World Poetry Day: Tayo, a resistant language

As it is World Poetry Day (hooray for world poets!) and as a footnote to my most recent post, Saint-Louis: New Caledonian Marist Mission Station turned Creole/Melanesian Village, I have decided to put up a poem I wrote when reflecting on the young people, taken from their homes by the Marists, who were instrumental in creating a new creole language, Tayo, in the village of Saint-Louis (Kanaky-Nouvelle-Calédonie).

girls

Saint-Louis “girls”, reproduced with permission in Speedy 2007

Tayo

Child stealers
black robes flapping
like sails on a devil ship
agile tongues
pidginising
in silken effort
to persuade parents
presents and promises
made with a sign of the cross
spiriting away
those little bodies
impressionable
malleable
easily convertible
future fluent mouthpieces
of the men on the mission

Stolen boys
needing nourishment
crying out
for absent mothers
squealing
like injured flying foxes
caught in a cruel trap
of Latin, French and catechism
hard labour in the cane fields
corporal punishment
ever more liberal lashes
for errant field hand scholars
Saint-Louis rum
the prize winning by-product
of Catholic capitalism

Stolen girls
strictly schooled
by feuding Sisters
in stiff white amborella bonnets
skinny limbs
drowning beneath
the loose floral folds
of the robe mission
cultural asphyxiation
gasping
resisting
in those letters
written a thousand times over
till the Sisters are satisfied
and blood flows
from their nibs
the Vicar Apostolic
well pleased with their progress

Stolen children
grown up
in spite of
institutionalisation
education
exploitation
white-ification
eschewing vocations
to discover the censored delights
of the flesh
now plump and visible
under those newly traditional
gaily coloured
cotton smocks
forming couples
founding families
spouses from different clans
on neutral ground
old language patterns
subsumed
in the heady mix

Stolen voices
spurning
the French tongue
forced down their throats
in its straight-laced
straight-jacket
pious purity
instead
incorporating
interweaving
creolising
the grammar
syntax
rhythm
music
of their
never-forgotten
ever-present
ancestors
distilling their spirits
to form
the heart
the core
the soul
of their new village language
linguistic testament
to their
theft
conversion
adaptation
resilience
life
©Karin Speedy, 2016

Photo from: Speedy, Karin. 2007a. Colons, Créoles et Coolies: L’immigration
réunionnaise en Nouvelle-Calédonie (XIXe siècle) et le tayo de
Saint-Louis.
Paris: L’Harmattan.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s