"Tenk Yuh Miss Lou"- The Life and Works of Louise Bennett-Coverley

Updated on September 7, 2015
Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverly
Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverly

Many consider this Jamaican-born poet, writer, and storyteller a hero. Her heroic acts may seem unconventional and somewhat strange, but to those who knew her and who have been exposed to her works, she is nothing short of marvelous.

Hon. Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley, affectionately called Ms. Lou, was born in Kingston, Jamaica on September 7, 1919. She devoted her entire life to teaching and entertaining people all over the world through her unique poems, songs, and theatrical performances.

How well do you know the Jamaican Patios?

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What was so unique about her work? They were all written and performed in the Jamaican patios (pronounced pat-wa) At first she was frowned upon and laughed at for using such 'bad language' instead of the Queen's English that was taught to all school students.

Bad Language

To her ears and in her mind, there was no such thing as 'bad language'; they are only different. By using the Jamaican patios, she connected with Jamaicans of all classes all around the world. However, they were not the only ones to fall in love with Ms. Lou. People all over the world, black, white, and in-between loved her. She not only proved how beautiful the language is, but also brought messages through her works. She spoke of politics, travel, etiquette, social issues, and everyone's favorites, the unique and hilarious happenings of Jamaica's backyard.

Ms. Lou has been internationally recognized and awarded for her grand works.

Family and Childhood

Little Louise Bennett was raised by her mother and grandmother in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father had died when she was very young. Her mother, a dressmaker, was born in the parish of St. Mary. This parish has a high retention of some of the African traditions of some of our Jamaican ancestors. When Louise's mother and grandmother had moved to Kingston, all the African cultures they knew and their love for anything uniquely Jamaican was brought with them. This knowledge was passed on to Louise Bennett in the form of stories called 'Nancy Stories'.

In her mother's sewing room, young Louise started her life of entertaining. She would tell them what she had learned at school (which at times differed from what she was taught at home). She loved to tell jokes and stories to the women who gathered in the sewing room to make them laugh from as early as the age of seven.

On May 30, 1954, Louise Bennett married Eric Winston (Chalk Talk) Coverley who died in 2002. They had one son, Fabian Coverley and adopted several children.

A
Kingston, Jamaica:
Kingston, Jamaica

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Ms Lou's mother and grandmother moved to Kingston where she was born and raised. She enjoyed entertaining her mother's clients in her sewing room.

B
St. Mary, Jamaica:
St Mary Parish, Jamaica

get directions

Ms. Lou's Mother lived in St. Mary before she moved to Kingston.

Miss Lou and the Jamaican Patios

Education

The cultural practices she learned from her grandmother and mother was different from what she was taught at school. In those days students were taught British History, Geography, folk songs, and British dances such as the Scottish Waltz. They learned about the Queen and the many amazing people of England. Students were discouraged from speaking patios, as it was considered the language of the poor and uneducated. Jamaican folk songs, dances, geography, and history were excluded from their syllabus.

Louise Bennett attended the Ebenezer and Calabar Elementary Schools after which she attended the Excelsior High School and St. Simon's College. In 1940, she began studies at the Royal Academy of The Dramatic Arts with scholarships. After graduating, she worked as a reporter with various companies in England.

Miss Lou saw the Jamaican patios as beautiful.

Most Jamaicans are able to speak and understand patios but are unable to read or write it. It is not taught extensively in schools. While our primary language is English, patios is used when communicating with family, close friends, acquaintances, or in informal settings.

Her Poetry

Ms. Lou's poetry may seem confusing to those who read it and to foreigners who may hear it. Every one of her works is written in patios. They talk about everything from Jamaican religion, to politics, to some basic Jamaican behavior. She wrote her first poem when she was fourteen years old. This too was in the Jamaican dialect. Her poems changed the world. They changed the way people saw the dialect and the people, and gave many a way to find the good in all life's bad occasions. Her poetry demolished the walls between the rich and poor, and upper and lower classes by showing how alike they are.

One of my favorite Ms. Lou poems is about a Jamaican, who after living in in the United States for six months, shames his mother because he has returned without an American accent. In the poem, "Noh Likkle Twang" the mother of the returning resident bemoans the fact that he has returned without an accent. She expresses her shame, saying that she can never tell anyone that he has just returned from abroad as everyone would laugh at her.

Noh Likkle Twang (excerpt)
Not even a little Accent (excerpt)
Me glad fe se's you come back bwoy
I'm glad to see that you've come back
But lawd yuh let me dung.
But Lord, you've let me down.
Me shame o' yuh soh till all o'
I'm so ashamed of you that
Me proudness drop dung a grung
All my pride is on the ground.
...
...
Bwoy yuh couldn' improve yuhself!
Boy, why couldn't you have improved yourself!
An yuh get so much pay?
After all, you got so much pay
Yuh spen six mont' a foreign, an
You spent six months abroad
Come back ugly same way?
And return as ugly as before.
...
...
The above is an excerpt from one of Ms. Lou's poem. You can view the full version and other poems here.

Miss Lou performing "Noh Likkle Twang" and "Dry Foot Bwoy"

Performances

Ms. Lou performed in Pantomimes from as early as 1943. Many of her performances were in leading roles that showed her talent and humorous personality.

