Friday, October 30, 2009

Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive

He landed at Canada’s door
Free African he was for sure
In the sixteen hundreds sailing on ships
Mathieu DaCosta first to arrive!
Oh Yo Yo Mathieu What a mystery
Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How in history
Speaking Mi’kmaq and French
With an accent
Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How you do that?

From Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive by Itah Sadu (published 2009)

Mathieu DaCosta is documented as the first African to arrive in Canada in the 1600s. This part of Canada’s history is not well known because it is not part of the history that is taught in our schools. Itah Sadu, author, story teller and co-owner of the Bathurst Street bookstore A Different Booklist is changing that with her most recent children’s book Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive. On Friday, October 23 rd, Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive was launched at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE.) The room was packed (standing room only) with well-wishers and fans. The book is based on the life of Mathieu DaCosta an African man who was an explorer and interpreter for at least two European groups of colonizers. DaCosta spoke Dutch, French, Portuguese and Mi’kmaq and played an important role in the settlement of Canada. He facilitated dialogue between the Europeans and some of the Native people of Canada (Mi’kmaq.) Speaking Mi’kmaq and French, With an accent, Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How you do that?

The beautifully illustrated book comes with a calypso on CD that will have children and their parents singing about Mathieu DaCosta. It was sheer genius that Sadu thought of making the words of this children’s story the lyrics of a calypso. As children have a natural tendency to respond to music, they can learn faster through rhymes and customized songs. Studies have been done that indicate songs encourage mental development in children. It has been observed that children learning music are more likely to read better. Rhymes have the ability to support higher level of thinking in children because the rhythm helps children recognize sequences and patterns. This contributes to the memory of the children who learn through music and pre-school teachers are trained to create an environment rich with songs, dance and action to engage the attention of their students and inspire them to learn. Moving to music comes naturally to children and they respond to sounds without thinking which helps them to learn about timing, coordination and rhythm. Some children in kindergarten who may not have learnt their alphabet or numbers before starting school can have a boost in self confidence when they realise that they can memorize the lyrics of a song and move to music and they are successful at an activity in class. Children will have fun learning history, while dancing to calypso music. Oh Yo Yo Mathieu What a mystery, Oh Yo Yo Mathieu How in history.

Although the Mathieu Da Costa Challenge was launched in 1996 as an annual writing and artwork contest to encourage students to explore how diversity has shaped Canada’s history it did not help to include Mathieu Da Costa in the history curriculum. His name is seldom to be found in history books all around! But now he is in calypso, they will know him more!

This children’s book has been published at just the right time because Marlene Jennings, Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Notre Dame de Grâce-Lachine, has introduced legislation (private member’s bill in February 2008) to have the first Monday in February proclaimed Mathieu Da Costa Day in Canada. I think that she should seize this opportunity and give every MP a copy of Mathieu DaCosta: First To Arrive. The infectious rhythm of the calypso would soon have them all humming, singing even dancing and eventually provide overwhelming support for Jennings’ Bill C-272. We can all play a part by urging our Member of Parliament to support An Act to establish Mathieu Da Costa Day (Mathieu Da Costa Day Act.) Every Canadian needs to know that we did not just arrive in the 1960s and later. In the sixteen hundreds sailing on ships! Mathieu DaCosta first to arrive!

The words and rhythm of the calypso that accompanies the book Mathieu Da Costa: First To Arrive are easy to learn even for those of us who are no longer children. I learnt the words and rhythm in less than 24 hours and was happy to sing the calypso and demonstrate the art of calypso dancing for the 25 women who attended the Women Speaking Up class at CUPE Ontario Fall School on Sunday, October 25. Move to the right Mathieu! Roll the waves Mathieu! Come on board, get down low, roll the waves Mathieu!

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