"We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Haiti: Then and Now would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and
Happy Haitian 213th Independence Day (January 1, 1804-Present)
"We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.
Independence or death… may these sacred words bind us and be the signal for battle and our reunion."--Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Founder of the Republic and Nation of Haiti
Saturday, August 15, 2015
The Significance of the Bois Caiman Event of August 14, 1791: Freedom from Below and the Politics of God in the Haitian Revolution
In celebration of the general revolt that took place in the historic night of August 14, 1791, in Bois Caimain in Northern Haiti, less than 15 miles from the city of Cap-haitian, Dr. Celucien Joseph discusses the importance and role of religion in the unfolding events leading to the Haitian Revolution in 1804. Click on the link below to listen or watch:
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Jeremy D. Popkin. A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 978-1405198219. 212 Pp.
Reviewed by Katia Laurent-Joseph
In August 1971, in the French colony of Saint Domingue, a slave revolt began. This revolt gave birth to the Republic of Haiti in 1804. The Haitian Revolution started in 1791 and ended in 1804 is the only successful slave revolt in the world. Enslaved men and women overthrew the colonial power and created the second free nation in the world after the United States of America.
In his book, A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution, Jeremy D. Popkin, a Professor of History in University of Kentucky provides a brief history of the complex events that lead to the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath.
Popkin’s book begins with a history of the formation of the Island of Hispaniola in the context of European imperialism in the New World. The Spaniards were the first European settlers in the island. The latter abandoned the Island and shifted their focus on Mexico and other countries in the Americas. The French took control of the island by sending a governor in 1665 to govern over Buccaneers and other fortune-seekers from Europe.
Saint Domingue rapidly developed into a profitable colony for the French empire. Its location in the Caribbean makes it the ideal place to grow sugar, coffee, indigo, and cotton. Workers were in need to work in the colony; as a result, many blacks were imported from the African continent to work in plantations. Their living condition in the colony were harsh, brutal, and inhuman. The abused of the slaves in the colony is one of the factors why the author concludes that Saint Domingue was the true definition of a “slave society” (14). The colony population was composed of whites, slaves, and free people of color. Popkin surveys how various conditions, and other factors gave rise to the general slave revolt in August 1791. He also examines the relationship between white owners with the free people of color. The latter own slaves and land. He situates the revolution in the French island, Saint Domingue, in the context with other world events; for instance, he conveys that, in 1789, liberal ideas of freedom and human rights crossed the Atlantic and inspired many who were oppressed in the colony to seek freedom and their “rights of man.”
One of the strengths of the book is the way the author recapitulates the events leading up to the successful uprising of the slaves that eventually gave birth to the first black nation in the Western world. Between the years of the revolution (1791-1804), the colony underwent from different power structures—shifting between the French, British, Spanish, slaves, and free men of color. The latter classes were the most oppressed in the colony but could not find unity to govern the colony amongst them.
Another important key in Popkin’s book is the intervention and contribution of Toussaint Louverture to the Haitian Revolution. Toussaint was born in slavery, but purchased in freedom. He played an important role of leadership in the Revolution in 1798. Toussaint was a great leader, soldier, and has a contradictory personality. He proclaimed himself self-ruler while promoting democracy. He wanted to create a multi-cultural society in Saint Domingue while raging war with the free men of color. He was very stubborn and his action by freeing all the slaves in the colony angered Napoleon Bonaparte and forced him to send a fully-resourced army in 1802, under the command of Charles Leclerc, to reconquer the colony and reestablish slavery. Napoleon’s action turned the slave revolt into a war for liberty.
Leclerc died of yellow fever. Subsequently, Vicomte the Rochambeau assumed the leadership of the French army. He was very brutal in his military campaign. He was heartless and fearless. From 1802 to 1803, the Haitian Revolution entered its most violent phase. Toussaint was arrested and exiled in Fort-de-Joux. After his death, Jean Jacques Dessalines took over the leadership of the Revolution. Under his command, free men and color and former slaves joined force to defeat the French army and other colonial powers that were ready to take the island away from France.
The book does not end with the Declaration of Independence of 1804. It discusses the Constitution of 1805 that establishes Dessalines the first head of state of postcolonial Haiti. The newly- created nation of Haiti did not have the chance to celebrate its independence. Other nations refused to recognize its independence until 1825. Haiti did not find any help or support from other slave owning countries in the Americas. France did finally recognize Haiti’s independence, after the Haitian government agreed to pay an indemnity to France. This debt was paid in full in 1883, and the United States of America did not acknowledge Haiti’s freedom until 1862. According to Popkin, all those factors crippled Haiti’s economy still today, including the devastating earthquake of 2010.
The book not only demonstrates the impact of the Haitian Revolution on Haiti’s politics and economics, but also its impact on the whole world. The author provides important endnotes and a bibliography that are helpful for further research on the topic.
