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Negro Creole

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On the grocery store’s bulletin board is a collage of messages posted by different people about their concerns -- rooms for rent, jobs or tennis partners wanted, bicycles for sale. Similarly, studying the word “Creole” will leave you with a confusing collage as to what the word means because there are inumerable unrelated opinions.

It is so messy that the word has no meaning until the author defines it in the way he/she is using it -- whether as applied to people (e.g. how they were born or where), animals (e.g. mules, horses), plants, carrots, or eggs. There are even great problems with its word origin -- from Portuguese, Crioulo -- “raised at the home of the master”; Spanish, Criollo -- “native to the place”; or African Negro -- of unknown origin and meaning.

Some of the Creole definitions for where one is born include: in the USA, White descendants of French or Spanish settlers of the Gulf States; or Europeans born in France or Spain or their West Indies colonies.

Regarding race or color: in some parts of Latin America, a person of pure Spanish descent; in Brazil, a Negro; in Peru, a mestizos (Amerindian and White).

Regarding how one is born, Creole is either into nobility or as a servant to nobility. Usually Creole servants in a household are treated more favorably than full-blooded natives. Creole’s association with a certain degree of noble excellence of origin and culture goes back to ancient times when a custom of the father was to place a newborn child upon his knee and declare “I created this creature.”

In New Orleans there is an ethnic group known as “Creoles of Color” and, like the “Raceless Mestizos” of the Southeast USA, they do not consider themselves to be in the same class with Black or White people. During slavery, a “Negro Creole” was one born in the colonies, as distinguished from bossals born in and imported from Africa.

Next “Creole Negroes” were those with mixed White or aborigine blood who spoke French or Spanish. Many African Americans think of Creole as representative of Louisiana (e.g. Baton Rouge and New Orleans) -- those Mulattoes speaking a creolized version of French and Spanish and who specialize in Mardi Gras, gumbo, and pralines (candy).

Creole languages are fully formed languages that developed from pidgin. The origin of “pidgin” is a 19th century Chinese mispronunciation of the English “business” when they were negotiating in China with the British. A pidgin is not the mother tongue of any speech community but if it becomes so it is called “Creole.”

Then it can even replace the community’s original tongue. The Negro Creole dialect was a child of necessity when slaves from scattered parts of Africa were suddenly herded together but were unable to communicate with their masters or even with fellow unfortunates.

They did their best by contriving a soft jargon based on a “chopped up” version of the master’s language. This was the Lingua Franca (medium of communication) between master and slave. Examples of Negro Creole developing from lingua franca are English derived Krio (spoken in Sierra Leone) and Gullah (spoken in the Sea Islands of South Carolina); and Louisianan and Haitian Creole, (derived from French).

Naturally, each succeeding generation of Creole speaking people in their respective locations have passed their specific language from generation to generation. The first documentation of Negro Creole was in 1692 when an enslaved woman in Barbados used English words in the manner of her Tituba language: “He tell me he God.”

Regardless of its European language contributions, Negro Creole is an idiom (the people’s way of expressing themselves) rich in songs, proverbs, and folktales from Africa.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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