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Feb 20, 2017

Leela Vernon, Ambassador for Kriol Culture, Dies

Leela Vernon

Even as news filtered through on Friday of the death of Doctor Cecil “Chubby” Reneau, there were fears for the life of another famous Belizean in the hospital, the “Queen of Brukdown,” Lila Genus Vernon. She had been in treatment for a week for chronic renal failure and family members indicated to us then that she was finally starting to come around. But then on Sunday morning around nine, things took a deadly turn and the Punta Gorda native passed on. She leaves behind a rich legacy of empowering music celebrating the Creole culture. To expand on her most famous song, if anybody ever said Kriol had no kulcha, she proved them wrong. Aaron Humes looks back at a life well-lived.


Aaron Humes, Reporting

Leela Vernon had been in recovery at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital going into the weekend and according to family members, she was in good spirits, even singing for her doctors. That makes it even more difficult to decipher what caused her to suddenly die, according to her sister, Sandra Brown.


Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown, Sister

“She was off the machine and she was talking, fully oriented, everything. She was even talking about – we’re telling her about the blood drive, and she didn’t realize how much love and support that she have throughout the Belize community, and everybody from even the small villages and so were calling in to donate, and she was happy and she was pleased with that. And she even sang for the doctors, she was doing pretty good. Even the morning when she coded she was doing very good, so we’re surprised that they called us to come in; she didn’t make it. It was a great surprise to us, even though she had a lot against her, but we had reason to believe that she would make progress to get better.”


Instead, she suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. But the end of her journey was preceded by many wonderful years sharing her gift for music and pride in the Belizean and especially Kriol culture, epitomized in a song instantly recognizable by its opening line…


Sandra Brown

“Ah wah kno who seh Kriol no gah no kulcha.”


Franz Vernon

Franz Vernon, Son/Musician

“Ah wah kno seh! That was her song and her logo, “Ah wah kno who seh Kriol no gah no kulcha.” Because they know they have culture; we the Kriol people have culture, our way of life, our food, our music, the way we talk, the way we do all sort of thing; Belize is a country full of culture and she represented the Kriol culture.”


It is something she shared with her adult sons and daughters, the former of whom are all musicians and backed Leela in national and international concerts. Long-time friend and planned biographer Myrna Manzanares, with whom she served on the National Kriol Council, recalled the best of Leela in speaking with News Five while she was in hospital.


Myrna Manzanares

Myrna Manzanares, Friend/Biographer

“She is my friend. When she does come da Belize whe paat you tink ih go? (Laughs) Da me ih stay, and I like that; and when I go to P.G., that’s where I go, we laugh and talk and we look at cultural and traditional things. Leela has a lot, a lot, a lot of culture. And so I’m hoping that – well, I have some things, and we had done through the National Institute of Culture and History, ISCR, we had gone down there and we had interviewed her, and we have her on tape, and those are some of the materials that I am using in my biography, but there is so much more that we need to get, and I hope that we get it.”


Of course, that’s not meant to be. But death hardly tarnishes Leela’s legacy; in fact, it burnishes it. Fellow Punta Gordan Wil Maheia, in a video message, recalled another great accomplishment of hers: the singing of the National Anthem in Kriol.


Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia, Friend

“One of the things she really wanted to accomplish before she passed away was the singing of the National Anthem and getting it recorded in Kriol, which was something she basically accomplished right here in Punta Gorda Town, to have the National Anthem sung in Kriol. So I just want to say that she has contributed a lot; I thank her and her family for all they have done for Belize as a whole and especially for the people of Toledo.”


And her family, as Leela herself would prefer, want that, whenever the funeral takes place, that it not be in mourning, but in celebration.


Sandra Brown

“We want a celebration of her life and legacy; basically, she wanted a celebration. She always said, ‘Ah no kay weh you do wid mi body as long you celebrate and Belize celebrates’; and celebrate our culture and everything and the music; that’s what she wants. So we want it to be a celebration of her life.”


Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Leela Vernon, Ambassador for Kriol Culture, Dies”

  1. Eye in the Sky says:

    A huge cultural loss for Belize. Goodbye my friend.

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