Tag Archives: Haitian revolution

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!

Bois Caiman 2016 – by Jason Harris

Rara IronworkLong past nightfall, deep within the Massif du Nord, we still hear Dutty Boukman exhorting us towards a new day—as he did once before.  His prayer, our prayer, is old yet new, its words ever relevant to the task at hand: << Bon Dye ki kreye la tè a. Ki di solèy la klere. Bon Dye ki bay lanmè a tout dwa li merite. Ki pèmet loray gronde. Bon Dye ki gen zorèy pou li tande. Ou menm ki kache nan nwaj yo. Kap gade. Siveye. Fè yo sonje la verite: dènye sa ki te dèyè gen pou pran devan ! >> The last shall be first.

<<  Pa lage nou nan mitan tanpèt la . >>  Keep us safe from the storm. << Pwoteje nou anba maladi etranje yo pote pou nou. >> Spare us from diseases which strangers bring to us.  << Pa kite kolon yo pwoche peyi nou . >>  Keep the colonists away from our land.

<< Sezi lang tout moun k ap niche bòt rayisab yo . >>  Take the tongue from those who would lick the boots of our oppressors.  << Anseye san-konprann yo; di yo dlo pa kouri nan je Ayisyen pou  moun swaf ka plen vant yo . >>  Teach the strangers that our tears are not to satisfy their insatiable thirst.

<< Nou pa ka pataje lanmou pandan nou antere anba dekonb arivis. >>  We cannot share love, when we are buried under the rubble of their greed.  << Koute vwa libète k ap rele anmwey andedan kè nou. Doulè ki pa janm ka fin blese n; doulè ki pa janm ka fin kase kè n. Pran doulè sa yo pou nou . >>  Take away the pain that wounds our broken hearts.  Delivre nou, Bon Dye .>>

Birds flying togetherWe do not send up prayers blindly.  It seems that our simplest of prayers–to live with dignity as full members of the human village–has been reduced to absolutions mounted atop the wings of the obscene. Subsisting on the dark side of an island haunted by double consciousness, we are the last of the Original Suffer heads.

According to Europe, the wages of our freedom is the boot of submission.  Found guilty of freedom gained, we are currently serving a sentence of a life of pain.  Was this not our lot according to the deeds of the colonizers?  While they and the rest of the world proclaim us the lowest of low, we know better, for Boukman’s words dance on our lips.

Know this:

We do not want your factories and their slave wages.  We are not the training ground for your ruddy-cheeked millennials. You can take your Cholera back home with you; we are finished with it.  You say you come here to work with us; yet every time you swing the machete, the blade cuts our electricity, spills our blood, dries up our water, and breaks our bones.

Rara IronworkThe world bottles our tears and drinks deeply. It is an abomination to us that you seem to find satisfaction in sitting so far from suffering, in the opulent confines of corporate cocoons, spinning threads to wrap around the necks of children.

You come here and hide tools and machines on the island that should be used to rebuild our cities and only bring them out to insure your own comfort.  You are the monster.  Ayiti’s suffering is a referendum on your humanity.

Only when Ayiti is free of tormentors will we be able to deal with the vicissitudes of Mama Earth, be it weather or earthquake.

The challenge of rebuilding is no greater than the challenge of gaining freedom, and it is that knowledge that keeps the light shining in our hearts in the midst of pain.   Even with all that you have done to us, we are willing to share the vision of our beautiful future.

Be clear that you can no longer march in with starched collars and pressed sleeves and order us about.

Ousmane Sow's Louverture (kdu photos)

Ousmane Sow’s Louverture (kdu photos)

If you are not willing to have the same dirt under your fingernails and the same scrapes on your knees—as it is with our brothers and sisters who scratch out life from the hills of Jérémie, Chantal, and Les Cayes each day—then this is not the job for you.

Ayiti will be free of all that ails her, with or without your help.  Bondye te delivre nou yon fwa deja.  Delivrans nou sou wout.

 

____________________________________________________________________________

Photograph Courtesy of Jason Harris.

Photograph Courtesy of Jason Harris.

Baltimore-based writer and 2015 Kimbilio Fiction fellow, Jason Harris, is the editor of the speculative fiction anthology REDLINES: Baltimore 2028, as well as the author of the soon-to-be-released novel Fly Girl.  His work can be found at www.newfuturism.com

Notable Lives. Notable Deaths.

Jean-Jacques-DessalinesFollowing the only successful slave rebellion in the history of the world, Jean-Jacques Dessalines–one of the Haitian Revolution’s fearless leaders and founding fathers–became governor-general of the independent nation. Later that year (1804), Dessalines decided he wanted to be Emperor instead. The coronation of Emperor Jacques I took place on October 8. I would be born on the same day, exactly 96 years later.

Becoming emperor did not win Dessalines too many admirers. On October 17, 1806, he was ambushed and assassinated. Dessalines was so loathed that his killers threatened to punish anyone who might have been inclined to bury the mutilated body.

