St. Martin poet Lasana Sekou informs us that St. Martin folklorist Laurelle Richards, affectionately known island-wide as “Yaya,” passed away on May 26, 2010 at the age of 55. She will be laid to rest in Marigot on June 4. Laurelle Richards was born on April 28, 1955. She was an independent taxi driver and worked in housekeeping at La Samanna, but more than anything, she was a performer dedicated to preserving St. Martin folklife and traditions. Here are excerpts from Sekou’s news release:
In 1990, Laurelle founded the Cultural Women Association of Rambaud-Saint Louis to promote domestic knowledge of traditional cooking, folk and carnival costuming, and to share her wisdom on how herbs, ground provisions, and fruits were used on the island.
Around 2006, Richards became a founding member of the Rambaud St-Louis Fête Association, a cultural promotion group of which she was the president. On May 17, nearly 10 days before her passing both associations joined forces to hold the annual cook-out of traditional foods that Yaya was famous for organizing under or around an ancient tamarind tree in St. Louis. She called that “tamon” tree the “community center.” Schools and cultural organizations also regularly invited Laurelle Richards to exhibit and talk about the nation’s folklife.
In 2002, with the recital of “The Frock,” Laurelle’s poems began to evolve out of what may be called her “Spoken Word” presentations. The story-filled dress that she wore also became more characteristic of her public performance persona. In April 2010, Yaya appeared at Miss Ruby’s cultural retreat in Friar’s Bay and stunned audiences with her “modeling” of the “pantylette,” stitching humor and sensual elements into an original vignette. Audience members who had seen her in Clara Reyes’ record-attendance Vagina Monologues in 2007 and 2008, were already prepared for her style of dramatizing the “private” and “ordinary” parts of traditional St. Martin with extraordinary personal affect. Essentially, as a folklorist she projected the folklore aspect of the nation onto modernity, with pride and confidence.
Carnival, UNESCO Mother Language presentation, Fish Day, Boardwalk Mas on Great Bay Beach, Christmas fête at the Waterfront, like a village chief welcoming folks to the annual St. Louis food fair, our Yaya was there. . . with us, for us. When we saw her coming, her eyes finding us in the crowd, looking upon us with a warm livingroom smile, we smiled back. . . to memory, not in mockery nor mimicry but in that modest way of oldtime S’maatin people.
Before her passing Laurelle Richards had collected her poems into a manuscript for publication by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP) as her first book, which will be called The Frock & Other Poems.
For more information, you may write to Lasana Sekou at firstname.lastname@example.org.