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Friday, January 25, 2013



The T-20 cricket at the Beausejour Cricket Ground (BCG) ended last weekend; but not before St. Lucia’s “signature national expression” (E-SALOP) travelled several times around the globe at the speed of light. And there’s no doubt that the expression (and I almost said like our Nobel Laureates) is putting St. Lucia’s name on the map.

Even if we may not have invented it, we certainly have patented it as our signature national expression!

The etymology of the expression is as nebulous as are so many other “things Kweyol”. (1) Is it an African expression? (2) Is it a French expression? (3) Is it a French-Caribbean expression? (4) Or is it simply a “kweyolised” or “bastardised” “loanword”? (5) Was it our idiosyncratic way of cussing Massa during the days of slavery for his atrocities against us?

In the case of (5), historians might claim that the expression has a measure of symbolic-historical significance/legitimacy and they might want to justify and even immortalize it for that purpose.

At another angle, we may ask: Is the expression simply a fervent flirtation, a “toy in blood”, so to speak and is it therefore worthy of becoming part of our “national pride” and “national identity’?
It would be more than enlightening to hear the views of our major Kwéyol stakeholders/language experts like Hon Derek Alton Walcott (a lover and exponent of the Kwéyol language in his poetry), the Folk Research Centre (FRC) and the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF). It would also be interesting to hear the inputs of Kwéyol experts like Senator Dr Kentry Jn Pierre (who holds a PhD in the study of Kwéyol and who is also the parliamentary secretary with responsibility for “Heritage and the Creative Arts”) as well as other orthographers in St. Lucia and the Kwéyol diaspora in that regard.

In the meantime, a few questions may be in order: Is there a need to draw a line in its “usage” and if so, where do we do so? Is it a legacy worth “patenting”? Will we be comfortable with our kids or other members of the family brandishing it around? Will teachers and parents be comfortable with kids hurling it around in the class, home and sporting events at the school? Is the loud deafening “E-SALOP” chorus more vociferous than numerous?

I clearly remember my challenges in that regard when I headed an inner city secondary school. You can imagine my embarrassment when the expression went viral at inter-school sporting events and that our “schoolchildren” were looking for every opportunity to brandish it about. It was fun to them but not to me! It took a swift intervention of “faculty psychology” to bring about a temporary reprieve. Notwithstanding, it was obvious that the expression was a cultural phenomenon seemingly embedded in our cultural psyche and therefore difficult to root out.

Yes, E-SALOP may be a cultural idiosyncrasy but to my mind it also mirrors a broader cultural issue. The fact that it is gaining increasing currency, acceptability and momentum among us - perhaps more so than anywhere else in the Kweyol diaspora – may be an issue worthy of cultural research. The Martiniquais use the expression widely and one “hypothesis” is it might have its origin in Haiti and crossed over from Martinique into St. Lucia!

Previously, it appeared to have been restricted to the “un-nuanced” and the “un-schooled” and “the inebriated” rural “plantation” folk who blurted it out either spontaneously or recklessly especially during emotional outbursts or as anathema against an opponent. It was especially popular during fights with each punch thrown being greeted by an explosive chorus of E-SALOP! It was also very popular in the cinema and during cock fights. Now, it appears to have been “universalized” and today, it has reached a national crescendo giving it full poetic legitimacy in public places.

The notion that it was popular among rural folk may suggest that it was linked to the plantation and that gives credence to the earlier un-scientific hypothesis that it might have been an expression used by slaves against their masters.

A similar hypothesis might also apply to the Jamaican “CLAT” expression. (CLAT in Jamaica means cloth). They – like us – have their parallel “Patois” expressions, with four variants of “CLAT” (namely, BAMBO, BLOOD, PUSSY AND RASS). They use it widely and especially in the dancehall environment and underground culture. Peter Tosh used it unreservedly in song; it was also a favorite of undisputed dancehall’s virtuoso “Ninja Man” (now in prison for charges of murder). It is also used in a few cases of dub poetry; but I have never heard Jamaicans using it in a massive chorus at a public event like a cricket match! With Jamaica’s new daggering laws, the public use has become even more heavily circumscribed.

ESPN viewers of the T20 leg in St. Lucia might have wondered “what the hell was going on” when the expression was blasted out every time there was excitement on the cricket field. It was used so frequently and indiscriminately that it couldn’t escape attention.

The “E-SALOP” expression is an adaptation of “HE-GAS” or “E-GAS” which has been around from “creation”. We might even want to consider the latter (which has become almost “obsolescent”) to be a euphemism of the former.  

Like E-SALOP, HE-GAS was also very popular in cinemas and during fights and cock fights. It was especially thought to be popular among what we perceived to be “Jerrous” and “Meros” of our society. But that was in an earlier cultural frame of reference. Today, it would seem that the “E-SALOP” expression has achieved full legitimacy across all sections of society.

I have no issue if it used in private conversations; but I have every issue when it reaches “paranoid proportions” and bellowed out with bliss and recklessness at public events.

Even if it is evident that Caribbean is demonstrating an increasing propensity for overt obscenities as captured in some of our art forms (calypsos and soca, for example), we should learn “when” and “where” to draw the line! We can’t condemn Exodus for “Blackberry Whine”, “Poppot’ and “Callie” for “daggering” and take pleasure in hurling “E-SALOP” at events with moral impunity!

We can do better!

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