A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution is a very important book that could be used as an introductory text in college to study the Haitian Revolution, slave revolt, French Revolution, and Caribbean studies. Furthermore, it teaches the impact and the historical legacy of the Haitian Revolution against colonialism, imperialism, racism, slavery, and eurocentrism. My hope in one day the Haitian Revolution will not be silenced by the neo-colonial powers and will find its place as one of the most influential Revolution in the world.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
"Celebrating Revolutionary Blackness and Challenging Racism: Haitian Flag Day and The Importance of the Haitian Flag"
"Celebrating Revolutionary Blackness and Challenging Racism: Haitian Flag Day and The Importance of the Haitian Flag" by Bertin M. Louis, Jr.
In communities across the globe, thousands of Haitians celebrate Haitian Flag Day every May 18 at concerts and ceremonies, on the Internet and at festivals and parades. The flag not only reflects pride in Haitian roots but it is the flag of the first black republic in the world. The Haitian flag takes on renewed meaning as an anti-racist symbol of revolutionary blackness and freedom in a continuing time of white supremacy and anti-blackness. Its inception was from the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803).
On May 18, 1803, in the city of Archaie, not far from Haiti’s current capital of Port-au-Prince, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the leader of the blacks and the first leader of an independent Haiti, and Alexandre Pétion, the leader of the mulattoes, agreed on an official flag, with blue and red bands placed vertically. Haitian heroine Catherine Flon, who also served as a military strategist and nurse, sewed Haiti’s first flag. However, the flag was modified on Independence Day (January 1st) when the blue and the red bands were placed horizontally with the blue band on top of the red band. Haiti used the red and blue flag until 1964, when President-for life François “Papa Doc” Duvalier used a vertical black and red flag and added a modified version of the arms of the republic during the Duvalier regime, which lasted from 1971 to 1986. On February 25, 1986, after Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti on an American-charted jet and the Duvalier regime fell apart, the Haitian people in its vast majority requested that the red and blue flag be brought back. The red and blue flag remains the official flag of Haiti.
Haiti was the French colony of Saint-Domingue before the revolution. A 1697 treaty between the French and the Spanish created the colony on the western third of the island of Hispaniola. Saint-Domingue was known as “the pearl of the Antilles” because the industrialization of sugar in the region enriched its French absentee owners and made it one of the most successful sugar colonies in history. The arduous labor required for sugar production resulted in the virtual eradication of the indigenous Taino Arawak population and an average seven-year life span for Africans who were brought against their will. In an area roughly the size of Maryland enslaved Africans produced indigo, tobacco and at one point in history two-fifths of the world’s sugar and almost half of the world’s coffee. Physical and psychological violence were used to maintain plantation production processes. As sociologist Alex Dupuy writes it was not uncommon for slave masters to “hang a slave by the ears, mutilate a leg, pull teeth out, gash open one’s side and pour melted lard into the incision, or mutilate genital organs. Still others used the torture of live burial, whereby the slave, in the presence of the rest of the slaves who were forced to bear witness, was made to dig his own grave...Women had their sexual parts burned by a smoldering log; others had hot wax splattered over hands, arms, and backs, or boiling cane syrup poured over their heads.” Within this violent and dehumanizing environment, many enslaved Africans resisted and fought against their captors and participated in the most radical revolution of the “Age of Revolution.”
The Haitian Revolution was more radical than the American Revolutionary war (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799) because it challenged chattel slavery and racism, the foundation of American and French empires. As the late anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote: “The Haitian Revolution was the ultimate test to the universalist pretensions of both the French and the American revolutions. And they both failed. In 1791, there is no public debate on the record, in France, in England, or in the United States on the right of black slaves to achieve self-determination, and the right to do so by way of armed resistance.” The Haitian Revolution led to the destruction of plantation capitalism on the island where both modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located. Through the efforts of black people and the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, British and Spanish forces were defeated and independence from the French colonial master was achieved. The only successful slave revolt in human history resulted in the formation of Haiti as the world’s first black republic, which extended the rights of liberty, brotherhood and equality to black people. Unlike the United States and France, Haiti was the first country to articulate a general principle of common, unqualified equality for all of its citizens regardless of race unlike the United States where only propertied white males had the privilege of full citizenship.
The Haitian Revolution would spawn uprisings among captive Africans throughout the Caribbean and the United States. The revolution also influenced other Western Hemispheric liberation movements. Haitian blogger Pascal Robert observes that Venezuelan military and political leader Simon Bolivar went to Haiti to receive the military assistance and material support from Haiti's then president Alexandre Petion. Bolivar used those Haitian connections to liberate colonial territories from Spanish rule. The Haitian flag reflects and symbolizes this unique and promising moment for people of African descent – black freedom in a world dominated by white supremacy.
