Monday, August 22, 2016

A Plea for Consistent Haitian Solidarity and Social Activism in the Haitian Diaspora

A Plea for Consistent Haitian Solidarity and Social Activism in the Haitian Diaspora
by Celucien L. Joseph

One of the contributing factors to Haiti's continual abject poverty, economic dilemma, and the decline of Haiti's civil and political societies lies in the lack of active financial and intellectual investments in Haiti's educational programs, as well as development projects--from the most resourceful Haitian professionals and thinkers in the Haitian Diaspora.

Whenever Haitians do not take ownership of the resources of their country and are hesitant to participate in the reconstruction and development processes of Haiti, we make a way for the infiltration of NGOs, neocolonization, imperial abuse, as well as for more foreign private sectors or foreign-government-supported programs and investors--both religious and non-religious-- that land in the country to exploit and abuse the Haitian people and the underclass majority. Some of these individuals and organizations come to Haiti under the banner and mask of humanitarian and Christian organizations; they are the tools of the empire and the devil himself to subdue, oppress, and rule over our people, and block our collective agency and emancipation.

It has been proven by scientific research and empirical studies that most foreign aids have not worked in Haiti and are still not working effectively to alleviate poverty, create jobs, and radically transform Haiti's dying and malfunctioning educational system. This is chiefly due to the intentions, goals, and strategic methods of dispensing those foreign supports and aids.

We need to change our collective attitude of waiting on the white man, white missionaries, and foreign interventions to come to save us from our misery and predicament. I'm just tired of waiting. I'm tired of receiving and expecting foreign aids that do not heal or repair our wounds, but rather prolong our suffering and keep us in a state of consistent dependency. Are you too not tired? This colonial mindset needs to go so we can make room for the deliberate decolonization of our minds and actions.

Ladies and Gentlemen in the Haitian Diaspora: We ought to be a people of a cause and a community known for its unrelenting service, giving, and investment in Haiti's present and future.

Join a cause Today to make the children, and young men and women in Haiti proud of themselves and dream of a different world and a more promising future. Let's join our hands together with men and women of good will to renew the Haitian society and foster optimistic future possibilities in the best interest of our people and for the proud of our beloved Ayiti Cherie.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Between History and Myth: Three Perspectives on the Role of Religion in Haiti’s National History and the Haitian Revolution

Between History and Myth: Three Perspectives on the Role of Religion in Haiti’s National History and the Haitian Revolution
by Celucien L. Joseph 

Generally, there are three main interpretations of Haiti’s national history and the watershed historical moment of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), in which the dynamics between religion, myth, and history became a scholarly and intellectual investigation and curiosity.  The three perspectives of the unfolding events leading to the Haitian Revolution and the successful birth of the Haitian state and concurrently the ultimate abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue include the Protestant version of Haitian History, the Vodouist version of Haitian History, and the Secular (non-theistic) version of the Haitian History. The goal of this short essay is to briefly recapitulate these three ideological approaches, and to articulate an alternative view.
First, the Protestant (Christian) version of Haitian history states that in August 14, 1791, a group of enslaved Africans gathered in a secret Vodou meeting at Bois Caiman (a little place outside of the city of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and about two to three miles from the entrance gate of Plaine du Nord), sacrificed a pig as part of their religious-Vodou ritual, and dedicated the country of Haiti to the Devil so they could be free from the tyranny of slavery and French colonization. Protestant Haitian Christians have interpreted this historic meeting as a demonic pact. From that point on, Haiti has been cursed because of that (1) historical pact their African ancestors made with the Devil, and (2) that the Vodou religion to which Haitian ancestors committed themselves is an evil religion. Consequently, many Haitian Christians and Church leaders, both in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, equate Vodou with devil worshipping and directly associated the Afro-Haitian religion with stricken-poverty characterized Haiti’s contemporary society and the plight of the majority of Haitian population. Vodou does not truly liberate people; rather, it keeps its adherents in in profound spiritual bondage and material poverty.
Second, the Vodouist perspective of Haitian history argues that in August 14, 1791, a group of enslaved Africans, many of whom were Vodou priests and Vodouizan, gathered in a secret Vodou meeting in a plantation plain called Bois Caiman, made a pact among themselves—not with the Devil as the Protestants claim—and swore to be free or die. Vodouizan also contend  that most of the military leaders and commanders of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803) were also Vodou priests who not only mobilized the rancorous enslaved population to freedom and independence, they provided encouragement, spiritual comfort, and eventually led Haiti to become the first independent Black-Republic in the Western world.  As a result, in the Vodouist interpretation of the Haitian history, the Vodou religion is interpreted as the catalyst that empowered the slaves toward freedom out of slavery and independence from French colonialism. Vodou is both Haiti’s (ancestral) spiritual and cultural heritage which all Haitians should promote and preserve. People in this tradition also maintain that Vodou is the religion of the Haitian majority, and it is the faith that sustains the Haitian people from the beginning to the present.
            Finally, the Secular (non-theistic) version of Haitian History affirms that Bois Caiman is a fabrication and national myth in Haitian History. It never happened because there were no contemporary eyewitness accounts that attested to the historical credibility and accuracy of that nocturnal meeting, and that it is difficult to know exactly what really transpired in the night of August 14, 1791, if it even happened. The written accounts of the historic night should be understood as pseudo historiographies which were written many years after the actual event took place by travel writers and historians who fabricated the story of the Bois Caiman event. These written accounts should be seen as embroidered accounts of an acceptable national myth. The alternative idea advanced by proponents of this school of thought is that generous number (about 30 to 40 %?)  of the African slaves, who were transported to the Saint-Domingue island in the period of the Haitian Revolution—that is at the end of eighteenth century—came from the kingdom of Kongo; they were prominent soldiers and men of war who possessed incredible military skills and strategies, and knew how to win a war. The success of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 can only be attributed to African military genius—not to religious piety or dependence to a Supreme Being/God.

