I just spent 3 days from July 31 to August 2 with Louisiana Creoles coming from all over the USA. A diaspora within a diaspora.
The conference was organized by the Northwestern State University Creole Heritage Centre of Louisiana.
The mission of the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center is to promote, foster and engage in activities and endeavors that relate to Louisiana Creoles and their culture. It serves as an office of support to Louisiana and national Creole communities and organizations, offering advice and assistance in matters that affect Creoles. The Center also serves as a central clearinghouse/information bank for these communities and for those seeking knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Louisiana Creoles and their culture.
In fact Louisiana Creoles are descendants of French, Spanish, African, Native-American among others. The make-up may vary depending whether they come from, ie a regional area like Cane River or the city of New Orleans. If New Orleans was the starting point, the community today is disseminated in geographical pockets that can be quite far apart from each other.
Speakers are mainly concentrated in south and southwest Louisiana. There are also numbers of creolophones in Natchitoches Parish on Cane River and sizable communities of Louisiana Creole-speakers in East Texas, Houston, Port Arthur, Beaumont, Galveston), the Chicago area, and Maryland. California has the most Creole speakers of any state outside of Louisiana, and the number of speakers in California may in fact surpass that of Louisiana. There is an estimated 15,000 individuals of Lousiana creole ancestry in the Los Angeles area and 10,000 in the Chicago area. Louisiana Creoles historically have spoken a creole language which is a hybrid of French, Spanish, African, and Native-American languages. In the early 20th century, Creoles were forced to speak English in school. The effort to remove Creole French from the population led to a drop in native speakers. In 1980, a movement to restore creole to the area began and what has been termed French Immersion has been incorporated into many schools.
There is a revival going on to ensure the language does not go extinct. There were few Louisiana creole speakers at the conference, but many of those present were relearning the language and had accepted the fact that the language was the element of their culture that had suffered the most. Louisiana Creoles are not to be mistaken with African Americans or Cajuns. Excluded from the creole distinction, Cajuns lacked social status in old Louisiana and were mostly of white Acadian (Canadians from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) background. Some were mixed like Creoles which made them choose to refer themselves as Creole also.
I had the opprtunity of seeing the documentary of Maurice Martinez “Too white to be Black, too black to be white”. Mr Martinez , a professor in the Department of Instructional Technology, Foundations and Secondary Education at the University of North Carolina. He examines a group of marginalized mixed race Americans who proudly identify themselves as “creoles”. Universally exposing the reality of coloured people in Louisiana which echoes those of the whole world.
Terrel Delphin , the Chairman of th NSU Creole Heritage Centre Advisory Board and President of the St Augustine Historical Society presented a 60 minute documentary “ The Spirit of a Culture: Cane River Creoles” recounting the Cane River Creole identity struggle from colonial French Louisiana to today’s Creole led multicultural renaissance.
Angélique Bergeron-Gardner from the Department of French Studies at Lousiana University spoke of “Language, Culture and gesture among Pointe Coupée Creoles”.
Andrew Jolivette, a professor in American Indian Studies, Educational Leadership, and Critical Race and Resistance Studies at San Francisco State University spoke of his book, “Louisiana Creoles”. Dustin Anclade, Andrew Jolivette and Mary Nicole Rodriquez started a panel discussion “I’m not creole but my mama is”. The main focus of this session was to allow the younger generation an opportunity to meet, network and share their stories of search and discovery as Creoles. As the current Secretary-General of the IOCP my presentation was entitled “Do we want one Creole nation?”
Do we want one Creole nation?
The word Creole has known over 30 different definitions over the years depending also on which region of the world it came from. We will look at history as a chronological process in which each one of us has a place relevant only to our current position in the evolutionary timeline. Each country, each region, each community has reached a different stage of its evolution. As a result is it possible to claim the existence of one creole nation at this moment in history?.
