Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Hon. Olivia Grange, has said the country owes a debt of gratitude to the late Ambassador of Culture, Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou), for the dignity and integrity she brought to the Jamaican people.
“She helped us to see ourselves as we are and taught us how not to be ashamed of who we were, as invariably happened, because so many of us would look at ourselves through lens shaped by euro-centric images. Miss Lou’s life work was to engage the populace with love and respect and set out to position that populace as something to be revered,” she said.
The Minister’s message was delivered by Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Her Excellency Sheila Sealy Monteith, at a ceremony held to hand over Miss Lou’s archives to McMaster University, on Sunday, February 13.
McMaster University will now be home to Miss Lou’s archives, which were acquired during the latter part of her life, including correspondence, awards and audio-visual materials.
“Although we would have wanted it to be housed in Jamaica, we are conscious of two things – Toronto and by extension Canada was home to Miss Lou for years, nurturing her, and sharing in the legacy of this Jamaican ‘dawta’. On another note, like so much of Jamaica’s culture, Miss Lou belongs to the world. Like Marley, she has contributed immensely to the vast expanse of what we now refer to as the Jamaican Diaspora. Like Marley, she has taken the culture of Jamaica to other parts where people feel honoured to host a part of the very essence of Jamaica,” said Minister Grange.
The Minister thanked McMaster officials for “their stewardship of the archives, for this display of their belief in, and commitment to Jamaica and their declared willingness to share with the Institute of Jamaica the digitised version of the archives."
Miss Grange praised Miss Lou, not only for placing Jamaica’s language on a platform of social discourse and liberating Jamaicans “into a new way of being,” but also for revolutionising Jamaican theatre. She noted that because of the cultural icon, today “we have Oliver Samuels, Glen Campbell, Joan Andrea Hutchinson, Maud Fuller, Yasus Afari, and even Shebada and Delcita.
“The vibrancy of our theatrical and artistic life can be attributed to the contribution made by Miss Lou,” she said.
President and Vice-Chancellor of McMaster University, Mr. Patrick Deane, said the university is honoured to be custodian of Miss Lou’s archives. He thanked the co-executors of Miss Lou’s estate, Judge Pamela Appelt and son Fabian Coverley, for the donation; and the Jamaican-Canadian community “for promoting the heritage of Miss Lou and continuing her spirit and work.”
Educator, Dr. Honor Ford-Smith, who co-founded the Sistren Theatre Collective, gave a discourse on Miss Lou, noting that through language, Miss Lou created a national identity and a sense of unity among Jamaicans.
“She knew the importance of laughter and used laughter to carry serious messages,” said Dr. Ford-Smith.
Ms. Maud Fuller who played Liza on the ‘Lou and Ranny Show’, shared some of her experiences with Miss Lou, saying “Miss Lou was not just a star, she was a total galaxy."
Comedienne, Joan Andrea Hutchinson paid tribute to Miss Lou by performing her works and some of her poems, while the Heritage Singers sang a number of Miss Lou’s favourite folk songs, including ‘Walk Good and Good Duppy Walk With You’, ‘Evening Time’, ‘Balancing’, ‘Dis Long Time Gal’, ‘Fan Mi Soldier Man’, and ‘Carry Mi Ackee’.
The event was attended by Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Mr. Seth George Ramocan; friends and relatives of Miss Lou; leaders from the Jamaican community in Toronto and Hamilton; and officials from McMaster University.
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