TRIBUTE TO HON. LOUISE BENNETT COVERLEY, OM, OJ, MBE BY THE MOST HON. PORTIA SIMPSON MILLER, ON, MP, PRIME MINISTER ON WEDNESDAY AUGUST 9, 2006


The Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley, preeminent Jamaican cultural Ambassador, representing our finest traditions, was truly loved and will be surely missed.
On behalf of the Jamaican government and people, I extend condolences to the family members and friends of this illustrious daughter of Jamaica. We pray that you will be comforted by the tremendous outpouring of love.
A true Jamaican, “Miss Lou” loved words. With them, she made us laugh, dance, sing, “trace”, teach, provoke, weep or shout for joy.
In her masterful hands, when the occasion demanded it, words sometimes became pins that pricked at prejudice and burst balloons of pretentiousness. She did it all, sometimes, with a fine sense of mischief, but never with malice.
It is ironic that on the occasion of her passing, words seem so inadequate to pay tribute to this national treasure.
By her sheer physical presence, “Miss Lou” generated immense warmth and openness. She made us feel good about ourselves. “Pickney” or “big smaddy”, rich or poor, all could bask in her radiant aliveness and joy.
Her magnificent talent, teamed with a genuine spirit, strength of conviction, confidence and dedication to work and service, demonstrated that she had found her life’s purpose and was living it with all her heart and soul.
Through her poems, stories, songs, theatre craft, social commentary, community building activities and continuous research, she helped us to discover, develop and define our culture.
Her artistic output was a mirror, revealing to us an authentic Jamaican self, with all its strengths and contradictions.
It allowed us to experience a sense of homecoming to our true cultural identity. She never downplayed the cantankerous side of Jamaicans, nor did she sugar-coat the difficult experiences.
It was all so perfectly seasoned with humour and generosity of spirit that even the hardest truth could be accepted.
Miss Lou’s work was about all of us. She virtually single-handedly reversed the psyche of an entire nation, from collective ambivalence about its language, history and culture, to unequivocal pride.
At times during our journey, when we needed inspiration, Miss Lou reminded us of long-standing strengths, such as our tradition of creativity in times of adversity – “tun yu han’mek fashion” – and our tradition of courtesy – “howdy and tenky”.
The amazing fact is that with all her “Jamaicanness”, Miss Lou had universal appeal.
She was the first West Indian to earn a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and went on to become the first female black broadcaster on the BBC in the early days of television.
She was understood, appreciated and loved throughout the Caribbean and in other parts of the world. Her wisdom and wit transcended geographical, cultural, generational and other barriers.
Miss Lou represented the most celebrated qualities of the Jamaican woman and her sisters of the African Diaspora. Her strength, courage and visionary thinking are legendary.
Faced with a vocal opposition back in the 40s and 50s, this young woman, who had the benefit of a good education, insisted on writing and performing in the Jamaican dialect.
Some thought she was a very bad influence on those who wanted to “out-English” the English language. But Miss Lou persevered with the promptings of her heart.
She promoted self confidence among the common folk and a strong sense of Jamaican nationalism.
A cultural pioneer, she paved the way for the dialect to be used with skill and pride by writers and performers. As a consequence, many Jamaicans in the entertainment field – from Rhone to Marley, Samuels to Beenie Man, just to name a few, owe her a debt of gratitude.
Warm, loving, motherly, Miss Lou was a fierce defender – one of the liberators of Jamaican culture from the dominance of the colonial influence. She was a pioneer in the development of a truly Jamaican theatre.
As a progressive thinker, journalist and opinion leader, she supported the march of Jamaican women towards equal rights.
Miss Lou certainly understood the complexity of the women’s struggle, which often calls for a period of working quietly underground, building networks and gathering information and strength, in order to surface at the right time and win the victory.
It was no wonder then that in praise of the cunning Jamaican woman, or the wise Jamaican woman who knows how to ‘stay pan crooked, cut straight’, she wrote.
“Jamaica oman cunny, sah!Is how dem jinnal so?Look how long dem liberatedAn de man dem never know
Later in the poem she says:
Neck and neck an foot an foot wid manShe buckle hole her ownWhile man a call her ‘so-so rib’Oman a tun backbone!”
Miss Lou was a born teacher and nurturer. All children belonged to her and they knew it.
We will all miss the warmth of Miss Lou’s personality on this physical plane. However, she would not want us to grieve for long. She believed in laughter. She taught us to “teck bad sinting mek laugh” or “teck kin teeth kibba heart bun.”
We have to complete the work that she started, in the spirit that she lived.
Miss Lou is the very essence of Brand Jamaica and the government will move with appropriate dispatch to give consideration to how we can further honour her life and the legacy she has bequeathed to us.
Miss Lou, you will remain a living legend in the story of the Jamaican nation.
Our sister, our mother, our friend – “work is over, now . is evening time”. Ease the load and take your rest, beside your beloved Coverley.

JIS Social