We understand that the process starts in the 15th century with a combination of several factors, among which are the maritime age of discovery, the beginning of colonization and the subsequent forced migrations with the atlantic slave trade. It started with the maritime black Portuguese language,a mix of Portuguese and west African languages. This language travelled with the tradesmen to the Americas but also to south east asia to Macau and Timor. Once on land the language flourished in the societies of plantation and habitation. It evolved to become the language of communication between the servile mass and their masters, and then as much the language of one as the language of the other.
Ian Hancock of Texas University has identified 123 creoles of various European origins and has stopped at 15 different French creoles. Ian Hancock U of Texas 1977 Of these we know from the Americas the languages spoken in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti, St Lucia, Dominica, Trinidad & Tobago, French Guyana and Louisiana. In the Indian Ocean we know Seychelles, Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion. The source elements that brought these people today to speak similar languages are the same elements that forced their migrations to these far flung regions. Take the time to listen to some Haitian Creole speakers and you will recognize elements of your own language. Given time all creoles are inter-comprehensible.
Culturally however the servile mass did everything to adopt ways and mores resembling the coloniser’s. For obvious reasons of advancement and education they did not want to go back to the darker side of their origins and aspired at getting closer the masters. They wanted to move from the harsher society of plantation to the gentler society of habitation. The language, the music, the food, everything else that was attached to the old slavery days was not always considered worthy of celebration. But in mid 20th century with the rise of decolonisation comes the need for an identity and we are now more ready and apt at recognising certain elements of culture but realize unfortunately that with the passing on of the gramounes, we have to revive some of these elements of identity from the dead.
Certain of our French based creoles have disappeared engulfed by the new colonizer’s language. Countries like St Lucia, Domenica and Trinidad are struggling to keep it alive. In 1965 with the advent the British Indian Ocean Territory and the US military base of Diego Garcia 1500 people of the Chagos Archipelago region were displaced to Mauritius and the Seychelles. All the regional particularisms of their language are bound to disappear as they integrate into other creole societies. The question here is should creoles of other regions be concerned with endangered and disappearing creole languages, peoples and cultures?
What started out as one African diaspora, has now become diasporas within diasporas. As an example, Haitians have been forced to travel within all the Caribbean to find work and escape harsh living conditions and experience difficulties of other kinds. Other Creoles have migrated from their countries of origins to larger affluent cities for social and educational betterment. We find them among others in Miami, New York, Montreal and Toronto. 10% of the world today lives in a situation of diaspora.
Number of languages
Ian Hancock of the Department of Linguistics of the University of Texas has registered over 123 creoles of which 35 are English, 15 French, 14 Portuguese, 7 Spanish, 5 Dutch, 3 Italian, 6 German, 1 Slavic, 6 Amerindian, 21 African, 10 non-indo-european (asian)
Number of speakers
Creole languages have been created wherever the masters had to communicate with the servile mass. This was mainly done at two levels, first in the societies of plantation and second at the society of habitation. Although most of these societies have flourished in island colonies, they were also present in littoral zones (Guyana, Surinam, Louisiana). The main speakers today have the following lexical base, 15 million for French creoles, 6 million for English creoles, 1 million for Portuguese creoles and 0.5 million for Dutch creoles. I am not counting here the crypto-creoles, those who live in diaspora but are not claiming the identity. (Universite Laval, Quebec)
I come from Mauritus thousands of miles from Louisiana and yet my school mates last names were Latour, Dupre, Ducray, Duval, Romaine, Dubreuil, Chevalier, Honoré, Bigaignon, Cloutier, They could have been descendants of brothers leaving the same ports of France and going in different directions for reasons only the reality of three centuries ago could validate. These brothers could have had children with women from the same regions of Africa, may be even sisters from the same raided village.
The question is: Is it possible that some of us might have the same DNA, the same biological memories of a long left place?
If we answer yes in saying that we are in fact cousins that have finally with help of newer technologies been able to communicate, we still have to answer another question. Do we want a larger extended family? Do we want a family reunion to share notes and talk about common interests and the vision of new world community that could in numbers surpass several millions.
August 13, 2008