Haiti or the confrontation between two creolities

By Gérard Barthélemy

The rise of two Haitian creolities dates back to the beginning of the Independence.
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La fami samble o
Kreyol o nou la ye
Nou pain ginin anko
Voodoo chant

Not for the first time, two Haitian authors have addressed the rupture within Haitian society in an almost anecdotal manner, woven into a new, highly sensitive and lively work on Voodoo.
Firstly, with regard to power and religion, Laennec Hurbon opposes the behaviour of a civilised minority with those of the great majority. « The heads of state have always understood that they have to function on two levels-on the one hand, they must claim to adhere to modern Western civilisations and allow Catholicism, for example, to impose itself as the official religion of the Haitian people; on the other hand, they have to maintain a relatively clandestine relationship with what they consider to be a source of power in the eyes of the majority of the population »(1).
Furthermore, the fact that the majority’s beliefs are de facto clandestine provides the substance for Louis-Philippe Dalembert’s text stigmatising the behaviour of the elite in the face of the « Other » that it refuses to recognise. He also speaks out against the frustration of the so-called minority, summing this up as being « embarrassed to be from the same mould, the same society, the same nation-in short, to be one of their kind » (2).
These statements are so complex and so strong that we cannot but feel tempted to go even further and try and explain the unsaid, the refusal to analyse, the refusal to accept the dual reality that has always prevailed, until now, in the dominating discourse in Haiti.
Haiti’s duality
If there is any duality in Haiti, if a binary system really exists in this country, we cannot continue to flee from the dangers that come with recognising and accepting the evidence. Therefore, if Haiti is classed unequivocally as a Creole country, we will have to accept the fact that this concept is not entirely clear-cut.
In fact, within Haiti, two creolities have apparently emerged, developing on a parallel level, which have come to oppose each other in a conflict at once political, financial and cultural. In this sense we should now talk about Haitian creolities in the plural.
Furthermore, it was shortly after Duvalier’s demise, in the euphoria of a brighter future, that Haiti came closest to the real revolution that the acceptance of this evidence represents.
During a conference held in October 1986 on the subject of « Peasants in the life of the nation », sociologist and historian Michel Hector was both brutal and courageous in summarising the situation, stating that, in his opinion, Haiti’s peasant population was the « excluded from the nation ». This situation was unacceptable and all the more absurd because « at the time, it was the masses, principally the peasant population, that were the drive behind Haiti’s national movement »(3).
These are serious accusations. In talking about exclusion, he implies that on the one hand there is a group with a conscious desire to exclude matched on the other hand by a dual strategy whereby this exclusion is both rejected and accepted through flight.
Exclusion therefore manifests itself in the refusal to recognise that the other has any kind of civil personality or status as a citizen. This is what Edmond Paul, one of the greatest Haitian political analysts of the late 19th Century, was speaking out against when he talked of an « exceptional regime ». « Our first lawmakers created a divide. They clearly distinguished between the rights of city dwellers and peasants to exercise their civil liberties. This is the reason for countless political, intellectual and financial ills. It is up to the nation as an entity to see that this fatalistic regime of exclusion ceases to exist. » (4)
The author insists, quite rightly, on the institutional aspects of this exclusion, which is inscribed, for example, in various statutes governing Haiti’s two types of municipality (only the towns have full powers), in the military administration of rural areas, varying civil statuses, and the fact that commerce was the exclusive dominion of city dwellers.
For the past two centuries the cultural aspect of this duality has been concealed by the opposition between civilisation and barbarity.
Contrary to what one might believe, this conflict is still very much alive today. The words themselves have only slightly changed so that we now talk about development and « backwardness ». In 1986, well-known professor and historian, Henock Trouillot spoke out against this situation, stating, « You have to have worked in a rural school to understand the contempt with which the teachers look upon their pupils. »(5)
These teachers apparently are responding to the same reflexes as young agronomists from the 1978-1982 class who complained to their minister about the living conditions during work experience in the country. « Like doctors and engineers, agronomists are agents for civilisation. As academics, they must set an example in hygiene. In fact, their social rank demands it. »(6)
It is hard to believe that they could talk thus about their fellow citizens. In response, popular practice would have the rural Haiti was commonly referred to as « the estranged countryside ».
In the beginning there were two creolities
Nothing more needs to be said about this divide that everyone denies. What is more important is that we understand its origins and in order to do this we need to go back to the time of the Independence. In 1800, the colony counted a large number of slaves (an estimated two thirds of the total population according to Moreau de Saint Mery). They were born in Africa and not long before had been sent to Haiti on the slave ships. The African-born bossales were assigned the hardest agricultural tasks. They mixed with slaves born in Saint Domingo (Creoles) and black and mulatto freed slaves.
These Africans were more like former captives than former slaves and at one time even saved the independence. Contrary to the Creole colonial army that rallied to General Leclerc when he returned to re-conquer the island, the bossales rose against Bonaparte’s troops, taking refuge in the mountains. They helped to exhaust and then contain the enemy while waiting for the majority of the « colonial » troops to rally to their cause and ensure that Desslines had victory in the end.
The real question remains to determine what became of this majority of the population after that. What is certain is that there was no fusion. At the beginning of last century, the Haitian historian A. Magloire condemned the situation, stating, « The greater part of Haitian society has for the past century continued to be open to all kinds of domination, just like African populations and the servile masses during colonial times. » (7)
In fact, accounts from the early 19th Century by historians and travellers have enabled us to establish the moment of this division into two movements, which corresponds with the moment when the first « African » generation was born on the island. By definition, this generation clearly deserves to be called Creole because its members were born in Haiti. However, how can we possibly imagine that they are the same as the Creoles who had established and lived their creolity during the colonial period?
If creolity can be defined as a specific culture that forms when a new situation is transformed, giving birth to a permanent structure, then two distinct creolities are definitely formed within the family nucleus-that of children born under the colony to slave parents, and that of children born after the independence to African parents. Because these two movements have a different history and are out of synch by several years they will never succeed in fusing. The fate of the first group was sealed in 1804. The second group was born that year.
Where African adults (bossales) were concerned, there would a two-step progression.
During a first phase, the more recent slaves fled the plantations in hoards, taking refuge in the hills, where they formed the main force of resistance. By way of example, it could be noted that General Leclerc told General Christophe, who wanted to rally, to come down from the mountains « with his 1,500 colonial troops and 4,000 to 5,000 armed peasants »(8). The ratio of Creoles in the colonial army to bossales was 1 : 3, in favour of the bossales.
During a second phase, after 1804, these « farmers » would have-if we are to believe accounts from the time- provided the country with a stable and dependable core population. Maybe it was the profound need for roots and safety felt by the foreign ex-captives, who had no family support network and were left to fend for themselves in an unknown world that provided no guarantees for survival beyond that gained through their own work.
A new indigenous people
Creolisation would occur at their children’s level. The new generation would not follow in their parents’footsteps (or only according to a supposed African atavism) but rather would be in total rupture with the behaviour of their parents. No longer feeling the same need for security, these new Creoles, who could be termed « new indigenous«  would react by totally rejecting the new colonial system that the descendents of the colony’s former Creoles were trying to install. The real point of rupture would come when the generation of « colonial » Creoles was succeeded by that of the « indigenous » Creoles.
In 1830, the British consul, Mr MacKenzie, said of the « indigenous » Creoles, « The only effective work is performed by the surviving Africans who, contrary to their offspring who live on the plains, have retreated into the mountains where they cultivate a few plots of lands that they have self-appropriated, hidden from and totally forgotten by the rest of the world. »(9) The author later says, « No governmental measures are capable of setting these young Creoles to work, nor will they succeed in overthrowing their vagabond habits and licentious ways » (10).
In 1835, Reverend S.W. Hanna wrote down a similar account by an English landowner who had moved there five years after the French left. He first stated that he originally had no trouble finding the necessary labour but that, « the new generation has not been raised with the same regular work habits. This is why they constitute a lazy, useless, element »(11). For his part, the Haitian historian and geographer Beaubrun Ardouin narrates just a few years later in his Géographie d’Haïti in 1848 that the last Africans were extremely faithful to their place of work, even when it was in a former colonial residence. With time, the divide seemed to become increasingly definite. The fate of these two generations of Creoles was sealed during the first few years of independence, with the colonial Creoles seizing power.
As the historian Madiou noted in 1850, « Since the Independence, we have seen the birth of a new generation. It is divided into two classes: the one living in the towns has acquired the knowledge (…) that gave them the first instincts of European civilisation, the other is composed almost entirely of labourers (…) and grew up with the African customs that are practised in the country. »(12)
In conclusion, this working hypothesis concerning the existence of two creolities would be confirmed as the two groups evolved. Their differences would continue to form on the outlines of their common traits, manifesting themselves in religion (Voodoism versus Christianity), in civil law and property law (customary law) and language (French versus Creole). The fact that the two groups cohabit without there being either a winner or loser does nevertheless carry a price, that of immobilism. It demonstrates that it is not possible for Haiti to uphold the usual argument in favour of the Creole identity as a single model. We have to accept that different creolities may rise up and confront each other, or even neutralise each other, given situations and power struggles that initially seem relatively simply and clear-cut.

