The debate about whether or not Bob Marley or Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley should be National Heroes seems pointless. It’s like comparing a coconut with a mango; both have important nutritional value and both are good for you. The fact is both Miss Lou and Bob Marley have made profound contributions to Jamaica, both deserve being made national heroes, and we have space to honor both.
While some might disagree with me, it was Louise Bennett championing the Jamaican Nation language and elevating it that gave a young, conscious Bob Marley, coming after, permission to take up this mantle of our nation language and infuse it with revolutionary songs. The very people who are now lauding Marley because of the recognition and income he has generated for our music are the same people who were decrying and trying to block him before his success, and they are the same small group that keep insisting that our language is not worthy even though they have not done an iota of research on language formation and development.
Although Miss Lou is not the first to write in the Jamaican nation language, credit has to be given to Una Marson and Claude McKay, but neither championed and pushed its usage as consistently as Miss Lou. Not only did she wield her pen in its defense, but she ,more than anyone else, made us feel proud to speak in our mother tongue as Jamaicans. Despite the naysayers who keep valorising the colonial language –English is a broken and borrowed construct from many languages. The Jamaican nation language is a proud symbol of our rebellion and resistance against domination and erasure of our African culture by a vicious and brutal Colonial system that tried ardently to eradicate who we are as a people and our basic cosmology – how we see and respond to the world. Jamaica has a language, it is our Nation language and we need to stop referring to it as Patwa from “Patois which has French origin, meaning “rough speech”
The great poet, educator and former UWI Professor, Kamau Brathwaite termed the phrase Nation language, and scholars such as Hubert Devonish, et al, have been advancing the work of Miss Lou. Miss Lou took our nation language and found its creativity, ingenuity and subterfuge in the effective way in which we blended the Twi language of Ghana, (which is the dominant group of African people who were enslaved here) with English, a sprinkle of Spanish and Taino words into a modern language not unlike our reggae, born and grown Jamaican music, loved and respected globally as is our language, which has being accepted in at least two different universities in the USA that I’m aware of, to fulfil a second language requirement.
When I travel the world, it is indisputable that Bob Marley and reggae music are my goodwill passport. The moment I say Jamaica, people say Bob Marley with a smile on their face, they start to dance and often say how our music and culture have saved their lives. But before and paving the way for Marley was Louise Bennett, a fierce Warrior wielding her weapon, the pen, with skill and dexterity, an ethnographer, folklorist, poet and actor, who contributed to the Jamaican Dictionary by Cassidy, nationalized the Pantomime and moved us away from mimicking a European form and developing our own theatrical medium.
We must not forget the shoulders on which we have climbed. Louise Bennett and Bob Marley have contributed much to the local and global love and respect of Jamaican culture and music and there is space for two Heroes. Let’s not pit them against each other and use a passe European paradigm as the measuring stick. I am sure if both were alive they would hug up as big people and step forward together. How fortunate we are to have two amazing persons in Louise Bennett-Coverley and Bob Marley to honor and install as our national heroes. Both loved and championed Jamaica and its culture, both are more than worthy.
I endorse and vote for Louise Bennett-Coverley and Bob Augustus Marley being made National Heroes of Jamaica for 2022 to show that we are Big People who fly our Gold, Black and Green wid nuff pride.
This article was published in The Jamaican Observer