Ms. Bazile

Défilée carries Dessalines’ mutilated body from the street.

Of course, it was a woman–an equally fearless woman–who ignored the threats and rescued Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ body from dogs in the street. She did what no one else dared: She buried the desecrated remains of a fellow human being. For this, she ought to be considered a founding mother. Wasn’t she as brave?

 

 

 

Nearly two hundred years afterwards, a disgraced man whose seemingly diabolical decisions did not win him too many fans in Haiti and in the Diaspora also died. Ironically, this was the same disgraced man whose father purged the Blue from our nation’s first flag–Dessaline’s Blue and Red flag–in exchange for black. (Dessalines’ Blue and Red are once again the colors of our flag). The disgraced man has gone the way of the ancestors, too.

Catherine Flon, Dessaline's goddaughter- sews Blue and Red to create an independent Haiti's first (and current) flag

Catherine Flon, Dessaline’s goddaughter- sews Blue and Red to create an independent Haiti’s first (and current) flag

The deaths of those famous men are considered notable. One of          the two’s life  will be commemorated each year with heartfelt appreciation and pride. The other will be remembered perhaps with great disdain. Either way,  nothing will alter the fact that in death and in life the two men (and myself) have one thing in common: October. Nothing will alter another undeniable fact: Once upon a time, they and we were all just a bunch of cute little babies with big bright eyes that gawked at God only knew what.

Notable Lives.

antique cradleSome of the people I know dreamed for years about becoming parents, long before the babies came. The ones whose babies came as complete surprises cried the same tears of joy as those who planned. And when these sons and daughters arrived—via the foster care system,  adoption agency, or mommy’s belly, most babies are met with adoring looks, gentle kisses, and applause. New parents take and share thousands of photographs of their adorable little ones; they are proud to show off these tiny beings now their very own to cherish, care, live, fight, and—if necessary—die for.

The moms and dads I know are of various shades and nationalities. They call God by different names. They serve different food for dinner, they swim in different oceans, but they have one thing in common: When it comes to protecting their children, these very nice parents will switch from sweet to dangerous in a fraction of a second. At the slightest whiff of danger, moms and dads who can goo-goo and ga-ga with the best of them morph into enraged animals. Touch one hair of the head of their children, and God help you.

Having taught in some of the toughest schools in Baltimore, City, I’ve met parents who teach their children to respect themselves, their teachers, and the school where they spend huge chunks of their time. I’ve met parents who look the other way when their children cheat on tests and steal from teachers’ wallets. I’ve met parents who care so much about their children’s education that they spend hours volunteering in the classroom, helping crazy-busy teachers meet everyone’s needs. I’ve met grandparents who are committed to raising children orphaned by drug-addicted or incarcerated parents. I’ve met parents who come to school high as run-away helium balloons to complain about someone insulting their kid. I am moved and inspired by all of them. I know people who work in adoption agencies who pray every day for the children to find loving (and permanent) homes. No matter what the circumstances are, most parents can agree on the fact that babies are just plain precious. And innocent.

Of course, many of these precious babies grow up to be hardened criminals, but the majority does not. They lead productive lives. Notable lives.

Have you ever heard a three year old say he/she would grow up to be a dictator, a murderer or a junkie? “When I grow up, I want to be hungry and cold. I want to live in a cardboard box under a bridge.” What child would say that?

The parents I know want only the best for their kids. Even when the good babies turn into bad adults, they remain precious to someone. Every felon in jail, every evil-doer, every dictator was somebody’s cute little baby once.

This year, as with the other hundred Octobers before it, I told myself I would have a party. I hadn’t had a birthday party in two decades. This October would be different. I would not feel guilty about having a big cake with my name written on it in shimmering curlicues. I would enjoy blowing out the candles. Champagne glasses would sparkle on the table. There would be laughter. Music. I love to throw parties for other people; why not show myself some love. I would celebrate being above ground one more day. Every breath is a gift. I am here. Alive and grateful for it. Why not celebrate my own life?

My birthday came and went as the others. I didn’t have a party—for the usual rationalization. I will have a small celebration before 2015 comes; I hope. After all, I could have been one of the many people who passed away during October 2014.

Somebody’s precious babies we were once. No matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, someone somewhere loved and cherished us; perhaps not our own parents–Lord knows it takes more than giving birth or fathering a child to earn the titles Mom and Dad. But someone cared enough to wish us the best.

Felicie Montfleury 8/15/1921 - 4/1/2012

Felicie Montfleury 8/15/1921 – 4/1/2012

Everyday the newspapers make special  mention of those whose death are considered Notable. These notables tend to be politicians, former presidents and dictators, movie stars, musicians, famous authors, sport figures, scientists, technology geniuses. What about all the other deceased people whose pictures don’t make the front page? What about the ones who cannot afford a few lines in the obituary section? Are their deaths not notable?

photo by kdu

photo by kdu

To all those born in October, Happy birthday to YOU! And to those who have died: May you rest in perfect peace. To surviving family members, you are in my prayers. And even if news of your loved ones does not go viral, please know that they will not be forgotten. Someone somewhere will remember their names. Always.