Haitian Flag day celebrations take on renewed meaning when we recall the recent treatment of Haitians in the Western Hemisphere. In February 2015 a young Haitian man was lynched in the Dominican Republic. This lynching occurred at a time where the Dominican state has revoked the citizenship of Haitian-descended Dominicans. Essays from sociologist Regine O. Jackson’s edited volume “Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora (Routledge 2011) discusses how Haitians serve as repugnant cultural “others” in Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Cuba. In Haiti a post-earthquake cholera outbreak introduced by Nepalese soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has claimed 9,000 Haitian lives and affected more than 735,000 people. This preventable tragedy is in addition to earthquake aid that did not go to Haitians but mostly went “to donors' own civilian and military entities, UN agencies, international NGOs and private contractors.A recent essay from Latin Correspondent reporter Nathalie Baptiste recognizes anti-Haitian policies in Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the United States. While we must attend to the differences in the local histories, varying socioeconomic factors and political situations of each country mentioned, a pattern of alienation, expulsion, elimination, marginalization and stigmatization of Haitians is evident when reviewing recent news and scholarly publications.
Anti-Haitianism is also prevalent in the Bahamas where I conduct anthropological research and where a new immigration policy adversely affected Haitians. A brief anecdote that I discuss in my book “My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas (NYU Press 2014)” illustrates this fact. Towards the end of ethnographic research in New Providence, I was invited by a Bahamian friend to speak about the importance of education to elementary school children at an afterschool program. The children, who all sat around me in a circle, were black. As I spoke to them about the importance of reading, studying, doing well on tests, and getting help when they encountered difficulties, one girl was struck with a look of astonishment when I mentioned that I was of Haitian descent. After my speech I took the opportunity to ask her why she was so stunned. She replied that I didn't look Haitian to her but that I looked Bahamian. So I asked her “so what does a Haitian look like?” Replying in Bahamian Creole she and her friends replied that Haitians were “scrubby,” meaning that they have an uneven or mottled dark complexion. They also said of Haitians that “Dey (They) black,” “Dey smell bad” and “Dey look like rat.”
These comments came from children who are of African descent (85 percent of the Bahamas is black) and the darkest black-skinned Bahamian child in that group said that Haitians were “scrubby.” This story from the field reflects the current crisis in Haitian identity in the Western Hemisphere and why it is necessary to celebrate Haitian Flag day as a way to resist the dehumanizing effects of anti-blackness. Anti-blackness is a key component of white supremacy “an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.” In this example, young Bahamian children do the work of white supremacy through their use of anti-Haitian and anti-Black stereotypes.
The stigmatization of Haitians in the Western Hemisphere should alarm other black people because Haitian instability also reflects the current insecurity of blacks around the globe. The deaths of West African migrants in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe, Ethiopian Jews who are encouraged to either leave Israel or be imprisoned, police brutality against blacks in favelas in Brazil, and attacks against African immigrants by black South Africa should remind us of this ongoing crisis, which many people view as normative (i.e. there’s always death and destruction among Africans and in the African Diaspora). But we do not have to look outside of the borders of the United States to understand the deprivation of the humanity of black people. The current #BlackLivesMatter movement against police killings of unarmed black people is another reminder of the disposability of black life in the modern world which continues a pattern of anti-blackness that harkens back to the transatlantic slave trade.
Anti-blackness began with the forced marches of Africans from the interiors of the continent to African coasts where they were sold as chattel and would become the engine that fueled European colonial wealth. It continued during the Middle Passage where white captains tightly packed blacks together on slave ships and threw black bodies into the Atlantic Ocean with the hope that large numbers of human cargo would offset increased deaths. Anti-blackness was codified in the colonies and territories where the legally imposed identity of slave was passed from mother to child and became associated with blackness.
Anti-blackness is prevalent during this contemporary period in the media coverage of the killings of Walter Scott and Eric Garner as corporate news channels show their video-recorded killings at the hands of American law enforcement on a loop and refer to the black youth of Baltimore rebelling against unequal treatment under the law as “thugs.” Anti-blackness is also reflected in the current relations between Haitians and the nations they live in as well as how other countries treat people of African descent.
In closing, the Haitian flag reminds us that white superiority and black inferiority are fallacies and have no basis in biology and that white supremacy can be challenged and defeated as the Haitian Revolution demonstrated. Due to the poor treatment of Haitians throughout the Western Hemisphere we should also understand why Haitians are proud of their heritage and celebrate the anniversary of their flag. But the Haitian flag is also a flag that belongs to people of African descent around the globe, as do other flags. It is one of many symbols that Haitians and other people of African descent should utilize in resistance to the dehumanizing and deadly effects of capitalism, state power and white supremacy on black bodies. Overall, Haitian Flag Day should remind all of us to celebrate revolutionary blackness and to continue to challenge white supremacy in the struggle to create dignified lives for black people worldwide.
Bertin M. Louis, Jr. is the author of My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas (NYU Press 2014) and an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is also the creator of #ShamelesslyHaitian, a Twitter event where Haitians express pride and educate others about their history and culture on Haitian Independence Day and Haitian Flag Day.
