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Some thoughts on the CSU Round Table on the Kreol Mother Tongue after 50 Years’ Independence

26.02.2018

On World Mother Tongue Day 21 February, the Creole Speaking union jointly with the Municipality of Port Louis held a Round Table in the Council Chamber on the mother tongue over the 50 Years since Independence.


 The title was “50 an lindepandans, 50 an deba ek aksion an faver rekonesans lang kreol: ki bilan, ki persektiv?


 It was an excellent initiative, and was, in every way, a “success” as an event. It brought together different political currents, in the broad sense of the word “political”. It was well attended. It helped keep Kreol as mother tongue on the political agenda. There were even surprisingly good speeches by both the Minister of Arts and Culture and the Mayor of Port Louis on the progress being made by the Kreol language. The Round Table speakers, each in turn, made valuable points: Dr. Arnaud Carpooran, Alain Ah-Vee, Nita Raghoonundun, Rabin Bhujun and Bruno Raya. 


 I’d like to glance at just two things in this article: the CSU power point presentation and a couple of things Dr. Carpooran said.


 1. There was a power-point presented by the CSU on the history of the struggle for Kreol over the 50 years. It was a low grade presentation – both self-centred and, where not so, often inaccurate. It was devoid of underlying analysis; the list seemed just whatever preoccupied those who drew it up. And events just “appear” as if god-willed or maybe state-willed, never as a result of on-going, most often collective, human endeavour.


 In addition, in the power point presentation, political parties are a no-no. (Except, for some reason, Les Verts/Fraternel – a political party they do credit – I agree it does have a contribution). But, the massive contribution of the MMM in its early years, the MMMSP for its duration, and LALIT for 40 years, are just wiped clean out of history. And there is no explanation as to why! If you see anything missing, just add it on, they say during the presentation. We can only assume that the shocking omissions are the result of some sort of misguided obsequiousness. Even when Sir Aneerood Jugnauth, the present Mentor Minister, who might enjoy the flattery, was the very person who presented the private member’s motion in Parliament in 1977 (a point that the power point does include), it manages to avoid mentioning his name. But, then again, his party, also not mentioned, was the MMM then. And mentioning his name might anger him since he has, since then, changed both his party and his mind.


 Literature, except for the CSU announcing its own literary prize winner – which is good news – was also curiously a no-no, in this potted history. No first play performed or first play published after Independence (even with the caveat “as far as we know”.) No first novel. No mention of a book of 40 Poets – not 40 poems, 40 whole “poets” in Kreol. No collections of short stories published since Independence. No mention of 22 years of Collection Maurice by Immedia, which includes Kreol stories. And no first-as-far-as-we-know newspaper in Kreol, nor first-as-far-as-we-know magazine – in Kreol. Is the “literature” too close to “politics”, the no-no of the original sin? And thus to be blotted out along with it?


 This kind of “revisionism” of history is just not acceptable.


 When quoting the title of LPT’s Hearing, the Power Point manages to make it, too, seem obsequious. Instead of the theme being reported as “ditor” caused when if one “siprim” the mother tongue, it becomes “lefe” or something to that effect, of “non-itilizasyon” of Kreol. The proper title was about whether harm was being done. The cause of this harm being assessed was “suppression” and not just “non-utilization” of the mother tongue”. I suppose if, like Louis XIV, one thinks “L’Etat c’est moi”, then one does not like being accused of either suppressing the peoples’ mother tongue, or of doing harm. But people in the CSU are not, themselves, “the State”. They are people. Lecturers at any University are even less “the State”. They too are people. But the name of the Hearing is a fact. Its terms of reference is a question of fact. It was a Hearing to find out whether harm was being done by the suppression of the mother tongue in schools, and if so what harm. The Findings showed that harm is being done by the suppression of the mother tongue in schools: cognitive harm, emotional harm, cultural harm, human rights harm, and some forms of life-long harm.


 After the Forum, I was chatting to one of the speakers, Bruno Raya, and a couple of other people about the lack of mention of the seminal LPT 1977 Forum at Salle de Fetes Plaza (the papers were later even published in a book and sold). I was assuming it was an omission due to ignorance. A student interrupted our conversation to say that it was because the University can’t mention things that are “politik”.  I said, as a first reaction, that this had been an LPT initiative. He replied something to the effect of, “LPT ek LALIT, tu sa mem figir sa” with an arrogant wave of his hand. He was blind to the fact that most LPT people are not LALIT and most LALIT people are not LPT, and blind to the fact that LPT and LALIT are two separate organizations – one is an association registered with the Registrar that promotes literacy and the mother tongues (and which has received two UNESCO awards for precisely these two kinds of work – which is the kind of fact the CSU should be digging up – I should not have to mention it being a member of LPT), the other organization is proud to be a political party struggling on the quasi totality of issues. That some people are in the leadership of both organizations is neither here nor there. But the young man did reveal what perhaps his colleagues were trying to hide: a terror of any facts that are political. They cannot be mentioned by the University! They must be hidden. (The student, en passant, failed to notice that he had conflated the CSU and the University of Mauritius! They could, with as much lack of accuracy, be seen at the Round Table as “tu sa mem figir la” by sloppy thinking.)


 The mission of the CSU might not be as noble as “to talk truth to power”.


 But the mission of academic study is to seek the truth. It is to establish facts, whenever possible. Not alternative facts. Not facts distorted by voluntary censorship. 


 2. Dr. Arnaud Carpooran’s talk also calls for some criticism. Outlining contributions from the University of Mauritius, he managed to do this with reference almost entirely to his and his team’s own work. He then claimed that he wrote “the first Kreol dictionary” – as if neither Vinesh Hookoomsing and Philip Baker’s not LPT’s existed, nor even the scholarly comparison of the two dictionaries by Prof. Robert Chaudenson!* What was he comparing if they did not exist? It is not enough to come up after the event and say he meant “Kreol-Kreol” dictionary.


 We did not mention it publicly at the time – perhaps we should have, in the interests of truth – but some years ago, in front of 1,000 people at the Octave Wiehe Auditorium, a group of Dr. Carpooran’s students claimed to have created the “first ever” cross-word puzzles in Mauritian Kreol. It is wonderful that they created the puzzles. But, the first ever? Even in 1996, for LPT’s forty different crossword puzzles in the Dorad newspaper some 10 years earlier than these students’ work, LPT did not make such a vast claim. For a start, we knew that Lagazet Lalit de Klas had published some 60 “mo krwaze” in the 1970s and 1980’s! Decades before LPT had. Even in LALIT, we did not, even then, claim we were first in the Lagazet Lalit de Klas. We had not, and still have not, done enough research to make such a blanket claim.


 We hope that the academics in the CSU and at the University will take this criticism well.


Lindsey Collen


* “A Propos de deux dictionnaires du Créole mauricienne: éléments de “lexicographologie” Créole” published in Ralph Ludwig’s Les créoles francais: entre l’orale et l’écrite.