Toward a More Inclusive Interpretation of Haitian History: An Alternative View

Both Protestant and Vodouist interpretations of Haiti’s national History and the Haitian Revolution acknowledge the theistic or divine element of Haitian History.  The non-theistic secular interpretation rejects the doctrine of divine providence in human history because, in a sense, it contradicts the critical nature and study of human history and the clear delineation between observable historical facts and myth-making/fiction. The Vodouist version of Haitian history champions ancestral cultural traditions and practices, and see Africa as the center piece of Haitian cultural and religious identity.  By contrast, the Protestant version of Haitian history undermines the ancestral religious traditions and spirituality of the Haitian people because it contradicts Christian morality and the belief in the only Triune God. In fact, the Protestant narrative attests that when an individual is converted to the Christian faith, his/her national identity and racial identity do not matter anymore because in Christ, God is creating one race, one people, and one collective Christian identity. Protestant Haitian Christians also stress that Jesus is the substance of Haitian identity because in him, God is also creating a new Haiti in contemporary Haitian society. Vodou is the antithesis of Christianity. Haitian Protestant Christians unapologetically affirm that Christianity is the only true religion of the living God and the true religion of human liberation. Finally, the Protestant perspective maintains the idea that Haiti is cursed because at its beginning, the founders failed to dedicate the country to God, but did so to the Devil.
            Beyond the explored three multiple viewpoints of Haitian history, as highlighted in the aforementioned paragraphs, the Islamic version of Haitian history and the Haitian Revolution has been neglected by both Haitian and Haitianist historians and thinkers. Recent studies on the Haitian Revolution and the religious culture of the Africans in the time of the Haitian Revolution have demonstrated the Islamic element of the Haitian Revolution, and the fact of Islamic piety in the colonial life in Saint-Domingue. However, the Islamic interpretation of the Haitian history is not a new perspective; proponents of this school of thought maintain that a large number of the enslaved population at Saint-Domingue and iconic leaders of the pre-revolutionary era (i.e. Francois Makandal) and the Haitian Revolution (i.e. Dutty Boukman) were fervent adherents (i.e. Fatima) to Islam. Some of these slaves came from countries that had enjoyed an incredibly Islamic influence and political rule and peace such as Senegal (i.e. the Askia dynasty of Sudan), Ghana (i.e.The Mossi Empire of modern-day Ghana), Nigeria (i.e. the Bornu Empire), etc. In contemporary Haitian society, the Islamic perspective of the Haitian Revolution has attracted a new cadre of Haitian intellectuals who rejected both the Vodouist and Christian interpretations of Haiti’s national history and the Haitian Revolution. This attitude is also due to a reinterpretation of Haitian history in the light of the Islamic past of the Caribbean nation, and that Islam continues to spread progressively its wings in various parts of the country.
            In all of the four perspectives discussed above, there’s a high level of hermeneutical exaggeration of Haitian history, the historical data, and the Haitian Revolution, which is presented to us as “historical certainty.” The individuals who prefer a religious interpretation of Haiti’s national history and the Haitian Revolution emphasize the importance of their own religion in the success of the unfolding events of the Haitian Revolution and the triumph of human freedom, and human rights and dignity in global history.  They also accentuate the functional role of religion in the process of social and political transformation, and the reversal of human oppression and political tyranny. It is impossible for the champions of this view to conceive the human experience and human history without the divine imprint and God’s direct intervention in gearing human actions and modifying certain historical events toward his desired goal in the best interest and good of all people. On the other hand, the secular approach of the Haitian Revolution counters the theistic thesis.