1. Vaudou : un tambour pour les anges, Laennec Hurbon, Editons Autrement Paris, 2003, p. 12. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
2. Id, Louis Philippe Dalembert. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
3. Conference, Les paysans dans la nation haïtienne, Le Nouvelliste, 10-12 Oct. 1986, p. 8. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
4. Edmond Paul, Œuvres posthumes 1, Ch Dunod, Paris, 1986, p. 18. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
5. Henock Trouillot, Les revendications de la paysannerie, Haïti libérée, 29 November 1986, Port-au-Prince, p. 8. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
6. From the agronomists of the class of 78-82 to the minister of agriculture, Damien 25/02/1983, Multigraphie. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
7. Auguste Magloire, Histoire d’Haïti, part two. Les insurrections, Tome 2, Imprimerie du matin, 1910, Port-au-Prince, p. 408. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
8. Lettres du général Leclerc, Lettre du 16 floral, 1802 to the ministry for the navy and the colonies. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
9. Mackenzie Charles, Notes en Haïti, London, Henry Colburn 1830, Vol. 1, p. 79. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
10. Id. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
11. Hanna S.W. Rev, Notes on a visit to some of Haïti, January-February 1835, London, R Seeley 1836. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
12. Thomas Madiou (1850), Réédité Histoire d’Haïti, 6 tomes, Ed H. Deschamps, Port-au-Prince, 1989. Translation by Africultures for the purposes of this article.
Gérard Barthélemy is an economist who turned to anthropology, which he teaches at the Paris VII university along with history. For six years he worked on development projects in Haiti, largely in rural areas. He is currently working as an international consultant while pursuing his research on Haiti. He has written a number of books about the country, including The Estranged Countryside.///Article N° : 5718


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