Yours truly,

~~~

 

 

 

 

 

Carline Ruiz And the New Revolution

Cécile_FatimanCecile Fatiman stood among the men at Bois Caiman and gave them the courage they would need to accomplish the impossible. Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére put on a male uniform and fought alongside the men to bring about the only successful slave revolt in history.  Catherine Flon, by the light of a candle, sewed the first Haitian flag. And after Dessalines was assassinated, Marie Sainte Dédée Bazile (Defilé) was the only one bold enough to gather his remains and give him a proper burial.

Carline Ruiz En IndienneIt’s been 209  years since the “1804” has been branded on every Haitian’s heart and mind. Even if parts of our country are now scuffed beyond recognition, the Pearl of the Antilles did shine brilliantly once. That much we know. But what would Marie-Janne Lanartiniére say if she saw Haïti today? How would Dessalines react if he saw all the foreign nationals roaming freely on Haitian soil; many with guns in their hands.  Would Catherine Flon cry? It’s been 209 years since they gladly died to give us our  freedom. What would Dédée Bazile say to us today?

One of the best quotes I heard in 2012 came from Leonie Hermantin. She said: “Don’t just wrap yourself in a flag, do something.” I love that quote because so many of us wrap ourselves in the Haitian flag but do nothing to help fix the mess our country is in. Our culture’s pants have fallen below its knees; we point fingers at “those people,” and yet we do nothing. Strangers have bottled up our culture to sell it right back to us. We pay high prices for goods that belong to us. What would our our ancestors say?

Carline Ruiz in hatYes, the flag looks fantastic on our heads and on our backs, but who’s rebuilding the National Palace? Who is taking care of the orphaned babies? Who’s working to get the displaced from under the tents and into homes. Who’s selling our legacy acre by acre?

Our great-grandparents left us land galore; now when we go “home,” we have to rent a little spot from a stranger, and pay in U.S. dollars. Is this the new Pearl of the Antilles? Manman Flon, speak a word to us.

On this Independence Day, VoicesfromHaiti remembers the legacy of Cecile Fatiman, Catherine Flon, Marie Sainte Dédée Bazile, and Marie-Janne Lanartiniére for standing up against the worst kind of abuse. We celebrate also all people who carry a torch in Haiti’s name. We celebrate the politicians, the lawyers, the judges who work for real justice. We celebrate the young people who are searching for life. We celebrate the hundreds of thousands who passed away as a result of the earthquake, floods, and hurricanes. We remember the ones who lost their lives for no particular reason. We applaud our authors, our poets, our teachers, and our students who study by the light of the moon. We bow down to the grandmothers and grandfathers in whose heads the history of Haiti lives. We honor Haiti’s glorious past, and we celebrate the new journey.

Carline RuizWe say ochan for one of the boldest women who collects the remains of Haitian culture and breathes life into them: Ms. Carline Ruiz.

Carline was born during a thunderstorm in Port-au-Prince, in 1969. From an early age, all she wanted to do was dance, sing, write, and tell stories. When she was twenty years old, she became part of the group KNK: (konbit neg kay); at the same time she co-founded ADJAH: (Association for the development of young Haitian Artists).

Carline, along with a few others, kept Haitian culture alive by teaching more than four hundred children traditional dance, drumming, theater, and craft-making. The following year, Carline helped to create one of Haiti biggest folk bands: Boukan Ginen. The band would go on to represent Haïti all over the world.

Carline Ruiz in red scarf around her waist“If our culture disappears, we will forget who we are,” Carline says, And when that happens, we will become a lost people.”

Carline continues: “The way we as Haitians and Haitian-Americans can preserve and promote our culture is by educating the young people. We must teach our foreign-born kids what it means to be Haitian. We must teach them our history. Our youth today lack a sense of pride. Too many young foreign-born Haitians shun their own culture; they would rather say they’re from anywhere but Haïti. We need to teach them to embrace who they are. It is our civic duty to promote Haitian culture; to teach the new generation the way of our ancestors; to keep our tradition from disappearing. No matter what tragedies we endure, we have to continue to promote our legacy. Our ancestors told us that together we are strong. If we lose our identity, we will be divided. Everyone will speak a different language; we will not recognize ourselves. I say let’s work to preserve our identity. United we are strong. Now more than ever, we need to come together and do the work before us. Or watch ourselves fade away.”

_______________________________________

Carline Ruiz is the founder of Rhythm, Dance, et Traditions. Her forthcoming CD is a tribute to the women of Haïti who continue to fight for our art forms and cultural freedom.