            In addition, first of all, the Africans who gathered in the night of August 14, 1791 to plan their freedom and independence from white rule and the labyrinth of slavery did not make a pact with the devil. It is an “evangelistic strategy” that right-wing Haitian Protestants promulgated to win converts and create collective fear among the Haitian people. The Protestant Haitian narrative seeks to foster a new national consciousness in the Caribbean nation in order that Protestant Haitian Christianity might win Haiti for Christ and transform Haiti into a (Protestant) Christian nation. (Interestingly, from the founding moment of the new Haitian state, in the first Haiti’s Constitution, Catholic Christianity was declared the official religion of the Haitian state; technically, Haiti began as a Christian nation—not by individual confession or commitment to the Christian faith and values—but for political expediency and affiliation with the so-called “Christian nations” in the Western world). White American and European missionaries created this tragic narrative to demonize the Vodou religion, disvalue the African element of the Haitian culture, and Christianize and westernize the Haitian people. Haitian Protestant Christians unashamedly believe this discourse; they even own it and now boldly proclaim this peculiar narrative about the ambivalent role of religion and history in Haitian history. This attitude is such a terrible strategy to proselytize people to Protestant Christianity.  There are more effective and biblical ways to win the “lost Haitian soul” for the Kingdom of God and its Christ. We reject the Protestant interpretation of Haitian history; it is pseudo-history. Haitian Christians do not have to lie about or exaggerate the religious history of Haiti to magnify God and validate the truthfulness of the Gospel message to their fellow Haitians. God is bigger than human history and religion, which we have created.
            Secondly, the meeting that took place in Bois Caiman in August 14, 1791, was not strictly a “religious gathering;” rather, it was a “political meeting” that was inspired by various religious forces: African traditional religions, Christianity, and Islam.  The summit did happen although it is impossible to demarcate with accuracy the precise historical elements and details of this historic event. This is where history and fiction meets.
            Finally, we should embrace a more inclusive interpretation of Haiti’s national history and the Haitian Revolution, which would affirm the remarkable contributions of both enslaved and free African Christians, Muslims, and African Vodouists to the freedom and independence of the Haitian people from colonial bondage, political totalitarianism, and the institution of slavery. The faith of the Africans who were brought to Saint-Domingue was not monolithic nor have the Africans subscribed to a homogeneous interpretation of religion. A lot of countries, which Haitian ancestors came from, were already Islamized and Christianized—such as Kongo, Gabon, Angola, Senegal, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria, etc. The enslaved population that was compulsorily transported to the island of Saint-Domingue to work in the New World’s agricultural plantation system were ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. They were fervent Christians, Muslims, and Vodouists.  Some were even non-religious for since the beginning of creation and time men and women have challenged the social construct of religion and even rebelled against God their Creator.

*To learn more about this important topic, I recommend two important articles: “The Rhetoric of Prayer: Dutty Boukman, The Discourse of “Freedom from Below,” and the Politics of God,” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion 2:9 (June 2011):1-33, and “Rethinking Cultural, National, and Religious Identity: The Christian-Vodouist Dialogue?” ( forthcoming in September 2016, Theology Today).  Both articles are written by the same author.

