Before getting into the summary and analysis section of the poem, it is pertinent to shed light on the context in which it is written.
The argument over national language, its status, and formal recognition of the Creole language in the Caribbean, which dates back decades, is still prevalent and active. It is a never-ending dispute between two opposing groups of individuals. Academics and linguists wish to increase Creole’s visibility and persuade policymakers to recognise it as an official language. On the other hand, the skeptics reject it as a warped form of Standard British English.
The dispute has evolved into a newspaper and another public forum-based conflict between proponents of Creole and its opponents. Regarding literature, the Creole language has made significant progress in genres like drama, poetry, and fiction.
Who is Louis Bennett?
Louise Bennett, a Jamaican poet, social activist, and ardent proponent of the Jamaican language, has been at the forefront of the entire battle and has produced several lyrical works to educate the public about the significance of the Creole Language. Her works aim not only to entertain the public but also to expose significant facts, events, and the genuine character of the indigenous Creole language.
A society’s language is a cultural identifier that gives it a distinct identity and affects its culture. According to an adage, the water changes every two miles and the language every four miles; every one of us is a dialect speaker. Even the English language evolves and changes as a result of its interaction with other languages; no language is immune to this impact.
DISTINCT JAMAICAN CULTURE
“Bans a Killin’” is a satirical poem written in the Jamaican dialect called “patois” in 1944, during the decolonization of Jamaica, in response to the harsh attacks from the critics of the Creole, represented by the fictional Mr. Charlie, to make the general public understand the significance of the Jamaican language.
What is Patois? A short summary
Jamaica’s diverse customs and way of life are the product of the admixture of numerous cultures. During the Caribbean’s colonization, individuals from many origins from throughout the world arrived. These individuals include African slaves, indentured servants from India and other colonies, European and American planters, traders, and political dissidents. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Caribbean had become a melting pot of many cultures and languages.
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The contact between Anglophones and speakers of other languages led to the emergence of several local dialects. These languages were known as pidgin or Creole. As a result, patois became the Creole language of Jamaica.
Jamaica’s island had a national identity and language crisis during independence in the early 1960s. The island’s majority spoke patois, but the governing minority, who were Western-style educated, spoke normal British English with ease. Some of their criticism of the Creole was so vehement that it crossed the line into hostility. Louise Bennett became a symbol of Jamaican values and a flag barrier in the fight to preserve the native tongue in the face of cultural imperialism.
Bennett penned the poem in response to the governing elite’s dogmatic ideas on the unchangeable nature of language.
Mr. Charlie, who despises the local dialect and is determined to eradicate it, is first questioned in the poem as to whether or not he intends to eradicate all the dialects that have developed as a result of the mingling of many languages and English.
The speaker inquires of Mr. Charlie whether he has researched the English language, which he holds in such high regard because it has evolved over time from various dialects.
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Because Standard English is a dialect, he should avoid singing in it if he feels inferior when singing a native Jamaican song. Cockney, Lancashire, and other regional dialects provide the foundation of English, which Mr. Charlie regards as a powerful and authoritative language. It would be prudent for Mr. Charlie to first destroy all of the Creoles that arose when English was mixed with other languages, such as the wide scotch and Irish accent.
Chaucer and Shakespeare employed dialectical English, which was not yet standardised, in order to compose their outstanding works.
Because Louise Bennett’s poem Bans a Killin’ was an attempt by the author to rescue her people from the mental and intellectual servitude imposed by the West during independence, it is regarded as her most political and rebellious work.
Aside from responding to detractors of the patois, the poem aimed to raise awareness about the need to embrace Jamaican culture, language, and customs as an integral component of the country’s social and moral fabric. Written in the Jamaican Creole language, the poem aims to create a Jamaican national identity for the people to savour.
Any country’s national identity is built on the foundation of its language. According to Homi K. Bhabha’s idea of hybridity, language does not have a superior or inferior status. A new language is formed when two or more languages come into close touch, and this can happen naturally.
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Like many other dialects spoken around and in the United Kingdom, Jamaican dialect was developed out of this natural process, and the poem aims to examine this aspect of language interaction. In this way, it serves as a reminder to the island’s governing class that patois is more than just a dialect of Standard British English; it is a living language with a rich history.
The speaker of the poem and the imaginary figure Mr Charlie are both employed as symbols in the poem by Bennett. Western-educated Jamaican leaders, like Mr Charlie, are unrepentant in loathing the island’s indigenous culture and language. As a result, they are trying to obliterate the Jamaican accent and replace it with English and British culture.
There is a group of people known as “mimicry men” who are of Jamaican ancestry and ethnicity but who have English sensibilities, values, and intelligence. They serve as a reminder of colonialism’s lingering effects on the world. On the island, the poem’s narrator is a personification of the people who take great pride in their culture and are eager to fight back against any danger to it, both from inside and beyond.