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Patois Mass: rooted in our culture

Then parish priest Fr Gerard Bernier receives the gifts at Patois Mass 2016. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

The 25th annual Patois Mass will be celebrated today, Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe RC Church, Paramin from 9 a.m. Paramin parishioner Claudette Sinnette writes on how this liturgy came into being.

MICHAEL ANTHONY referred to Paramin as being “perhaps Trinidad’s most unique and fascinating mountain village”. Two thousand feet high in the range northwest of Maraval, the area came into prominence when Catholic French settlers arrived in droves to Trinidad and were granted lands in Maraval in 1738. The coming of these French settlers introduced the language of Patois; a language that the slaves put together using their own African experience combining this with the French words they had picked up from the slave masters.

A bulletin put out by the Paramin Folk Choir to introduce a CD called Poetry of a People, which they produced refers to the language of Patois in these words: “Patois has been and continues to be the living language of the people of Paramin. Over the centuries it was the main language used by the people for the singing of Christmas carols-cantique. Patois was the preferred language of some in their deepest prayer.”

The Church, having in recent times recognised the importance of incorporating local culture into the liturgy, the way was opened for the introduction of the Patois Mass to not only celebrate who we are but also to praise and thank God for the blessings of Carnival and to do so in the language in which Carnival was created.

In the year 1992, the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA V) came to Trinidad and Maraval/Paramin was asked to host the Patois-speaking islands of the Caribbean.

Part of the celebrations was a Mass sung completely in Patois by St Lucia. We of the Maraval folk group, led then by Theresa Morella Montano (dec), were greatly impressed by this since it was something we had not heard before but also something we had not even considered doing.

The following year, in October 1993, with the assistance of Dr Cuthbert Joseph (dec) we visited St Lucia to participate in their Jounen Kwéyòl celebrations in Opyay.

Upon returning to Trinidad, the senior members of the group in the persons of Dr  Joseph, Montano, Dianne Pierre, and I sat with the then parish priest Fr Kevin De Loughry OP (dec) to discuss the celebration of the Mass in Patois and how best it could be used to celebrate who we are.

Carnival Sunday was selected as the most suitable day since Carnival came out of the language. It was Fr Kevin who decided that Paramin was the best place to host the celebration because he felt the village had not changed its character in 200 years and generations of the original settlers had remained on the land.

He also surmised that 90 per cent of the residents of Paramin are not only born there but are descendants of the old villagers. This, he said, would give the celebration of the Mass there the greatest meaning. Thus the celebration of the Patois Mass in Paramin came to be.

Again it was Michael Anthony who noted that one ought to salute the people of Paramin because there is so much more to this village than Parang, which everyone associates with it. The people exude tenacity, charm, friendliness, and an inner strength and it is these qualities, along with its history and its spectacular location, which make it such a special place.

Because a legacy such as this is so rooted in our culture, I would in closing, like once more to use words from the bulletin Poetry of a People:

“The Paramin folk choir stands proud together with the entire Paramin/Maraval community in giving to our country and the region this great masterpiece. We dedicate this to our ancestors and the people of this beloved community in recognition of their legacy of love, community values and the rich heritage they have left us. May future endeavours strive towards making our unique mark on the National and Regional cultural landscape.”