Price-Mars as Haiti's Prophet, and the Future of Haiti in the Twenty-First Century (Part II)

Price-Mars as Haiti's Prophet, and the Future of Haiti in the Twenty-First Century (Part II)
by Celucien L. Joseph
As we have observed in the previous article the optimistic Price-Mars was very anxious about the future of his beloved country and the destiny of young Haitian men and women in the second half of the twentieth-century in the post-American occupation Haitian society. In the excerpt taken directly from "The Vocation of the Elite," Jean Price-Mars, depicting himself as Haiti's prophet of the twentieth-century, laments terribly on the Haitian predicament and future possibilities for all Haitian citizens--especially the welfare of the Haitian masses and the underclass. He does not take the liberty to predict the Haitian future; as a social prophet, he is deeply concerned about what the future holds for those living in the margins of modernity in the Caribbean nation. The psychological discomfort expressed in this passage not only reveals Price-Mars' patriotic zeal, but also a sense of urgency for Haitian solidarity and collaborative partnership--toward a transformed Haitian society.

I do not know what will become of Haiti's around the year 2050, because the confused data I have are obscuring my anticipations. I see an elite thirsty for lively pleasures, without zeal or faith whatsoever. And what is even more serious, it has lost the sense of solidarity both social and ethnic. For, you see, no greater offense can can be done to a man of our elite than to tell him he is a Negro--whatever may be the color of his skin, black as the night or fair as the day.

Ah! one may be a refined Black--please admire the euphemism--marabou, griffe, chabine, mulatto, white. But to be Negro, collectively and conventionally speaking, no one deigns or wants to be so. However, it is the fact that we are Negroes that gives us some originality.

I do not know what will become of this country in a not too distant future when I look at the mass of the people bound by the fetters of ignorance under a superficial sprinkling of formal Catholicism, while the elite camouflage their shortcomings under an attitude of elegant detachment. Anarchy at the base and cowardice and hypocrisy at the top. I do not know what will become of this country--maybe a mere geographical expression in the American Mediterranean, inhabited by the industrial pariahs.

Source: Price-Mars, La Vocation of the Elite, translated by Jacques Carmeleau Antoine, Jean Price-Mars and Haiti, p. 132.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Jean Price-Mars and the Future of Haiti in the Twenty-first Century: On Haitian Solidarity, and the Renewal and Reconstruction of the Haitian society

Jean Price-Mars and the Future of Haiti in the Twenty-first Century: On Haitian Solidarity, and the Renewal and Reconstruction  of the Haitian society
 by Celucien L. Joseph 

 In writing The Vocation of the Elite in the first half of the twentieth-century, a collection of public lectures on the moral leadership and responsibility of Haitian intellectuals he delivered in various locations in the country , the Haitian public intellectual and cultural critic Jean Price-Mars makes a clarion call to this represented group in the Haitian society to assume its leadership role and function. He writes with passion, conviction, brilliance, and persuasion on the importance of the Haitian elite to be in active solidarity with the Haitian masses, to serve them sacrificially, and to seek the best interest of the underclass and the uneducated majority-- toward the common good. Comparatively, Price-Mars is also concerned about the significance of the work of Haitian democracy and human relationality, and the triumph of Haitian solidarity and the success of " group kombite;" if Haitians in his time and by implication in  contemporary Haitian society would thrive, they would have to create an alternative future and more promising civil and political societies in the Caribbean nation. His goal was then and as it is for us today is arguably the holistic renewal, radical transformation and reconstruction of the Haitian society. Price-Mars published The Vocation of the Elite in 1919 in an era of national anguish and collective alienation; Haiti and the Haitian people were under the hostage of the American imperial might and military occupation, 1915-1934. We should also bear in mind that  Price-Mars delivered these series of lectures to the Haitian intelligentsia and elite-minority in the country. Below, I reproduce an excerpt from The Vocation of the Elite, in which he calls upon the Haitian intelligentsia and elite-minority to radically change the Haitian human condition by investing in the education of the Haitian masses for a better tomorrow. In this piece below, Price-Mars accentuates the importance of group social work and the active participation of the noted group above in the democratic process of Haiti, as well as in the modernization process of Haiti through effective education, mentoring, and adequate financial investment.

