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Ancient Egyptian Wisdom ... Daily Practice

Sunday, April 25, 2010

HAITI: MOTHER OF AFRICAN LIBERATION

Haiti is hurting. Haiti has been hurting for a long, long time. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake which devastated the nation in January this year has consequently brought its suffering to the attention of mainstream media. For a long time Haiti has repeatedly been referred to as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Its deplorable social and economic climate has sparked much dialogue and has been sensationalized all over the world. However, mainstream media has failed to articulate the circumstances which brought Haiti to its current state.

To understand why so many brothers and sisters are suffering in this nation we have to look back in history at the Genesis of it all. This is Spain’s conquest of the island of Hispaniola at the hands of Christopher Columbus. The Taino people who originally inhabited the island were being annihilated by the Spanish. To their rescue came the Spanish priest Bartolome De Las Casas. He was educated at the University of Salamanca in the field of law and years after completing his studies he took up Holy Orders of the Catholic Church and migrated to Hispaniola . There he was given some of the best land along with Taino labor for the purpose of agriculture and mining.

Las Casas later changed his heart in regards to the punishment perpetrated against the Tainos. He gave up his lands and became the “apostle” of the natives. He worked to have laws passed to preserve their lives but was defeated by the greed of Spaniards who felt they “had come to take their gold, not civilize the aborigines.” To spare the natives from suffering further atrocities, Las Casas agreed to sacrifice the well-being of African people. At the suggestion of Dominican monks he consented to the importation of African slaves, “as the labor of one negro was more valuable than that of four Indians, every effort should be made to bring Hispaniola many negroes from Guinea .” This rationalization became justification for what eventually led to Europe’s African slave trade.

The Spanish however, did not immediately turn to African labor. They first implemented white labor in the form of convicts, white slaves and foreign immigrant labor. Since this did not meet their ultimate need, the African slave trade was initiated in September 3, 1501 by the king of Spain . When Las Casas saw that the Africans suffered the same fate and died in the same fashion as the Tainos, he felt remorse and realized that it was the brutality of the Spanish which is to blame for the premature death of the people.

Flash forward to the 17th century and at this time the French have established settlements on the western side of the island. The Spanish later concede the western third of the island to the French in 1697 and it becomes known as Haiti . The colony goes on to generate immense wealth for the French empire while the Africans who performed the labor are subject to inhumane brutality. This all comes to an end with the Haitian Revolution lead by Toussaint L’Ouverture. In 1804 Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence after defeating the French army and fighting off a subsequent British invasion.

The French had hopes of reacquiring Haiti but gave up such thoughts and all claims to the former colony with an agreement for the payment of 150 million Francs in gold. The funds were to cover damages and the loss of land due to the Haitian revolution. This debt was forced on Haiti by the French through the taxation of shipping imports and exports. To payoff this debt Haiti had to acquire loans from the U.S., Germany and France which only exacerbated the situation. The original debt to France was eventually paid off in 1947 but by that time the nation was financially crippled. This resulted in additional loans being taken out under corrupt Haitian dictators such as François Duvalier. These funds were misused and as a result the country is still indebted to the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF, the U.S. and France.

To make matters worst, Haiti has been plagued by political instability and violence throughout its history. Between 1843 and 1915 the country experienced 22 changes in government. Since its independence several colonial powers aspired to gain control of Haiti for financial investment and because they felt the “negroes” of that nation were incapable of governing themselves. The nation has been subject to U.S. invasions and occupations in 1915-1934, 1994 and 2004. During these occupations U.S. citizens obtained rights to key wealth building resources in the country while native Haitians were left empty handed. They lost their lives in rebellions in the thousands and were exploited for free labor. Regime change at the hands of the U.S. was also an automatic outcome. At the end of each occupation the country was only left in worst shape than it was before the invasion.

The amalgamation of Haiti’s national debt, political imbalance, and foreign invasions leads to the nation’s problem of deforestation. The nation has insufficient capital and has been unable to fully develop its energy sector. In 2006 only 10% of a Haiti’s population received electricity while the rest are left to seek alternative sources of energy. For this they turned to wood and consequently cut down numerous trees throughout Haiti’s history. The country is currently 98% deforested and this promotes soil erosion which is exacerbated each time they are hit with a hurricane. The land is subsequently damaged affecting agriculture which means less food available to feed the overly populated country.

With so many problems plaguing the nation it is easy to see why it is in such a deplorable state. This is a nation so poor that people eat mud pies to survive. In addition to that, massive poverty leads to widespread violence and corruption. All of this is not by chance but engineered as history teaches us. Since its liberation, Haiti has been subjected to nothing but punishment by the world’s colonial powers. In a recent trip to Haiti, the historian Runoko Rashidi explained a conversation he had with a group of Haitian students. They asked him if the Haitian people were wrong for liberating themselves from the French. They had been subjected to so much punishment that they believed, possibly if they had remained enslaved for a longer time they would not be suffering so much today.

