The debate about whether Bob Marley or Louise "Miss Lou" Bennett-Coverley should be national heroes seems pointless. It's like comparing a coconut with a mango — both have important nutritional value and both are good for you.
The fact is, both Miss Lou and Bob Marley have made profound contributions to Jamaica, both deserve to be named national heroes, and we have space to honour both.
While some might disagree with me, it was Louise Bennett championing the Jamaican language and elevating it that gave a young, conscious Bob Marley, coming after, permission to take up this mantle of our language and infuse it with revolutionary songs. The very people who are now lauding Marley because of the recognition and income he has generated for our music are the same people who were decrying and trying to block him before his success, and they are the same small group that keep insisting that our language is not worthy, even though they have not done an iota of research on language formation and development.
But Miss Lou is not the first to write in Jamaican, credit has to be given to Una Marson and Claude McKay, but neither championed and pushed its usage as consistently as Miss Lou. Not only did she wield her pen in its defence, but she, more than anyone else, made us feel proud to speak in our mother tongue as Jamaicans.
Despite the naysayers who keep valorising the colonial language — English is a broken and borrowed construct from many languages. The Jamaican language is a proud symbol of our rebellion and resistance against domination and erasure of our African culture by a vicious and brutal colonial system that tried ardently to eradicate who we are as a people and our basic cosmology – how we see and respond to the world. Jamaica has a language, it is our nation language, and we need to stop referring to it as patwa, from patois, which means rough speech.
When I travel the world, it is indisputable that Bob Marley and reggae music are my goodwill passports. The moment I say Jamaica, people say Bob Marley with a smile on their faces. They start to dance and often say how our music and culture have saved their lives. But before, and paving the way for Marley, was Miss Lou, a fierce warrior wielding her weapon, the pen, with skill and dexterity, an ethnographer, folklorist, poet, and actor, who moved us away from mimicking a European form to developing our own theatrical medium.
We must not forget the shoulders on which we have climbed. Louise Bennett and Bob Marley have contributed much to the local and global love and respect for Jamaican culture and music. And there is space for two heroes, so let's not pit them against each other.
I am sure if both were alive they would hug us as big people and step forward together. How fortunate we are to have two amazing people to honour and install as our national heroes. Both loved and championed Jamaica and its culture, both are more than worthy.
I vote for Louise Bennett-Coverley and Bob Augustus Marley to be named national heroes of Jamaica for 2022.
Professor Opal Palmer Adisa
Inaugural Louise Bennett-Coverley Festival