Our task at the moment is to contribute to a national way of thinking indicative of our feelings, our strengths and our weaknesses. We can do so by gleaning ideas generated by ideas contained in the masterpieces which are the pride of humanity's common heritage. This is the only way in which the study and assimilation of the works of the mind play an indispensable part in the enrichment of our culture.

But by the way, what is the true qualitative and quantitative worth of our intellectual achievements? That is yet another question which I have asked myself and that I have attempted to answer... Consider for a moment the deficiencies of our education system which were cited earlier. Think of the consequences if our elite had inadequate and unreliable schooling. Lastly, consider the various factors dividing our people into mistrustful, hostile groups opposing each other and you will agree with me that together, all those factors turn our social environment into an arena very ripe for the seed of disorder and destruction. You will also agree with me that of necessity, such an environment exerts an extremely destructive force on the morale of our country, making any attempt at sustained progress impossible. You will agree in short that together, these factors continue to make us responsible for the state of affairs through which an outsider dared raise his flag on the moral ruins of our country.

So, to assist in the reconstruction of our country on a different foundation, to have the elite and the masses exist in harmony in this reconstructed arena, I launch a firm appeal to all men, to all men of good will. The task before us is immense. Whatever its future status, our bounden duty is not is not to abandon our country, nor to let it be snatched away. If we remain with our arms folded in perpetual expectation of what will be will be, what will be will come about without us and against us. Our only alternative is to come together, to unite our forces through the creation of private social programmes. We have maintained an atavistic trait of mistrust one for the other and a pronounced reluctance--I almost said an inability--to unite. These are the main weaknesses used against us. Because of this impotence, we appear to be not only below other civilized peoples, but also quite below what we were when our enslaved forefathers united to oust the intruder from this land and far below our brothers in the United States.

Whenever I receive newspapers from that country [United States of America], my heart is filled with joy and I applaud what our American brothers are doing, while I feel ashamed at our inferiority because we can not imitate them. Would you like like some examples? Here is what I learned from the November issue of Crisis, a Negro magazine published in New York:

1. "The fortieth meeting of Free Masons in Alabama collected funds for the Lodge this year totaling $ 118, 855."

2. "At the 23rd meeting of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission in Virginia, $ 11, 000 was collected for religious work."

3. "At a conversion held in Tyler, Texas, Bishop Carter of the African Episcopal Church collected $ 14, 000 on the spot for work in education."

4. "The Negroes of Texas have given $ 10,000 to the Freedman's Aid Society to assist with its school programmes."

So there you have it. In one year, our brothers in a single American state collected $ 24, 000 tax free for religious and social work, from among only 690, 049 Negroes, almost three times less the size of Haiti's population. Are we not ashamed that with a population of two and a half million we can offer nothing that even remotely resembles such initiatives and such social solidarity? Are we so selfish or so indifferent that we can't impose a certain discipline for the defense of our rights and interests? Can't we set aside a mere tenth of our resources, even a tenth of what we spend on pleasure, for educational projects on which the safeguard and the future of our children depend? Of course, we readily spend thousands on clubs for fun and games and on the cinema, but we can't support a good literary magazine, set up clinics and night schools or build good secondary schools where, in contrast to the dilapidated schools provided by a State negligent of its mission or a traitor to it, we could provide a better education for the elite of tomorrow?

Shame! Shame on you who don't have the courage to devote your energies to a worthwhile activity in cordial cooperation with other conscientious entities in order to achieve the well-being of our people and our country.

I hear it being said everyday that nothing more can be done because we have no political power. That's the resignation of slaves and cowardice of eunuchs. On the contrary, against the state, whether local or foreign, we must pit the demands of the society in its desire to overcome any attempts to demoralize it.

All branches of society--the Church, the school, corporate entities-must have only one doctrine and one goal, which is to save our political heritage. It can only be saved by private groups within the goal of a better provision of a better education system.
Make a methodological, rational effort and if you don't succeed, try again. It is only when you have exhausted all your initiative and good will that you can look back forlornly on the past and say with regret: "Nothing more can be done."

Until that time comes, you have an obligation to keep o trying.

Source: Jean Price-Mars, "The Vocation of the Elite," translated by Bernadette Farquhar, in Yanique Hume and Aaron Kamugisha, "Caribbean Cultural Thought: From Plantation to Diaspora," pp. 25-7.