are gathering together to do what they can to aid their neighbours. One of the best conceived efforts has been a massive shoe drive:

ODPEM [Jamaican Office of Disaster Preparedness] has forged an alliance with Well Heeled Jamaicans to stage a massive drive and sorting two day exercise this weekend. Target 10,000 new or slightly worn shoes. "You can bring other donations. We were moved like many other Jamaicans to extend a helping hand in to the people of Haiti - From our Soles to THEIRS"

The National Gallery of Jamaica is planning a fund-raising art auction and Roktowa, Melinda Brown's initiative in downtown Kingston is raising money to bring a group of artists here for a three week stay out of which a limited edition book of the work they produce here will be published and sold to raise money.

The Haitians have a tradition of painting and carving as renowned as Jamaican music. If its music put Jamaica on the map, equally "Haitian art is what makes the international eye see us," as Joseph Gaspard, a member of the board of directors of the College Saint Pierre museum, said recently. Significantly both traditions are by and large the products of Patwa-speakers and the oral tradition in their respective countries. The news that Haiti's Centre d'Art has been destroyed along with several other art institutions that have suffered extensive damage is not to be dismissed lightly. While it's true that artworks can never be as important as a single human life, it would be a tragedy if Haiti lost its visual heritage as a result of the killer quake.

As an LA Times article put it:

"Inevitably, art has caught up to reality. Frantz Zephirin, whose work graces the cover of this week's New Yorker, has already incorporated the earthquake in his art.

He ambled into the Monnin Gallery, his newest creation tucked under his arm.

It is a swirl of blue and green, with lots of eyeballs peering from the canvas, and a collection of outstretched hands reaching for help.

"I wanted to show Haitians in a sea of blood," Zephirin said. But amid the hands in the sea of blood, Zephirin has painted "Haiti will reborn."

Viv Ayiti! (Long Live Haiti) -- I'm indebted to @carlpedre for these Haitian phrases

Mavado and Wyclef's dubplate for Haiti is a remake of a tune called
that had been released a few months ago. Indebted to @cucumberjuice and @touchofallright for drawing my attention to it.


Nicholas Laughlin said...

Internews is also producing a radio programme in Creole, with the help of Haitian journalists, which is broadcast on local radio stations. You can listen to the first programme here:

Annie Paul said...

Thanks Nicholas, will include this link in the post.

Over here whenever the Linguistics Dept raises the matter of news broadcasts in Patwa it's met with derision!

FSJL said...

Haitians have, throughout their history, shown an extraordinary resilience. I only wish they, and all the others who have suffered like them, didn't have to.

fIYU PIKNI said...

I cannot for the life of me understand why we are so averse to using Jamaican Creole (JC) formally. I have had many conversations with people who insist that JC is a dialect, not a language, and that we shouldn't complicate it by using a standard orthography (which exists). The hardly realize that all our esteemed languages today started off as little more than "dialects" themselves.

Hegemonic subjects I remember them being called in Postcolonial Lit class. Blind-sighted by prejudices ingrained in us for generations.

Alongside French, Haitian Creole is the official language of Haiti . I was in a French History class the other day when the professor started talking about France's colonial legacy in the world (I was very perturbed. He was more that proud). He used Haiti as an example, declaring that they still speak french centuries after independence, and that we can all attest to that since we have seen news reports of Haitians hollering out in French. He is mistaken. The majority of Haitians we see on TV speak to us in Haitian Creole. It's the government officials and elites that we hear speaking french. People who are suffering have no time to think about speaking in a language foreign to them, they express themselves in the way that they know best. Check out Prime Time News when the reporters go into ravaged communities to talk to the bereaved, and the poor. English? Hardly. Clearly, that is one of the issues we face- disentangling our national language from notions of ignorance, under-education, and poverty that PTN and other prominent forums help to perpetuate. Who of us, the educated ones, will claim our language the way we should?

Kudos to the BBC for what they have initiated. News should be relevant and accessible, as is their concise program.

I long for the day when Jamaica will wake up from what I perceive to be its postcolonial hangover.

Bot mi naago tap mi bret... a wahn revaluushan wi waahn, bot nobadi no de fi staat i.

Annie Paul said...

Thanks fyp for that considered heartfelt comment. yes, i don't understand the resistance to Patwa, no the outright hostility and contempt either. yday i had to spend about 20 tweets arguing w a bredren about this after he read this post. he was bandying about phrases like 'lowest common denominator', 'lowering the bar' and other such denigratory terms.

and what's wrong with being a dialect anyway? So???? a wha? as you point out that's the origin of most languages anyway.

My friend also suggested maybe it was ok in Haiti because Creole there might be a different language from French. anyway, i'm going to do a whole blogpost just on patwa and creole.

it's the dissing of oral languages implicit in all this and indirectly the people who speak them that bothers me. Patwa is free declared my twitter interlocutor as if that explained everything. Yes and unfortunately there are people who can only afford what's free i replied--why diss them? why not facilitate them?

its a frustrating argument to have w someone of closed mind. So much for what European language did for them!

オテモヤン said...


Long said...

Well! Years ago now I was having a conversation with a Haitian woman, who I now call friend. We were talking about the bad rap that both Haiti & Jamaica got in the Cbn, & why there seemed to be so many similarities between us and yet a lingering wariness of each other, as she experienced growing up in Flatbush, Bklyn in the 1980s. The more I know of both Haiti and Jamaica, the more I now rethink those presumed similarities.

I didn't know to call Patwa a language until *after* I had become friends with many Haitians, and learned as well as saw with my own two eyes when I went to Haiti: books written in Kreyol, language programmes, newspapers, radio programmmes, fliers. I was also reassured that "real" Haitians speak Kreyol & translate from French to Kreyol; it's the petit bourg and Duvalier-esque ones who insist on speaking in French whenever anyone spoke to them in Kreyol. Children do learn french in school, but communicate primarily in Kreyol, unless they are from the m/classes of course. It is beyond question what the national language is. BBC figured out quickly that if you want to talk to Haitian people, you need to do it in Kreyol. Ordinary people don't even bother to pretend or apologise for not speaking French. You go try telling a Haitian person that Kreyol is "broken French" and see what happens.

Even the people who champion Jamaican Creole don't even make a good argument. We should speak/teach/write it because it is our language. Period. Waiting for approval is so ridiculous & yet so typical. We don't think we should fight for anything; we wait for it to be given to us. We have a lot, lot, lot to learn from Haiti.

Annie Paul said...


you're absoltuely right, one shouldn't have to make an argument for one's mother tongue...its ours, we should be proud to teach it and learn it...

Many of the people who come to my blog do so because they're searching for a Patwa vocabulary, people in Germany wondering how to say Sorry in Patwa, someone in Thailand wanting to know how to say i love you in Patwa, and coz i've done a couple of posts on the subject they're transported to my blog which is little help to them.

So despised at home and desired abroad--

The WORLD has a lot to learn from Haitians...those experts on survival and endurance...