Follow him on Twitter @MySoulIsInHaiti.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Why Haiti Might Never See Her Former Glory Againby Ronald Stimphil
A quick look at the past
Liberty, as most would acknowledge, comes often with a high price tag. In the case of the beloved Haitian nation, one may even infer price gouging as the new country was excessively fined for daring to break away from the norm that “the African-originated man must remain a slave.”
This high price was felt both internally and externally. Internally, it came in the form of all the plantations and the luxurious cities which had to be burned in order to extinguish all hope of economic resurrection in the minds of the white oppressors. Externally, it came in the form of the indemnity of one hundred and fifty millions francs imposed on her by the then French king, Charles X, in 1825, who sent a menacing fleet to secure compliance, even as the Monroe Doctrine had been in full force for two years.
The independence of Haiti had sent shock waves throughout the entire world, and elicited responses from both sides of the freedom aisle. To the many emerging free nations in Latin America, the new country became the original purveyor of, and symbol for, true freedom (James, 1989). However, to the imperialist nations, it became a certain threat to economic license and white power, as a black nation’s independence had the potential to bolster in the remaining global slave population a sense that freedom was indeed attainable, and as such, causing the main source of free manpower to collapse and induce ruin in lands that relied on slave labor.
Careful students of Haitian history understand the impact that its independence has had on world history and societies. Many are trying to come to grips with the utter devastation, the desperation and the dismay experienced today by what was once the “Queen of the Antilles.” How could this former Pearl of the Caribbean,” the only country in the world where freedom holds its true meaning, have been put back in chains, shoved back into its clam or perhaps become a lost treasure waiting to be rediscovered?
Solutions have always been offered
From the time that I was in primary school in my native Haiti, I had always been fascinated by the proliferation of solutions that were offered or advanced in an effort to get the nation out of the economic mire in which it has been from its inception. Besides having heard my teachers theorize over the solutions that could help Haiti to get on the road to economic prosperity – proposing everything from decentralization to reforestation, I also had a few relatives who were involved in development projects. One of them was an uncle – a beekeeper – who used to participate in agricultural fairs which lavishly displayed “projects” that were aimed at helping the country change course economically. He was frugal and was often excoriated by his colleagues for having asked no more than the bare minimal amount of money needed to display his products during the fair. They consisted of all types of honey, fresh honeycomb, bee wax, wax candles, royal jelly, etc. People used to love hearing his depiction of the wonders of royal jelly, the medicinal properties of bee stings and the multiple culinary uses of honey.
Every time I attended those fairs, I would be delighted to see popcorn machines powered by solar batteries and natural gas production using dumped trash, being demonstrated for the curious public. The humongous ears of corn obtained with organic compost (as it had been determined that chemical fertilizers kill the natural nutrients in the soil) were truly impressive, and the vast displays of tree samples aimed at stopping the devastating effects of erosion as well as scores of other useful projects too many for me to name in this short essay, were pleasing to the eyes of every spectator. The fairs were an exciting and comforting time for me as a teenager, for they represented the hope of the future. I saw in them the imminent salvation of the country.
However, once the fairs were over, the “projects” remained just that: projects. A very select few ever materialized. Some skeptics used to assume that most of those projects never became a reality because they would stop bringing money to those who were supposed to lead them if they did, and the thousands of dollars that were poured every year into mere demonstrations of how they were supposed to work simply represented a steady flow of income to many project directors. The skepticism and the cynicism gradually dashed all hope in me, as the great majority of those ventures never really came to fruition; and disillusion steadily set in over the years.
Later on during my secondary school days, I came close to sensory overload from the proliferation of solutions recommended by my professors who often expounded again and again on the wonders of decentralization and the virtues of a return to sustainable agriculture. By that time, I myself have become a skeptic with just a sliver of hope still alive. Some of my classmates became believers and even invested their entire lives to rebuilding the country. Conversely, it took a whole lot on my part to keep my hope from dying, especially after I asked my mother, whose husband was a farmer, how the irrigation project in her town was going.
A people prone to self-destruction
She informed me that the project fell apart just three years into it because the money had run dry, and my stepfather was unable to unite the paysants and bring them to take the project over and resume it using their own means. I was astonished at the news, for this was an irrigation project that benefitted every farmer in the region. At first, I had marveled at the ingenuity shown on the part of the builders. That project consisted of a series of small dams that were built to control the flow of water through different parcels of land. At hearing that the project fell apart, my awe turned to disbelief. For the inhabitants to have left the water to run dry after the project funds ran dry was comparable to committing economic suicide. This was quite a perplexing situation to say the least. One good man’s willingness was powerless to save the masses.
That sad state of affairs, however, opened my eyes to a new reality. We were dealing with people who, for one reason or another, were willing to commit socio-economic suicide despite of the fact that the situation was far from being desperate. The resources were readily available, the means could be acquired, the manpower was obtainable, but there was no consensual willingness to make all of this work together for the common good or so that all would benefit. I was not made fully aware of the details for the stoppage, but it was still disturbing that such self-destructive attitudes would occur on such a large scale. Instead of standing on their own and acting in unity to work the land, they were waiting for the white foreigner to invest in, and sustain, a project that benefited native domestic Haitian inhabitants of Haiti (So much for the motto “L’union fait la force”). Moreover, this did not represent an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination.
It then became clearer to me that the deepest problem of the country did not entail a lack of resources, nor a lack of creativity, nor a lack of opportunities, but in sick hearts. Psychological studies have determined that people who exhibit self-destructive behaviors in environments where they could thrive are thought to fall into either one of these two categories: a trade-off involving immediate pleasure and delayed consequences or faulty knowledge and reliance on strategies that do not work (Baumeister & Bushman, 2011). Perhaps one or more of those factors were at play here, or perhaps none was the case. I suggest something more drastic than psychology would offer by asserting that our problem is rooted in God. This is not at all the classic theistic case where the unexplainable is given a simplistic clarification in God. Rather, if we are to find a serious solution to Haiti’s manifold problems, we must be willing to look carefully in unusual places. This approach will embitter detractors, but it will surely strike reality in the minds of those who are willing to hear the facts and follow the arguments.
On Haiti’s historical realities
Reality is not always what it seems. There are times when the solutions to our problems are not found in obvious places, as the visible reality is always governed by an invisible superior reality. As a logical, reality (not show) – oriented, perfectly down-to-earth and heaven-bound born-again Christian, I have come to discern that the solutions to Haiti’s lingering afflictions belong to that higher reality. Let me remind my atheist, agnostic or otherwise non-Christian readers that I am not throwing God at a problem because I am ignorant of the solutions. Rather, I am entreating this readership to consider the fact that Haiti’s woes are inherently spiritual.
This higher spiritual reality cannot be ignored as it denotes faith put in action for those who became world conquerors. Jews possessed the land of Israel because Yahweh gave it to them. The Muslims conquered most of Africa and part of Europe because they believed that Allah asked them to convert infidels. Christian Europeans unleashed a conquest of old and newly discovered lands, and made African slaves, because God promised through Noah to “expand Japheth’s territory and make Canaan his slave.”[i] In like manner, Haiti’s problems did not start merely with slavery, but it is firmly rooted in Haitians’ attitude toward Almighty God.[ii]
Haitian ancestry originated from Africa, namely the western and central parts Africa (Congo, Guinea, Nigeria and especially Benin, formerly Dahomey). Those populations had inhabited the region for over four millennia. They were the descendants of Ham, Noah’s youngest son. Incidentally, I may need to rectify an incorrect pervasive belief that Ham was cursed with the curse of slavery. According the correct biblical account, Ham was not cursed, but his youngest son Canaan was. Ultimately, the curse found its fulfillment in the Semite descendants of Abraham occupying Canaan’s land and the Gibeonites deciding to enslave themselves to Joshua and the Israelites rather than being utterly destroyed as was to be the fate of all the inhabitants of the land. Today, it is alleged that the descendants of the Gibeonites are the "Falashas."[iii]
It was important to make that distinction, because for a long time (until today) a lie had been perpetrated and circulated that the entire Hamite clan was cursed, and that by implication all black people were cursed. “The Hamite curse” is a misnomer and should have been instead “The Canaanite curse.” The misnaming was done with the goal of perpetuating the lie. This lie essentially became a biblical mandate for all Hamite descendants (black people) to be indiscriminately enslaved.
Now that we have cleared the air of the legend that all black people are cursed, we must consider that they had been enslaved nonetheless, either by their own, by Arabs, or by Jews, and sold to white traders. This began happening primarily around the time that the Moors were pushing their conquest of Africa in order to promote and spread Islam. At that time, most of the mighty formerly unified kingdoms of North Africa had already broken apart under the Greeks and the Romans, neither one of which had made inroads towards central and West Africa where the black populations receded and split into smaller competing tribes and kingdoms, exacerbating the slave trade.
This is the background of the Haitian people. Their Japhethite brothers were convinced that they were cursed with slavery, and that freedom could only counteract the fulfillment of the curse. Their own Hamite ancestors betrayed them and sold them to oppressors whose sole goal was their degradation, dehumanization and exploitation for filthy lucre. The most vociferous abolitionists were a few evangelical Christians whose worst adversaries were sadly found among their own groups. It never left the minds of many white evangelical Christians that Haitian slaves acted against God’s will when they revolted against their French slave masters. Some would even go as far as to surmise that only through a pact with the devil could they have gained their liberty.
However, against all odds, discounting all flawed beliefs about their destiny, Haitians rose up as one, moved by an intense desire to claim back the freedom with which God has endowed every human being on the face of this earth. They cried out to God. Being a God who is loving, merciful and just, Yahweh God heard their cry, came through for them, and Haiti became a mighty independent little black nation – the first black republic.
Haiti – a concise history involving both seen and unseen realities
Many authors or historians have offered a revisionary reading of the historiography of the Haitian Revolution (Joseph, 2012), but this is not my intention. My goal rather is to demonstrate that God had always been involved in helping Haitians achieve independence. The facts of the Haitian revolution speak for themselves if we are willing to let them express themselves without distortion. The deal is that the facts only tell the full story when mixed with the divine background story, for God is always in the picture even when man denies His input. For instance, the book of Esther in the Bible may not have the name of God mentioned explicitly throughout the book, but Jews believe strongly that God was acting backstage on behalf of the Jews, because God never lets man’s injustice against fellow men go unpunished. Here is then a synopsis of the full story of the Haitian revolution as reconstructed in the light of both the seen and unseen realities.
While slavery became a normal trade, there had always been a growing parallel trend to abolish it for some time. That trend intensified toward the end of the eighteenth century. For that purpose, God raised people such as John Newton (a former slave trader who left us the hymn “Amazing Grace”) and William Wilberforce (who worked tirelessly to make a stand for the abolition of slavery from the time he became a born-again Christian believer) to work to end it. They were joined in their fight by a group of other British abolitionists who were convinced that slavery, as it was practiced then, was biblically wrong. Among them were Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and John Wesley who allied themselves with a few Quakers and some free blacks whose freedom Granville Sharp had helped to acquire, namely Olaudah Equiano, Jonathan Strong and James Somerset – the last two would have been sold to Jamaican British planters without Sharp’s intervention.
Both Clarkson and Sharp were very familiar with the politics of Haiti (then Saint-Domingue), and they had both met with Vincent Ogé during his stay in Paris, France where he and Julien Raymond were passionately defending the rights of equality among the free with the help of the Society of the Friends of Blacks (Schama, 2006). While Ogé had no initial intention of abolishing slavery, he was leading a revolution that was bound to be the precursor of Dutty Bookman’s “Bois-Caïman” insurrection.
In fact, when the Planters of Saint-Domingue refused to implement the resolution of the National Assembly of Paris that guaranteed the rights of all free men born of free parents to participate in the politics of the colony, Ogé made a speech which was a staunch warning that dissent would not be tolerated. No serious historian can deny that the slaves, especially the literate ones, were mindful of this movement of freedom around them. No one, even if not an historian, would suggest that the abolitionist movement, the freedom movements and the Haitian revolution were isolated incidents that were totally unrelated. It is rather a sad fact that many writers treat the Haitian Revolution, and subsequently Haitian independence, as an exclusively inside job that was solely generated by the resolve of the slaves, the sagacity of their leaders and the unbounded magic of the voodoo religion. At that juncture (Ogé and Chavannes’ rebellion), no one in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) was considering independence except the Planters, the “grands Blancs” (Schoelcher, 1982).
The facts indeed are mystifying in their basic logical realities. Actually, Vincent Ogé and Jean-Baptiste Chavannes failed in their attempts to bring about equality among the free by force and were executed by being broken at the wheel in February 1791. On May 15, 1791, the National Assembly, appalled at the means of execution employed by the white planters, voted unanimously to enforce that all free people born of free parents in the French colonies were free to lawfully participate in colonial parliamentary procedures, a move that infuriated the white planters and increased the volatility of the colonial class struggle. What Ogé and Chavannes sacrificed their lives for unsuccessfully, they accomplished easily while dead. It is inevitable for the believer in God not to see the hand of God in this.
Meanwhile, slaves who were used either by Ogé in leading the rebellion or by the white planters in quelling it, had already burned in their mind a sweet taste of freedom. By the time they were led by Bookman and his lieutenants Jeanot Bullet, Jean-François Papillon and George Biassou, they were already prepared to take their destiny in their own hands. Before they drank the blood of the pig as a cultural and religious act of fraternity, they were already drunk on the wine of freedom that flows from every person’s heart. While it is wrong to minimize Bookman’s impactful leadership among the revolutionary, there is an unfortunate tendency to amplify the Bois-Caïman ceremony beyond its significance and to exaggerate Bookman’s hegemony in the Haitian Revolution. Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy, and Bookman, its leader (James, 1989).
Bookman, a slave originally from Jamaica, presided over a voodoo ceremony on August 14, 1791. He later led a formidable campaign of destruction starting on the night of August 22, 1791, and though the campaign was effective in its aim, Bookman was ultimately killed in November of the same year and his movement temporarily disrupted. Among his lieutenants who took over, Jeanot was executed shortly thereafter by Jean-François and Biassou for being excessively violent. Then a better-organized leader came on the scene in the person of Toussaint Louverture, the most admired, and the most able, leader of the revolution. Toussaint was first under the command of Biassou, but then he moved through the ranks and eventually fought against his former superiors as it became evident that the latter were not at all interested in a more general slave emancipation.
Eventually, Toussaint sided with the Frenchmen while Jean-François and Biassou went to the Spaniards. Toussaint defeated both the British and the Spanish armies and claimed the entire island for France. Jean-François, still a slave owner, then moved to Cadiz in Spain (Geggus, 2002). Biassou moved to St. Augustine, Florida where he bought a large plantation cultivated by his slaves (Parkinson, 1978). Strangely enough, Toussaint himself had always been ambivalent about the independence of the colony. He preferred a cordial relationship with France and the concession from the “motherland” that slavery would be abolished in the spirit of the French Revolution’s ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity for all. Several authors have mentioned his familiarity with L’Abbé Raynal’s work in which a prediction was made that a great black general would arise who would fight for the freedom of the Africans, and Toussaint was thought to be the fulfillment of that prophecy (Beard , 1853).
Toussaint’s lieutenants Henry Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, for a while, aligned themselves with Toussaint’s idealistic vision of a Haiti becoming a French colony in its own rights. That vision was short-lived after Napoleon sent his intimidating fleet led by his brother-in-law Leclerc to reannex the island for France and reestablish slavery in it. What prompted Dessalines and Christophe to action also compelled Alexandre Pétion, a mulatto who originally fought for France, to join the Haitian revolution: they realized that the powers in the main land of France could not be trusted to decide the destiny of the colonial people when Toussaint got kidnapped and imprisoned, slavery was reinstated in the colonies and the rights of the free blacks and mulattoes were abrogated.
It was then and only then that they engaged on the no-return road to independence. It was then in Arcahaie, on May 18, 1803, that the three main generals of the revolution, Dessalines, Christophe and Pétion, met and created the Haitian flag from the French flag by tearing up the white color from the middle and joining directly the blue to the red, signifying that the white man could not be trusted to be part of the equation of a fight that included freedom of all people. Finally, after a ravaging blow to the French army by yellow fever and a crushing victory at the battle of Vertières over the remnant of the French army led by a vicious General Rochambeau, Haiti proclaimed herself independent on January 1, 1804.
True facts about Haiti’s real troubles
If we are faithful students of Haitian history, we must acknowledge the truth that the country had always navigated the ocean between dependence and independence. From General Governor Toussaint who desired a perfect French colony to President Martelli who craves an invasion of foreign investors, Haiti has never fully come to terms with the meaning of true independence. Haitians, for the most part, have never quite figured out who to depend on and what to cut out.
Deceived by the false promises of a religion based on African nostalgia, Haitians seem to be caught in a quicksandlike quandary, never knowing who to trust or who to associate with. The more they fight the worse things appear to get. If they find themselves to be fighting God, their battle is indubitably futile. “When your enemy is too strong for you, make peace with him,” as once affirmed a wise man. Even the logo on the Haitian flag becomes meaningless if they find themselves fighting against God, “L’Union Fait la Force” (there is strength in number) may work against man, but not against God. “Konplo pi fò pasé wonga”[iv] (plotting is stronger than witchcraft) may be good cliché and even pragmatic wisdom, but it is utter nonsense in the realm of an omnipotent God.
For all the trumpet calls for unity, there has never been a positive movement of solidarity rooted in common goals and common interests among Haitians who have never consented to build on each other’s strength. The only instances of real unity have often been fostered by universal threats of economic disasters, health epidemics or natural catastrophes. No lasting positive cohesion can be achieved based on a negatively impacted will. The enemy of my enemy can never truly become my friend. Haitians typically exhibit a stubborn unwillingness to analyze the past and learn from mistakes.
Unfortunately, until today, Haitians’ understanding of their full history remains Haiti’s biggest hurdle. Someone once said that “anyone who is ignorant of his history is bound to repeat it.” In the case of Haiti, in the light of its seen and unseen realities, the challenge has been raised a notch, for only an understanding of the unseen reality can fully explain the visible reality. As is witnessed presently, even while well imbued of the visible history and armed with an array of tangible solutions to get the country back on track, the best-intentioned Haitian leaders seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle of greed, desperation and dependence from which it appears impossible to break away.
Getting to the true source of Haiti’s predicaments
This brings me back to my original contention that the problem with Haiti resides in the heart of Haitians – the invisible reality. Something is wrong with the heart which only God can fix. While many of us are desperately seeking the source of the Haitian problems outside of God, it behooves those who are believers to do their duty and push for help from where help can come. A very wise man once said, “If God is your problem, only God can be your solution.”
Assuming that the premise “the problem of Haiti comes from the heart” is correct, then the natural question that arises is the following: “How did the Haitian heart get to be this way?”
The next step would be to go to the Bible and see if God addresses this matter of the human heart and how it can get so messed up. In effect, the answer lies in this: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”[v]
In the beginning of the article, I made sure to go back to the history of all black people by going back all the way to Noah and his son Ham. I also reminded us that all great conquests throughout time have always been led by divine reference. This is to compel us to understand that we are answerable to God for everything we do.
To many who are either atheist or agnostic, the Bible is a mere collection of myths, but to those who believe, the very breath of God can be felt in this book, and every word is serious and worth considering. Even if one does not believe the Bible for what it is worth, it is nonetheless critical to hear the following case being made for the source of Haiti’s predicaments, for the sheer importance attributed to them by those who believe.
First let us reflect on the relevant changes that have been effected after the flood of Noah’s days:
1. The ground was no longer cursed – the ground became more fertile (perhaps all the dead organisms became fertilizers).
2. The atmosphere changed (a rainbow could be seen in the sky).
3. Man could now eat meat along with all green plants.
Now let us see which ones might apply to Haiti’s case. Although all of these facts cited above are important to a certain degree, the third one would most likely be of prime interest to Haitians, especially because of the blood ingesting warning attached to it. Here is the way God puts it in the Bible:
“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image...” [vi]
Now, one may interject and say that this Old Testament requirement is not for modern times. That could be put up for debate if it were not for the fact that this requirement was carried into the New Testament as well. In fact, in discussing among the newly converted Jews about what the new Gentile believers could observe as far as ancient Jewish customs were concerned, it was stated in a letter sent by James (the half-brother of Jesus) and the Jerusalem Council to all the Christians everywhere that they should “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood.” (Acts 15:29)
These scriptures, while not alluding to the voodoo religion, shed light on the gruesomeness of the Bois-Caïman ceremony. In them, God forbids the eating of meat with the blood in it. In comparison, the participants in the ceremony did worse by drinking the blood of a pig – a biblically unclean animal. In them, God forbids the offering of sacrifice to idols; comparatively, at the Bois-Caïman ceremony, Bookman and the voodoo priestess Fatima led the slaves to sacrifice to Erzuli Dantò – an idol.
Scripturally speaking, the Bois-Caïman ceremony has the potential to make the Haitian heart ripe for the warning prescribed in Romans 1 concerning “changing the truth of God into a lie and worshipping the creature more than the Creator.” In effect, God gave Haiti independence, but the spirits of African ancestors are given the credit. God is supreme and He has no competitor. Furthermore, since He is a God of justice (From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man), then we can readily understand the extent of the Haitian problem, and the solution becomes self-evident. We may emphatically deduce that Haitians, at the core of Haiti’s difficulties, have sinned against God, and will not see any lasting progress until they get right with God.
If indeed God is Haiti’s problem, God has already provided the solution. What He promised to one people, He is able to deliver to all peoples: “And [if] My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”[vii] Obviously, the solution may appeal particularly to those who claim to know God, for God will accept a few righteous as down payment for the unrighteous, as he would have in Sodom’s destruction. If in the case of Sodom, He could not find the minimum ten for whom Abraham attempted to negotiate, let us hope that in the case of Haiti He may find enough righteous so that the nation would be allowed to turn around.
Finally, as essential as decentralization, reforestation, agricultural sustainability and other viable proposed solutions are to the rebuilding efforts of the freest nation in the western hemisphere, until Haitians can repent of the sins of the ancestors for the drinking of the pig’s blood, acknowledge that God is the one who gave them independence, and ask for forgiveness on behalf of those who sinned, the land will never enjoy peace and will never see its former glory. What is it going to take for such a change of heart to occur? Only God knows.
In any case, if I assessed correctly the Haitian problem, we now have to deal with the solution. If, on the contrary, I were to be erroneously wrong in my assessment, I am the biggest Haitian fool, and I should not waste good ink to spew nonsense at such an erudite readership. However, I am neither delusional nor unrealistic about this serious spiritual need, and I believe that with God in the mix, Haitians can be closer to a solution than they have ever been.
Beard , J. R. (1853). The Life of Toussaint Louverture, the Negro Patriot of Hayti . London, England: Ingram, Cook and Co.
Geggus, D. P. (2002). Haitian Revolutionary Studies. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
James, C. L. (1989). The Black Jacobins. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Joseph, Célucien L. (2012). Race, Religion, and the Haitian Revolution: Essays on Faith, Freedom and Decolonization. CreateSpace.
Parkinson, W. (1978). ‘This Gilded African’ Toussaint Louverture. London, England: Quartet Books.
Schama, S. (2006). Rough Crossing: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Schoelcher, V. (1982). Vie de Toussaint Louverture. Paris, France: Editions Karthala.
[i] This interpretation is taken from Genesis 9:27 [NIV]
[iii] Falashas are Ethiopian Jews who live as foreigners in the midst of Israel. The term may be derogatory to many.
[iv] “A plot is stronger than witchcraft.” is a Haitian idiom which means “when the people plots against you, even the strongest witchcraft made on your behalf will not work.”
[v] Romans 1:24-25 [ESV]
[vi] Genesis 9:3-6 [ESV]
[vii] 2 Chronicles 7:14 [HCSB]