Patois, Creole or Kwéyòl | Letters to the Editor
Africa History Month 2021 — dedicated to Haiti (part 1)
Observation of African History Month 2021, November 1-30 in Trinidad and Tobago, has already started. There is a lot of activity but, as usual, it is embarrassing how quietly it is recognized. Only the pillars and the militants pay attention to it. None of our national leaders have much to say about the history of the African people except around Emancipation Day.
I was prompted by Bother Chi Kamose to dedicate this month to creating an understanding of Haiti. He (and I agree) felt that there was a lot of information that needed to be broadcast on our neighbor Caricom.
First of all, the Africans of Haiti gave us the only successful slave rebellion in human history. They spurred the push that ultimately led to emancipation in the British Caribbean.
They gave impetus to the revolts in the Dutch Caribbean. They facilitated the anti-colonial struggle against the Spaniards, especially when Pétion gave money, equipment and men to Simon Bolivar, the Liberator.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, they gave us one of the main forms of language that we call patois or creole or kwéyòl.
The Haitian form is closely related to the so-called Antillean Creole, which is spoken to varying degrees in Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Îles des Saintes, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, Sainte-Lucie, Saint-Vincent-et-les Grenadines, French Guiana , Trinidad and Tobago and parts of Venezuela.
In other words, they granted us a form of communication that spread news and ideas across our lands.
In Trinidad, the language came with the French, white and colored planters, who brought the enslaved Africans under the population Cedula of 1783. It became the first language of most of the population of Trinidad, even until the beginning of the 20th century.
It was spoken by East Indians, Chinese and Syrians / Lebanese.
It was documented in one of the earliest studies of the language, called The Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar, written in 1869 by John J Thomas, one of Trinidad’s most distinguished people.
The genesis of patois or Creole or Kwéyòl was not unusual. Different peoples, when brought together, created the lingua franca, described as any language regularly used for communication between people who do not share a mother tongue.
With us in the Caribbean (and places like Louisiana, USA), it was one of Africa’s means of survival.
Many words are derived from French, but there are Spanish, Portuguese and native influences superimposed on the grammar of West African languages, such as Fon.
Within the language is the history and philosophy of the African Caribbean recorded in everyday speech, folk tales, proverbs, poetry and other literary forms as well as songs. It was the language used by the early Trinidadian Calypsonians.
This is why our loss of the “patois” language in Trinidad is a damage to an important part of our history. It has been described as the most at risk language. Fortunately, efforts are being made to teach it at UWI, St Augustine, and the Lloyd Best Institute.
However, Haiti, Dominica and Saint Lucia are one step ahead of us.
Patois or Creole or Kwéyòl are still the language of the inhabitants of these territories. After the many years of its development, Creole, along with French, was named an official language by the Haitian Constitution of 1987, and it was recognized that Haitian Creole is the only language all Haitians have in common.
“Jounen Kwéyòl” (Creole Day) is celebrated in Dominica and Saint Lucia on the last Friday in October and the last Sunday in October, respectively, and has been held annually since 1984.
The SINUHE Center