The greatest tragedy that can befall any culture is its complete disappearance from the human world. Mankind preserves its legacy, and that of its various cultures, through ancient texts and artifacts, but there are more critical means of keeping a culture alive.
More than just preserving the pieces that represent a culture, keeping the memory of any group or culture alive by experiencing and celebrating its traditions and practices is the best way to keep it in the national consciousness.
Kennedy Samuel knows all too well the value of ensuring that a culture continues to thrive. As a native of St. Lucia, Samuel has made it a mission to ensure that the Kreol culture of his homeland lives on in future generations, and that the various Kreol peoples from across the globe come together as brothers and sisters. Better known as Kennedy ‘Boots’ Samuel, he recently sat down with Kreol Magazine to discuss his organisation and its mission.
Keeping Kreol Alive
As a member of an older generation, Boots grew up during a time when African people of various backgrounds were still repressed in nations around the world. The people themselves were viewed as lesser individuals and their cultures seen as backward and irrelevant. It was out of this climate that Boots found his mission to spread the knowledge of Kreol culture among St. Lucians and people of Kreol backgrounds in various corners of the world.
During the 1970s and 1980s a massive wave of Black Nationalism swept through many nations in the Western hemisphere. Though many focused on the movement in the United States, those of African backgrounds living in St. Lucia were also asserting their rights as individuals and
the desire to express their cultural beliefs to the fullest.
Boots was one of the founding members of the Folk Research Center in St. Lucia. While the mission of the research center is far reaching, Boots explained its purpose in his interview with Kreol Magazine as follows:
“It is an organisation which came out of the 70’s, 80’s Black Nationalism. It is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the research, documentation and dissemination of information on St. Lucia’s culture, trying to understand the St. Lucian person, and trying to develop the St. Lucian’s identity that is within the Caribbean person and identity.”
The Man Behind the Movement
Samuel served as a founding member of the Folk Research Center, St Lucia, and has held numerous positions within the group over its long history. In addition to serving as the executive director of the center for many years, Samuel also held the position of education director and is currently serving as the executive director of the cultural development foundation. According to Samuel, the cultural development foundation is “the government institution that has a specific mandate of implementing the national cultural policy in St.Lucia.”
Boots uses his passion for arts and culture, combined with four college diplomas, to help guide the movement to preserve and promote the Kreol culture of St. Lucia. He is the holder of a Master’s in Education, a post-graduate diploma in Education, a Master’s in Arts Administration, and a post-graduate diploma in Arts Administration. He draws upon both his education and his love of theatre, having spent time as an actor in his life, to help the Kreol culture thrive.
What it Means to be Kreol
A major theme behind the work of Samuel and the Folk Research Center is the preservation of all things Kreol, including the concept of ‘being Kreol’. The research centre’s main focus is to preserve major cultural ideas and themes, such as food, dance, religion, and celebrations so that younger generations not only have them around as they grow up, but understand and appreciate them. The Kreol culture should be celebrated by younger generations, not just understood.
When asked during the interview with Kreol Magazine what Boots thought it meant to be Kreol, he offered up the following answer:
“From the time you say Kreol you are talking about mixture, different cultures that are together, something new that takes from all of them. Our particular identity which has not been stressed enough; it is the rule of the African culture in all of this. Yes, we can keep talking Kreol as a mixture but it is not an equal mixture. Our story is the predominance and the strength of African culture in not only its presence in that mixture but its role in shaping the Kreol identity that we talk about in respect to ourselves.”
What’s Most at Risk in the Kreol Culture?
While Samuel and others working for the Folk Research Center recognise the importance of preserving multiple aspects of the Kreol heritage, there is one particular element that he feels faces the greatest risk of disappearing. When asked about the Kreol language and its future, Boots offered up the following thoughts:
“The Kreol language in the form that we knew it is under the threat. You would understand that a lot of the lexicon of the Kreol language came from the French language. The majority of the lexicon has some African, American and also English terms but St. Lucians speak a French Kreol. We have lost the French language, we do not speak French in St. Lucia at all. So it has lost that lexicon, what we do have is the English language, so in terms of what’s happening to the St. Lucian’s Kreol, we find huge intrusion and interference of English in terms of language usage and there is a lot of human pride that it is dying as a consequence.”
Samuel’s vision for the future of the Kreol culture in St. Lucia is not to have it replace any other accepted cultures but to help it develop the unique place it deserves. With so many individuals on the island coming from a Kreol background, it is important that they not only understand their heritage but also develop a unique Kreol that signifies what it means to be St. Lucian.
In his own words, Samuel believes “the vision is still for our uniqueness, our unique identity to be more dominant in the development choices that we make at a national level at a regional level, to be more appreciative, that we as a nation come to realise our hope of survival within a globalised world.”