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The death of Jamaica’s beloved folklorist, the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou), was recognised in the House of Representatives on July 26, with the government and opposition members paying tributes in her memory.
State Minister for Tourism, Entertainment and Culture, Dr. Wykeham McNeil in his statement on behalf of Minister Aloun Ndombet Assamba, expressed regret at Miss Lou’s passing.
“I can state without fear of contradiction that we will never be able to truly measure the full value of Miss Lou’s contribution to the development of Jamaica, including issues of cultural identity, women’s rights and gender politics, as well as guiding philosophies for more effective daily living,” he said.
Dr. McNeil pointed out that “an entire generation of Jamaicans grew up on the stories, wisdom and good humour of our first lady of comedy, as she engaged us in music, speech and dance on JBC TV’s Ring Ding, through Miss Lou’s Views and the Lou and Ranny Show on RJR and larger than life on the stage of the Ward Theatre in the annual national pantomime”.
“She influenced all Jamaicans, remaining an inspiration to the afro-centric and Rastafarian communities, as well as school children, academics, artisans and the middle class,” he continued.
Recalling her visit to the country in 2003, which was organised by the government as a three-week celebratory homecoming, the State Minister said: “she understood the value, strength and marketability of the quintessential Jamaican long before the discipline of marketing even entered the radar for many of us, who have managed business enterprises.”
In light of this, he told the House, “we owe her an eternal debt of gratitude.she refused to yield in the face of criticism, but never failed to inspire successive generations to rise to the challenge, and to ‘falla backa har’ (as she would say).”
He added that an appropriate date would also be set for official tributes to be made to her in Parliament.
Also lauding the late folklorist’s contribution was Opposition Member of Parliament for Central St. Catherine, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange. “It is with profound regret and deepest sympathies that we heard of the passing of Miss Lou, an icon of Jamaica’s cultural heritage. Although she has been living in Toronto, Canada for over a decade, it has been as if she has never left us,” she remarked. “When she visited us three years ago, it was the same voice, the same Miss Lou that over the decades, had captured the joys, sorrows and spontaneity of the Jamaican people through her poetry and comedy. We in Jamaica still consider her as the matriarch of the arts, our finest folklorist and one of our best poets and most importantly, the most eloquent spokesperson for our language – the Jamaican dialect,” Miss Grange added.
Speaking further, the Opposition Member of Parliament said the folklorist “has been described as the only poet, who really hit the truth about her country through its own language and it is in that light, that we would like to recall her tremendous contribution to Jamaica and to making us proud of who we are, and we hope to continue to be proud Jamaicans, proud of our heritage, proud of our language and proud of our culture.”
Miss Lou passed away on July 26 at the Scarborough Grace Hospital in Toronto, Canada, after collapsing at home early in the morning. She was 86 years old. Born in Kingston on September 7, 1919, Miss Lou is Jamaica’s premier folklorist, poet, entertainer and comedienne. As a cultural giant, she made Jamaica’s patois an accepted language through her poems.
She last visited the island in 2003, where she was special guest of the government for Emancipation and Independence celebrations.