The many pantomime performances of the great Ms. Lou

(click column header to sort results)
Year of Performance  
Name of Pantomime  
Name of Character  
1943 - 44
Soliday and the Wicked Bird
Big Sambo Gal
1948 - 49
Beauty and the Beast
Cascara
1949 - 50
Bluebird and Brer Anancy
Nana Lou
1955 - 56
Anancy and Pandora (w)
Makeke
1956 - 57
Anancy and Beeny Bud (w)
Ma De Clebba
1960 - 61
Carib Gold
Cookmissi
1961 - 62
Banana Boy
Aunt Mum
1962 - 63
Finian's Rainbow
Mrs. Robust
1963 - 64
Queenie's Daughter (w) (ly)
Queenie
1964 - 65
Bredda Bruk (w) (ly)
Mirrie
1965 - 66
Morgan's Dream of old Port Royal (w) (ly)
Mistress of the Tavern
1966 - 67
Queenie's Daughter (w) (ly)
Queenie
1968 - 69
Anancy and Pandora (w) (ly)
Mekeke
1968 - 69
Anancy and Doumbey
Mamie Love
1969 - 70
Moonshine Anancy
Miss Corpie
1970 - 71
Rockstone Anancy
Mother Balm
1971 - 72
Music Boy
Miss Mama
1973 - 74
Queenie's Daughter (w) (ly)
Queenie
1974 - 75
Dickance for Fippance
Nicey
1975 - 76
The Witch
Coobah
(w) : Indicating that she wrote the play or was involved in writing the script for the play. (ly) : Indicating that she wrote the lyrics, was involved in the writing of the lyrics, or adapted the lyrics.

Published Works

Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley has published several books of her stories and poems. Some of the more popular ones are Jamaica Labrish (1966) and Anancy and Miss Lou (1979).

Internationally Acclaimed to Fame

Even though it may be easier for Jamaicans to understand her poems, Ms. Lou has shared her genius around the world. After studying, she lectured in the UK and US, teaching the Jamaican music, customs, and folklore. In 1996, she moved to Toronto, Canada where she continued to teach and entertain through her performances.

The Hon. Louise Bennett OM., OJ., M.B.E., Hon D. Lit.

Year Awarded
Name of Award
Country
 
M.B.E
 
 
 
 
1979
O.J. (Order of Jamaica)
Jamaica
 
 
 
1979
The institute of Jamaica's Musgrave Silver
Jamaica
 
and Gold medals for distinguished works in Arts
 
 
and Culture
 
 
 
 
1983
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from
Jamaica
 
the University of West Indies
 
 
 
 
1988
Her work in the movie "Milk and Honey"
Canada
 
won the Best Original Song from the
 
 
Academy of Canada Cinema and Television
 
 
 
 
1998
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from
Toronto, Canada
 
York, University
 
 
 
 
 
Named Ambassador At Large
Jamaica
 
 
 
2001
OM (Order Of Merit) for works in Arts
Jamaica
 
and Culture
 
A list of the awards, and honors awarded to Mrs. Louise Bennett-Coverley for her works and contribution to society.

Death of a Hero

Our beloved Miss Lou collapsed in her home in Toronto, Canada and was rushed to the Scarborough Grace Hospital. She died on July 26, 2006 at the age of 86.

She will always be remembered for her wit, exciting performances, and all the things she taught people all around the world. She has led the way for Jamaicans all around the world to embrace their culture despite its uniqueness. She is also a model for people from countries whose language may be classified as 'bad', giving them hope.

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Love her explanation of "derived from." Jamaican P-a-t-o-i-s is most beautiful! Thanks for sharing this great educator-comedienne.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Lisa! Copies of her works are available in many bookstores, on Kindle, and on amazon.com. You can contact the holders of her estate through her official website at http://www.louisebennett.com/ . There is a direct link there that will allow you to send them an email. You should be able to get more information from them on how to get more of her work.

    • profile image

      lisa 

      6 years ago

      brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1i would like to know how to get more of her work, is there an email address to get?

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Dr. Ope.

      I'm excited to see another Jamaican on HubPages.

    • Dr.Ope profile image

      Olive Ellis 

      6 years ago

      Loi-Renee, thank you for telling the world about Miss Lou. She was a truly amazing poet. Voted Up all across the board! All the best to you on hubpages!

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      I am glad I could be of help Konduru. Good luck on your project. :)

    • profile image

      konduru 

      6 years ago

      thank you so much.it is really good know about her. it help me a lot to do my project. i am an Indian.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Juliet. :)

      She definitely is a legend. And you are right Juliet, Every Jamaican all over the world should have a copy of her book or a recording of her performances to share with future generations.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      I am glad you enjoyed her poetry AEvans.

    • Juliet Christie profile image

      Juliet Christie Murray 

      6 years ago from Sandy Bay Jamaica

      She is a legend indeed . she will live on in our hearts forever.It is important that we pass her legacy to our children and other generations to come.Each Jamaican home should have a least one copy of her books. Good work. thumbs up

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 

      6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      She sounded delightful! I enjoy her poetry and you are so right, she will be missed. Thank Goodness for youtube, we can listen to her over and over again. Thank you for also placing a couple of excerpts on this hub for us to read. Thumbs Up! :)

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Cardisa.

      Oh I LOVE Ring-Ding! She was absolutely amazing. I used to love performing her pieces. We would always win a gold or silver when our Speech and Drama, or Theater Arts groups performed them.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Loi, absolutely amazing! You have done a great job on Miss Lou. I use to watch her on tv every Saturday on Ring-Ding. Every one who knew her, loved her.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Simone.

      Yes, she was really amazing. I absolutely love her work and her energy. You can really learn a lot about Jamaica through her work. I think you will enjoy them.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      What an amazing woman Louise Bennett-Coverley was! Props to her for performing in the local style and forging her OWN path in life. I'm so glad you've put her on my horizons! I hope I'll have a chance to get to know her work better.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR

      Loi-Renee 

      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hello Levertis. Thanks for reading.Even today people still shun others because of their language. They are taught that it is not acceptable or good enough.

      Thanks for the votes. :)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      6 years ago from Southern Clime

      This hub is very interesting and informative. No, we should not shun people because of their language. I voted up and interesting.

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