Benny Wenda presented with award as 12th Book Fair closes

MARIGOT--Nobel Peace Prize nominee and activist Benny Wenda was presented with the President's Award by Book Fair coordinator Shujah Reiph and President of House of Nehesi Publishing (HNP) Jacqueline Sample at the close of the 12th Annual edition on Saturday night at a packed ceremony in the Chamber of Commerce, Concordia.

Governor Eugene Holiday and his wife, Minister of Education, Cultural Affairs, and Sports Patricia Lourens-Philip, Territorial Councillor Annette Philips from the Collectivité, and SXM Airport Managing Director Regina Labega were among dignitaries in the audience.

UK-based Wenda's work to free his own people in West Papua (New Guinea) from genocide and human rights abuses, at the cost of his own banishment for ten years, was described by Reiph as "standing up for the same reasons that led to Mandela's imprisonment for 27 years."

Cradling the African wood statuette, Wenda who gave a workshop earlier in the afternoon said he was privileged to meet other writers who can expose through their works what is happening to people struggling to survive in other countries.

"It gives me hope that they can write stories or poems about Africa, the Caribbean, America, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, Micronesia etc; people are crying for help and I am here to give a message. Please remember those people who are suffering," he said in his acceptance remarks.

The night, however, belonged to leading linguist Rhoda Arrindell, the former Minister of Education, Culture and Sports (2010-2012) whose book Language, Culture, and Identity in St. Martin was the subject of the main book launch.

The book provides insight into how language and culture are affected by identity in St. Martin and is based on the final stage of her doctorate dissertation which she did at the University of Puerto Rico for her PhD obtained in 2011.

"This book is the result of a personal quest to obtain empirical data and to provide analysis in order to contribute to the language discussion in St. Martin," Arrindell said. "For me it was very important to go away to Puerto Rico, or anywhere, because after all this discussion about the place of St. Martin language 'Tis we own' that we celebrate at events like this it is our educators and policy makers who are still grasping where to place it, if at all, in the curriculum. I wanted to go back and find data that would support why I believe strongly it has a place in the educational domain."

"To date language policy in my view remains unguided by empirical data so the intention here is to examine how people in St. Martin use language to express self identity and what relationship might exist between language, identification and self identification," she added. "It expands on the work of Daniella Jeffry and others and uses original data to present a more detailed sketch of the St. Martin vernacular, along with an updated account of the social and linguistic reality of contemporary St. Martin. Lastly, the book proposes a national language policy for St. Martin along with guidelines of how to incorporate St. Martin vernacular into the education process."

She gave humorous examples of how popular St. Martin vernacular has crept into the administrative and political domains, at one point having a dig at Government and reminding that there is no such thing as the plural form "advices" while the French side did not escape with the incorrect "Rue Mullet Fish." Another odd example was to "touch one's salary."

"I always wondered if they touched it and left it there," said Arrindell to laughter.

Arrindell received a standing ovation for the enlightening presentation of her book. She thanked the many people who contributed to its publication, in the research and through the survey.

Guest speaker Dr. Garrett Hongo, poet, distinguished professor and Pulitzer Prize finalist from the USA praised Arrindell's work, saying it had given him a "personal tour and acquaintanceship to the St. Martin people and their language."

"Through her marvellous achievement of this fine book, I found an astounding work, highly informed, decorously argued, and rigorously thought out," he said.

Earlier Raymond Helligar recited four of his popular "grass root" poems which were very well received by the audience. We mother tongue, the Tamarind tree, and one about the petition to ban cock fighting brought with it the inevitable innuendo and laughter.

Two students also recited poems from the Writing in French Workshop that was given during the day by novelist and poet Nicole Cage from Martinique.

Shujah Reiph declared the Book Fair another resounding success, presenting his hard working staff on stage to thank them.

The evening closed with refreshments and the book signing.

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