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PAUL COMARMOND SEEKS HIS CREOLE ROOTS

{Le jounrnal mauricien 'Week-end'' consacre le très intéressant article ci-contre au mlitant mauricien de la Créolité, Paul Comarmond...}

From thousands of miles away, Paul Comarmond can relate to the recent movement in Mauritius to win official recognition for Creoles, especially the Creole language.

Comarmond has been working for the past several years in Canada to unite Canadians of Creole descent in the common goal of better understanding their Creole heritage and sharing it with the wider world.

As a founding member of the Toronto chapter of the International Organization of Creole People, he helps organize the annual International Creole Day, which celebrates Creole music, food, art and literature, and he is a frequent lecturer in academic settings on Creole topics. At York University in Toronto, for example, he spoke on Art et Creolité', and ' Les origines des Creoles.' He will present a slide show on the African Diaspora at the Carassaukga (Canada) multicultural festival, and also speak on the 'Pancreolism' at the Louisiana Creole Conference of Chicago in July.

Comarmond came to Canada in 1974, at age 20, and developed a career in the graphic printing business. Since leaving that industry five years ago, he has devoted his time to two other passions: watercolor painting and researching Creole heritage.

Comarmond is one of an estimated 200,000 people of Creole background living in Canada, coming mostly from European-influenced Creole societies. The largest community is from Haiti, and there is a large Portuguese Creole community from Cape Verde. The Mauritian community is relatively small by comparison, and 'they don't all consider themselves Creole, even though they are all 'creolophones,' he said.

In search of his Creole roots, Comarmond, a self-taught artist, travelled through the islands of the Indian Ocean for three months in 2004, where he gave a watercolor workshop in Madagascar and gathered images of life on the islands. The trip resulted in a series that featured watercolors of the islands, including scenes around Mauritius. The project, called 'Voyage en mer indienne,' was exhibited at the Centre Francophone of Toronto in 2005. Many of his paintings were featured during Creole month held that year in Montreal.

From his research and observations, Comarmond concludes that the Creole language, culture and identity are at an important stage of evolution.

'Often shunned, banned and criticized, the language is now enjoying a well-deserved recognition, he said. 'Historically it is the result of two cultures and the evolutionary process of using the vocabulary of one and the grammar and syntax of the other. With colonization and slavery and from the contact between the European masters and the slaves, a new set of language emerged, namely the Creoles of today's world.'

There are as many as 127 different Creole cultures, but the main bases remain French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. Haiti and Seychelles are the only two countries that have officially recognized the language.

Mauritian Creole is one of the 15 French based Creoles and is second in the number of speakers (1.2 million), after Haiti (7 million). The origin of Mauritian Creole dates to 1720, when slaves came from Africa and Madagascar developed a communication link with their French masters.

'The regional French of the 18th century along with French coastal dialects of Brittany and Normandy still persists in enriching the Mauritian Creole vocabulary,' Comarmond said. 'Many words are also of English, Chinese and Indian origin. Rougail, for example, comes from the Tamil word, 'urugai' which is a sauce that will last a long time. It was the rice accompaniment of the first coolies,' he said.

What fascinates Comarmond are the links between different Creole cultures, as the roots are the same: in colonization and slavery.

He is interested to know how a Creole culture in Mauritius shares similarities and differences with that of other European-influenced Creole communities. Having such knowledge, he said, helps Creoles better understand their roots and identity.

'Creoles tend to stick to their colonizers' culture for comfort and advancement, whereas to research your own is so much more rewarding and authentic. I have European, Malagasy and Goan ancestry. I do not particularly care about a family history. I am more concerned about the reasons and circumstances of their migrations.'

Comarmond said he's pleased that there's a renewed interest in Mauritius to preserve the Creole heritage and develop a more standardized written code for the language. There are three ways to write Creole, he said, and the Mauritian newspapers tend to use a phonetic version, based on what is heard.

'I have always admired as a child people who could master several languages,' Comarmond said in an interview. 'The Creole language always showed more real life imagery than academic ones we learned in school. Creole music was spontaneous and I still remember busloads of Creoles picnicking on beaches and warming up the ravanes on a fire for a sega evening. So real and authentic.

'Being Creole and speaking Creole was frowned upon until 50 years ago. Sega music wasn't common on the radio. Now there's a new acceptance,' he said. 'In 2004, Vinesh Hookomsing of the University of Mauritius tabled a proposal called 'grafi larmoni' to Ministry to Education in an attempt to standardize the way to write the language. It is an evolutionary process that was revived by Dev Virasawmy in 1967 and which finally will be introduced in schools for teaching in the Zones d'Education Prioritaires. Still a work in progress, it is far from being the final orthography that will establish Mauritian Creole as a full fledged literary tool.'

Comarmond firmly believes that Creole speakers in Mauritius should not be ashamed of speaking the language, and should encourage their children to speak it.

'They should start to learn its orthography and no longer confine it to its oral character and folkloric usage,' he said, adding that the Creole language is 'the only point of reference that all Mauritians share.'

To view Comarmond's paintings, consult his website:

[www.yessy.com/pcomarmond->www.yessy.com/pcomarmond ]

[www.iocp.info->www.iocp.info]

[www.users.bigpond.com/l_arom/->www.users.bigpond.com/l_arom/]

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