The Tale in Kreyol
Lucrece Louisdhon-Louinis is surrounded by stories. They brought her to this country and have taken her around the world. nightstories as if they are past lovers: She knows them intimately but is not blinded by their faults. There's Ti Malice, whom she describes as the Br'er Rabbit of Haitian folktales: "He's quick, he's cunning, watch out he's coming." And there's Ti Malice's foil, Bouki, of whom she says, "The elevator doesn't go to the top floor." Then there's the trickster who turns everything people say around to his advantage, and the Haitian version of Cinderella, and the moody girl who falls for a fish but finds out too late, in the other life, that he wasn't really a fish.
Storyteller, librarian, dancer, and Miami-Dade Public Library assistant director of community outreach and special services, Louisdhon-Louinis will share her love of language this Saturday during Cric Crac, one of the Museum of Contemporary Art's annual programs celebrating Haitian culture. In Haiti when you hear krik, you know the story is starting, but only when listeners respond krak, affirming their presence, does it truly begin. "It's not just telling it to the audience," she offers. "It's really a back-and-forth type of interaction."
Incorporating songs (chante) and drumming, and using a combination of English, French, and Kreyol (a phonetic language that was purely oral and aural until only a couple of decades ago), Louisdhon-Louinis conjures beloved Haitian tales and characters to entertain and educate. The stories she tells boast various roots: They come from West Africa and France, and many were passed down to her directly from her own family.
On a student visa that brought her to New York about two decades ago, Louisdhon-Louinis left Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where her father owned a bookstore. The plan, she says, was for her to learn how she and her father could make theirs the biggest and best bookstore on the entire island, maybe in the world. After looking up libreri, her nation's word for bookstore, they found the word library. On arrival, though, she soon realized the words weren't exactly the same. But she and her father agreed "books are books," and after completing school she spent ten years as a librarian in Queens, New York. Today she says of the fateful mixup, "I never regret that." It was in that job she first received a request for stories from her homeland.
But to the alliteratively named storyteller, who joined the Miami-Dade Public Library System in 1997, the beauty of language is that listeners need not understand every word to be affected by it. She realizes language's power -- to compel, connect, convince, confuse, even connive. And even if her audience, Haitian or non-Haitian, doesn't grasp every expression, she knows she can still touch them: "[People] respond to rhythm; they respond to music; they respond to language."
Next Saturday, August 18, the museum audience will be moved by words and witness some movement as well. Aside from storytelling, Louisdhon-Louinis will tap into one of her other talents. She'll join her husband, choreographer Louines Louinis, to perform a variety of Haitian folk dances.
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