On 8 February 2023, Shape History launched our inaugural History Shaper Fund. The winner would receive £10,000, 6 months of mentoring, and full use of our office space. 11 weeks later, we were excited to announce our winner, Lamesha Ruddock. Today we share Lamesha’s foreword piece, marking the beginning of her 6-month long historical research and theatre-making project, I’NA SUIT YOU.
ONE LIKKLE ISLAND TO A GLOBAL DIASPORA
Let’s start with a challenge: name one notable event in Black British History that isn’t Windrush. Did you struggle? I thought you would. If you thought of one then well done – and I’ll give you a bonus point if it’s not a sorrowful event.
If you did struggle, it’s no fault of yours.
The history of African and Caribbean people in the UK has largely been hidden only coming to the forefront of debate due to public awareness of issues such as the Windrush scandal. The lack of knowledge and understanding of this fundamental part of British history has fuelled our general lack of understanding of systematic racism and proper appreciation for a diverse culture.
The British education system is failing to teach Black British history widely enough; of the 59 GCSE history modules available from the 3 biggest exam boards, only five mention the history of Black people in Britain. Five! We are not even learning our own history at the most basic level.
In our curriculum, we’re not taught about the Bristol Bus Boycott, the Mangrove Nine, Black people in the UK before Windrush.Skipping over Black British history which is British history, means we are fed a false, eurocentric narrative, and this has led to the way we see Britain today.
It has led to people claiming that systemic racism doesn’t exist.
It has led to people telling us to go home despite being here for generations.
It has led to people appropriating our culture without understanding where it came from.
“Patois is more than just an island ting: it’s a language holding Jamaicans across the world together.” – Eternity Martis
With this in mind, my project’s focus is on the history of Jamaican Patois in the arts with a focus on poetry, theatre and music. Jamaican Patois is an English-based creole language which developed in the 17th century following the British invasion. From 1690 to 1838, enslaved people from various countries who spoke different languages were transported to Jamaica. The language evolved out of necessity so there could be adequate communication. Following Jamaica’s independence in 1962, Jamaican Patois became a recognised language and this propelled its use in literature and music. This crucial creative development together with Jamaicans migrating across the world led to Jamaican Patois being exported internationally.
This project is important to me as there needs to be a greater understanding in our community on the beauty and validity of Jamaican Patois. Black languages throughout the diaspora have been stigmatised. Jamaican Patois is known as slang or grammatically incorrect English. This has had such an impact on how 2nd, 3rd generation immigrants engage with Jamaican Patois and their culture. Code switching in a professional setting or to people outside their community has become far too common and I hope that the project can ignite holding conversations in Jamaican Patois and producing more art using Jamaican Patois. There needs to be a greater understanding on how Jamaican Patois has assimilated into the vernacular of the diaspora. London slang is known as Multicultural London English.
It is not pidgin and certainly not English. Jamaican Patois is its own language with its own rules and rhythm and unique body of vocabulary.
I applied for the Shape History Fund because it was the first fund I saw that was encouraging young changemakers to pitch their passion projects. Exploring the history of Jamaican Patois, has been an idea I have been ruminating on for a while but I hadn’t found a fund or grant suitable for it. This was the first fund that I had seen that had such a wide remit that was accessible for those who hadn’t applied for funding before, encouraging a variety of pitches. Reading about them has been so inspirational to see how other young people are operating and carving out their own space.
I am so glad to have won because this has really boosted my confidence in pitching my ideas and this funding will enable me to carry out my historical research and theatre making project. I will be able to pay emerging Caribbean creatives; take the time to research into Jamaican Patois; and start building my production company which will all help elevate the work I make.
If you’re interested in my project and want to get involved, we are looking for theatre and history partners, workshop leaders and participants so don’t hesitate to get in touch – my contact details are below.
Moreover, if you’d like to engage more with Black British History check out Young Historians Project, Black Curriculum, BLAM UK and The History Hotline to name a few. The history is out there being spearheaded by grassroots organisations, you just need to actively seek it out.
“Out of many, one people”
Find more of Lamesha’s work below: