Tag Archives: 1804

Haiti’s 214th Independence Day

Every January First, we Haitians feel and display unabashed pride in our birth country. It is on this day, 214 years ago, that our fearless forefathers declared Haiti emancipated from barbaric slave-holders. Today, millions of people who have yet to set foot on Haitian soil also celebrate Haiti’s Independence Day. They know the insurmountable obstructions which our ancestors overcame to secure the first and only successful slave revolt in history. Friends of Haiti proudly wear our bicolor; they revel in everything Haitian: They scour the Internet for recipes to make our delicious Independence Day soup for their families. They play our drums. They sing our songs. They speak our language. Some even claim to be more Haitian than those born in the country.  All of us remain in awe of the men and women who gave their blood for our freedom, among them: Dutty Boukman, Francois Makandal, Henry Christophe, Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Catherine Flon, Cecile Fatiman, Capois LaMort, and so many more.

To those who say Haiti has little to show for her glorious past, some would agree that our hardship began twenty-one years after the successful revolt, when King Charles X levied what today would amount to 21 billion dollars against Haiti for the loss of revenue from slave labor. Dan Sperling, in his post for Forbes Magazine, put it this way: “France’s demand for reparations from Haiti seems comically outrageous today – equivalent to a kidnapper suing his escaped hostage for the cost of fixing a window that had been broken during the escape.” We could stop there, but the endless list of narcissistic leaders and perennial natural disasters continue to impede measureable growth.

Ousmane Sow’s Louverture (kdu photos)

One fact remains certain: Haiti will be known forever as the only successful slave colony to break the chains of slavery in an undeniable and spectacular manner. As the generations before ours have been taught, we will teach future generations the significance of the Revolution, what it means to carry Haitian blood in our veins. May our pride in Haiti endure!  As compatriots and friends of Haiti continue to do our part in rebuilding, let us remember those men and women who believed themselves unstoppable. Let us remember the decisive battle of Vertières, led by Francois Capois “LaMort.” History tells us that even after LaMort’s horse was shot from under him and a bullet went through his cap, he did not surrender. Instead, he brandished his saber and charged toward the enemy’s hail of bullets, all the while urging his men to do the same: “En Avant! En Avant!” he shouted. The enemy was so impressed with Capois Lamort’s courage that they paused the war to applaud him.  Onward!

Today, we remember the heroes and heroines of The Haitian Revolution. May we find in ourselves the courage and determination to make our country the gem it must be! Let us speak the words of Capois LaMort to ourselves and to our indestructible Haiti: “Onward!” Let us wish our country Happy 214th Independence Day!

Independence Day for a Rèstavèk — by Patricia Philippe

It’s  dark. Fireworks have begun to streak the sky with glorious reds, whites, and blues. America celebrates its independence again. We are proud. We are also proud of the fact that Haiti–only Haiti–fought for and declared herself independent just a few years later after 1776. Haiti remains the only nation whose slaves fought and won a revolution. The year was 1804. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?

1804. Haiti declared herself free. No more slavery. But it’s now 2013, and a child sleeps under a table tonight. Someone forgot to tell her she is, indeed, free. No one has told her.  Not yet.

While the sky stretched over the United States explodes with color tonight, a child tumbles into a colorless dream. She is a rèstavèk–a “stay-with” child, a modern-day slave. The little spot under the table has been her bed for many years. There are no dreams under the table. No hope. No future. She does not know the meaning of independence. Perhaps, she will never know. No one has told her. Not yet.

Read Patricia Philippe’s offering on the subject of Rèstavèks below. Happy Independence Day from VoicesfromHaiti.com

Rèstavèk ~ by Patricia Philippe

VoicesfromHaiti.com Photo

Haitian Kreyòl is the language of we, the people, including those among us born on American soil; including the children of rèstavèks.

Who is this Gede they keep talking about? Black man in a suit with baby powder all over his face standing at the intersection of life and death, ready to help fools cross over?

Burn purple and while candles for him? Not today. It is Damballa I favor to make an opening in the sky for my heavy thighs to keep doing warrior poses.

My white candle burns on the ancestors table to pay homage to the wise spirits who penetrate my thoughts while I sleep. They teach me through my dreams.

What color candle does Madame Renaud burn? To whom does her rèstavèk pray? She had one at the house in Port-Au-Prince, don’t you know. Madame Renaud referred to the rèstavèk as her little girl: “The little girl I take care of . . .”

We all knew the little girl didn’t get much care at all. Madame Renaud wouldn’t have said it loud enough for anyone to hear. There were her pride and  conscience to protect. We all knew the truth.

What crime did the child commit?  Was it an offense to be born to parents who could neither nurture nor educate her?

The child was sent to live in a city with wolves: Was that some sort of punishment? It’s supposed to be a secret, you know. They don’t like it when I tell you this. They don’t want me to tell. But I can’t keep my mouth shut. Like the fireworks in the sky, I will not be silent. Not anymore.

——————

Patricia Philippe is a writer and Managing Editor of Kalyani Magazine. She lives in New York, and started Ann Pale Kreyòl: a “meet-up” group that supports Haitian-Americans who wish to learn Kreyòl and improve fluency.