Book of the Month- Jamaica Labrish

Jamaica Labrish is what the NLJ is reading this month- and loving it. This book is a collection of some of best poems written by Dr. the Hon. Louise Bennett. Each is a reminder of the old saying “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” This poignant, hilarious and ‘socially correct’ collection of poems was first published in 1966 and although it is over forty years ago the message in each and every poem is surprisingly current and still very relevant. Below we have selected a few of the poems for you to enjoy.

Louise Bennett has been described variously as Jamaica’s leading comedienne, as the “only poet who has really hit the truth about her society through its own language,” and as an important contributor to her country of “valid social documents reflecting the way Jamaicans think and feel  and live.”  She is all these things and more, for her understanding and feeling for the language which place most Jamaicans speak has already carved for her a well-earned place in the nation’s cultural history. Through her poems in the vernacular, she has raised the picturesque dialect of the Jamaican folk to an art level which is acceptable to and appreciated by all in Jamaica. In her poems, she has been able to capture all the spontaneity of the expression of the Jamaican’s joy and sorrows, his ready, poignant and even wicked wit, his religion and his philosophy of life.(Taken from Jamaica Labrish)

 Sample Reading

Independence(pg.196)

Independence came to Jamaica on August 6, 1962. The true meaning of the new status was not fully grasped by all, but political leaders emphasized hardships to come, the need for work, self-sacrifice, and plenty of training and education.

 Independance wid a vengeance!

Independance raisin’cain!

Jamaica start grow beard, ah hope

We chin can stan’ de strain!

Wen dog mawga him head big and

Wen puss hungry him nose clean

But every puss and dog noh know

Wat Independance mean.

Matty sey it mean we facety

Stan’ up pon we dignity,

An we don’t allow nobady

Fe teck liberty wid we.

Independance is we nature

Born an bred in all we do

An she glad fe se dat Govament

Tun independant to.

She hope dem caution worl’-map

Fe stop draw Jamaica small

For de lickle speck can’t show

We independantniss at all!

Morsomever we mus’ tell map dat

We don’t like we position

Please kindly tek we out o’sea

An draw we in de Ocean.

Wat a crosses! Independance

Woulda never have a chance

Wid so much boogooyagga

Dah-expose dem ignorance.

Dog wag him tail fe suit him size

An match him stamina,

Jamaica people need a

Independance formula!

No easy-come-by freeness tings,

Nuff labour, some privation,

Not much of dis an less of dat

An plenty sturdiration

Indepedance wid a vengeance,

Wonder how we gwine to cope,

Jamaica start smoke pipe, ah hope

We got nuff Jackass Rope![1]

Hard Times (pg.119)

The late thirties and early forties are summed up in two words- hard times

 Wat a pity, po’ Miss Matty!

She dah-halla like ram-goat

Sey she try fe stretch her wages

An tear up de one-poun note!

From mawning me did hear her over

Yard dah-quarrel sey;

De one poun kean buy all she want

So she gwine fling it weh!

Me tell her noh fe fling it, ‘cep

Is pon me it gwine ketch,

Me advise her fe calm herself

An try meck it stretch.

Jus as me sey de wud, she pawn

De poun, an stretch and draw

An as me meck fe grab it weh

Me hear de poun go “shwaaw”.

Po’ ting de cos o’ livin, eena

Everybody shut

An all de sinting dem dah sell

Fe ten time wha dem wut!

Sal-fish an rice an flour! Even

Brown soap get so high,

Ef yuh noh know de chiney-man

Yuh kean get piece fe buy!

Noh bada call fe steak or stew

Eena no butcha shop,

Ef yuh noh know de butcha well

Yuh raise so-so scrap-scrap!

Lawd ah pity po’ Miss Matty

But she is a real ole goat,

She tink me hooda feel hard time

Ef me coulds strtch poun note?

Uriah Preach (pg.203)

Jamaican society is sometimes said to be conditioned to preachment-religious and secular. Everyman is a parson under the skin. The religious tradition has thrown up deacons and revivalists a-plenty. In this poem “me son Uriah” is able to pinch-hit at a moments’ notice, for the absent cleric.

 

Fe me fambly is not peaw-peaw,

Me daught Sue dah teach,

An wen rain fall, or Parson sick,

Me son Uriah preach!

Sunday gone, rain come so till Parson

Could’n lef him yard,

People was eena church an so

Uriah get weh broad;

Him climb up pon de pulpit, him

Lean over, him look dung,

Him look pon all we enemy

An lash dem wid him tongue!

De fus one him teck on was Lize

who tell de lie pon me,

Him stare in her face and say

“Thou art de slautered lamb!”

Him teck on Teacher Brown, for wen

Him was de size o’ dat,

Teacher beat him one day because

Him call Teacher “top-knot”.

So ‘riah get him revenge now

For him stare straight pon Brown

An say, “let him dat sittet’ on

De house-top not come down!”

Him teck on Butcher Jones, who noted

Fe sell scapses meat,

Him say, “thou shalt not give thy neightbours

Floolooloops to eat!”

Him tell dem off, dem know is dem,

Dem heart full to de brim,

But as ‘riah eena pulpit

Dem can’t back-answer him!

So wen church member mel me, I

Don’t answer till it reach

A rainy day wen Parson stay

Home, an Uriah preach.

[1] Jackass Rope is another word for tobacco

This entry was posted in Book of the Month, Newsletter and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book of the Month- Jamaica Labrish

  1. theresa Carr says:

    This is really a great idea.

  2. Uriah Preach is my 91 year old grandmother Phyllis’ favourite Ms. Lou poem. I love Ms. Lou. I love our Jamaican language. Thank you for this walk down memory lane. – Jacqueline Huie

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