Haiti and other developing countries around the world only know of negative relationships with these imperial nations. Examples of this can be viewed in the documentary “Life & Debt” which details the exploitation of my native country of Jamaica by the US, IMF and World Bank. There is a case in the film where the undermining of Jamaica’s meat industry is discussed by a native. This person explains a situation where a local businessman thought it would be a good deal if he could purchase some chicken cheap, and they came up with the idea that they would import it from the US. After examining the shipment it was discovered that this chicken was about 20 years old!! This meat was determined to not be fit for human consumption. However, the person that provided the chicken tried to convince them that it only came to Jamaica accidentally, and that the shipment was in fact for Haiti and it should be released back into his custody so that he could send it on to the correct destination. Such business practices are shocking and sadly this is only a case of which we know.

With so much despair afflicting this nation, it is alarming to hear the reasons people give to explain its situation. Individuals such as Pat Robertson assert that the people of Haiti sold their souls to the devil to liberate themselves from the French and this is why they are suffering and being hit with so many natural disasters. Others declare that it’s their practice of voodoo and devil worship to explain their situation. All of these rationales are disturbing.

Their religion of Vodou is totally misunderstood by the Western world and only presented negatively by mainstream media in films such as “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” To truly understand this spiritual system one must engage in some sort of scholarship. The Haitian Vodou priest Houngan Aboudja provides great information about this religion in the article, “The Cultural Setting: Morality in Haitain Vodou.” This religion’s roots go back to the African kingdom of Dahomey which is modern day Benin and according to Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, in studying Vodou he realized it is more well preserved in Haiti than in its native land. It is monotheistic, communal and ever evolving in tradition.

Aboudja makes several important comments about Vodou. “Haitian Vodou is a religion that was born out of struggle and revolution, a religion of resistance that gives collective strength and identity to the disenfranchised………Through a complex set of myths and rituals, Vodou relates the life of the faithful to the spirits (called lwa) who govern that life. It instills in its devotees the need for good character and self-examination, and it uplifts the downtrodden who have experienced life’s misery and misfortune. It provides an explanation for death, which is treated as a spiritual transformation, a portal to the sacred world beyond, where productive and morally upright individuals, perceived by devotees to be powerful ancestral figures, can exercise significant influence over their progeny. ..... Here it is important to note that, what is meant by Vodou culture is not necessarily the same concept as the current social politic found in the country of Haiti today. In many ways, these two are in conflict and the current political climate, however corrupt, exists due to reasons having nothing to do with traditional spirituality and culture. No, it exists due to other forces, foreign and domestic, socio-economic and geo-political. It has nothing to do with those values prescribed by Vodou culture.”

With so many facts placed on the table, it is clear to see that Haiti’s suffering has nothing to do with its spiritual practices. It is all a result of politics and economics. It is important for all people of African dissent to recognize this fact. They also need to recognize the significance of the Haitian Revolution and what it represents. While there were numerous revolts occurring during slavery, Haiti’s liberation served as a great inspiration to all other Africans in bondage at the time. Their fight for freedom sent shockwaves over the world at the fact that this small nation of Africans were able to defeat the greatest army in the world. This monumental event was a huge turning point in the history of African bondage making slavery ever more expensive for the colonial powers and instigating the abolitionist movement. However, it must be noted that abolitionists were first hired by imperialists solely for economic reasons and not out of guilt or a new development of morality. They were just transitioning from direct slavery to its more advanced form which is colonialism.

Nevertheless, all Africans are indebted to Haiti for the role it has played in our liberation, for it is the starting point of our march to freedom. It is therefore essential that we all come to the aid of this nation, especially in its time of need. As it can be said that Africa is the mother of humanity and civilization, it can be said that Haiti is the mother of African liberation. Thanks for reading.

Sources:

Williams, Eric. 1970, “From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean,” New York, Random House, Inc.


Haiti: The Land Where Children Eat Mud. The Times Online, The UK Edition -

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6281614.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1


CIA World Factbook - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html


“Why America Invaded Haiti: Wilson Sends in the Marines,” Associated Content -http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/904437/why_america_invaded_haiti_wilson_sends.html


“Deforestation in Haiti” - http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/haitidef.htm

Haiti’s Poverty is Directly Linked to Deforestation and Habitat Loss” - http://redgreenandblue.org/2009/05/10/haitis-poverty-is-directly-linked-to-deforestation-and-habitat-loss/


“The Cultural Setting: Morality in Haitian Vodou” - http://africawithin.com/religion/cultural_setting.htm


“More About Haitian Vodou” - http://www.erzulies.com/site/articles/view/6


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Of historical interest -- You can see a clip of Toussaint's last moments in prison from the award-winning new short film "The Last Days of Toussaint L'Ouverture" at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2468184/ This film is the basis for a new feature (not with Danny Glover) that is in development.

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