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26774: Hermantin(News)Creole troupe marks 40 years (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Posted on Sun, Dec. 04, 2005
Creole troupe marks 40 years
A Haitian cultural society celebrates its anniversary, and its mission to
celebrate Creole culture, literacy and arts in South Florida with a performance
of funeral play.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
The funeral is far from somber. Dancers, moving like spiders, guard the
entrance to the cemetery where Baron Samedi, the Vodou guardian of the dead,
awaits to claim the soul. As the pallbearers approach, so does Samedi, letting
out a wicked laugh. The drums beat faster, the dancers' movements, more
Though mourners chant the name of the deceased, Jozafa, and declare him dead,
they believe his death is the beginning, not the end. In the tradition of their
enslaved ancestors, they believe the dead Haitian peasant will now return to
his ancestral home, Africa.
This Haitian-Creole tragicomedy is more than a play. It is a celebration of
Haiti's culture and the Creole language that only 40 years ago started to gain
respect through the efforts of Haitian folk culture groups like Sosyete
Koukouy, which revolutionized the way Haitians now think about themselves and
Today, the Sosyete Koukouy, one of Haiti's most prominent cultural troupes
whose players now live mostly in the United States, will celebrate 40 years of
preserving the Haitian culture and keeping the Haitian language alive by
showcasing Lanmo Jozafa or The Death of Jozafa.
The troupe's name means Society of Fireflies, and was founded Dec. 18, 1965, in
Haiti as part of an unprecedented movement dedicated to championing the Creole
language, arts and culture.
''When we formed the group, Creole was patois; you couldn't speak it in school
establishments and it was very segregated,'' said Jean-Marie Denis, better
known as Jan Mapou, one of the group's founders and owner of Libreri Mapou
bookstore at 5919 NE Second Ave. in Little Haiti.
``After our cultural revolution in 1965, Creole went into schools, books were
being published and everybody started talking Creole openly everywhere.''
Still, there were those who insisted on speaking French, long the official
language of Haiti and associated with those who were educated.
Creole finally became Haiti's second official language in 1987 within the newly
rewritten Haitian Constitution.
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a linguist who championed the
plight of Haiti's poor, made the teaching of Creole the basis of a literacy
campaign promoting the teaching and writing of Creole to adults and children.
Today, the French Creole language and culture is not just celebrated by
Haitians, but by all who commemorate International Creole Day on Oct. 28.
In South Florida, home to 245,747 Haitians, one of the fastest growing Haitian
communities in the United States, according to the latest census data, Creole
is recognized in other ways.
Former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas made it one of the official
languages used at Miami International Airport, and Miami-Dade College recently
announced that due to unprecedented demand, it was creating a new Associate of
Science Degree program in Translation/Interpretation Studies for Haitian-Creole
speakers beginning Jan. 4 at the InterAmerican Campus, 627 SW 27th Avenue.
But for Sosyete Koukouy performers, the mission goes beyond just promoting use
of the language. It's also about helping Haitians and non-Haitians better
understand the culture via performances that depict life's challenges, such as
Jozafa's wake, funeral and burial in a rural Haitian town.
Through the play audience members learn how the celebrations in rural Haiti
take on a much more festive atmosphere, with mourners playing cards and domino
games, singing, dancing and making jokes while reflecting on the life of the
''It's the best way to know and understand the Haitian heritage,'' said Mapou,
who wrote the play more than two decades ago.
Mapou founded the Miami branch of Sosyete Koukouy 28 years ago. There are
branches in Homestead, Tampa Bay, New York, Connecticut, Canada and Haiti.
About 35 of the Miami actors, dancers and singers will participate today, and
English translations, via headsets, will be provided by Gepsie Metellus, a
Haitian community activist.
Ernst Julmeus, 57 and a Miami resident, said of the group's contributions:
''Most of our traditions have been transmitted orally. If you don't keep them,
they will die,'' he said.
Nancy St. Leger, 47, a teacher at Coconut Grove Elementary, said the group also
instills Haitian pride.
''In May we go from school to school and do shows. The kids love it so much;
they love seeing the costumes and an authentic Haitian performance,'' said St.
Leger, one of the dancers in today's play, and the group's dance director. ``I
love doing it, it's teaching children to be proud of their culture.'