Why bother with a Patois Bible?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

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THE struggle for an authentic Jamaican identity continues with the current agonising over the usefulness of a Patois Bible, which is about to be launched on December 9, 2012 at Rev Burchell Taylor's Bethel Baptist Church in Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew.

As with the debates over the acceptance of Rastafarianism and reggae music, Jamaicans are passionately divided about whether patois is an essential Jamaican standard to be formally embraced and held up to the world community of nations as such.

The patois debate must also, like Rastafarianism and Reggae music, await the passage of time and possibly international acceptance, before it will be settled.

It is perhaps unfortunate that we have often had to await outside recognition before deciding within our own Jamaican family that a cultural norm is good and right and genius.

The arguments for and against the Patois Bible reflect the same biases expressed in the contretemps over patois as a language. Our late cultural heroine, Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley, affectionately called Miss Lou, would have been bemused, if not disappointed, by the latest brouhaha over the Patois Bible, after her own struggles so long ago to get acceptance for what was then seen only as a dialect.

We are inclined in this space to embrace the Patois Bible as another of those intrinsically Jamaican products that can enrich the human family well beyond our shores, in much the same way we have bequeathed our musical forms such as mento, reggae and dancehall, among others; our sporting prowess from Hon Herb McKenley to Hon Usain Bolt; our Blue Mountain Coffee, and so much else that is truly Jamaican.

The production of a Patois Bible is another shining example of Jamaican audacity; to think that we can create a language and worship in it. The dynamism of Brand Jamaica makes it such that if we had not done it ourselves, someone else would.

Perhaps the disagreements over the Patois Bible need not be seen as a bad thing. We have always had the 'Againsters' who opposed the building of a national stadium; a national arena; the Emancipation Park; and erection of the nude statues of freed slaves and even the introduction of a seat belt law!

Yet, our disagreements have not stopped us from progressing. Admittedly, we have not managed to erect a new parliament building, nor have we named an eight national hero from noteworthies such as Michael Manley and Bob Marley. But give us time.

It is instructive to note that the $32-million funding for the Patois Bible project did not come from Jamaica, but instead from the American Bible Society; British and Foreign Bible Society; the Wycliffe Group and Spring Harvest, among other overseas donors. The suggestion is that the merit in the project is more recognised externally than internally. It seems to be going the way of all the other internationally accepted Jamaican products.

In the meantime, Professor Hubert Devonish and his team are to be commended for their painstaking and yeoman work. At this stage, only time will tell if they are onto something really big.




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