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Haiti, History, and the Gods

Joan Dayan
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: 1
Pages: 362
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  • Book Info
    Haiti, History, and the Gods
    Book Description:

    InHaiti, History, and the Gods,Joan Dayan charts the cultural imagination of Haiti not only by reconstructing the island's history but by highlighting ambiguities and complexities that have been ignored. She investigates the confrontational space in which Haiti is created and recreated in fiction and fact, text and ritual, discourse and practice. Dayan's ambitious project is a research tour de force that gives human dimensions to this eighteenth-century French colony and provides a template for understanding the Haiti of today. In examining the complex social fabric of French Saint-Domingue, which in 1804 became Haiti, Dayan uncovers a silenced, submerged past. Instead of relying on familiar sources to reconstruct Haitian history, she uses a startling diversity of voices that have previously been unheard. Many of the materials recovered here-overlooked or repressed historical texts, legal documents, religious works, secret memoirs, letters, and literary fictions-have never been translated into English. Others, such as Marie Vieux Chauvet's radical novel of vodou,Fonds des Nègres, are seldom used as historical sources. Dayan also argues provocatively for the consideration of both vodou rituals and narrative fiction as repositories of history. Her scholarship is enriched by the insights she has gleaned from conversations and experiences during her many trips to Haiti over the past twenty years. Taken together, the material presented inHaiti, History, and the Godsnot only restores a lost chapter of Haitian history but suggests necessary revisions to the accepted histories of the New World.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92096-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Haiti tempts impassioned representation, as well as proprietary impulses. Writers, grappling with their own identity, from Jules Michelet to William Seabrook, turned to Haiti as a land of conversion, where Africa could become France or a white man could become black. My mother, trying to tell me about her childhood in Port-au-Prince, never sure if she was French, Syrian, or Haitian, and light enough not to think of herself as black, always returned to the nuns at Sacré-Coeur. Her stories also focused on transformation and miraculous identity shifts:

    They never told us about the slave trade. I did not know...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  5. Note on Orthography
    (pp. xxiii-xxiii)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xxiv-xxiv)

    • 1 Rituals of History
      (pp. 3-74)

      “Rid us of these gilded Africans, and we shall have nothing more to wish,” Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to his brother-in-law General Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc in 1802. Though successful in Guadeloupe and Martinique, Napoleon’s soldiers, commanded first by Leclerc and then by Donatien Rochambeau, failed to reestablish slavery in Saint-Domingue. The only locale in history for a successful slave revolution, Saint-Domingue became the first Black Republic in 1804. As the Martiniquan writer and politician Aimé Césaire put it, “The first epic of the New World was written by Haitians, by Toussaint, Christophe, and Dessalines.”² When Jean-Jacques Dessalines articulated the meaning of “independence”...


    • 2 Fictions of Haiti
      (pp. 77-140)

      “—We are all dying …—and she plunges her hand into the dust.” With these words Jacques Roumain began his classic novelGouverneurs de la rosée(1944).³ It was in literature that the Haiti of dust, suffering, and death became the ground for the most powerful and, to a large extent, most accurate fictions about its peasantry—a group that had been appropriated by polemicists as diverse as Louis-Joseph Janvier, Hannibal Price, or, later, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier in his ethnographic and “scientific” writings on the Haitian nation. “Papa Doc” Duvalier idealized the peasantry as the source of what...


    • 3 Last Days of Saint-Domingue
      (pp. 143-186)

      Those who came to Saint-Domingue in the last years of the eighteenth century came to a country where definitions were defied as they were made and categories were mixed up as more rigorous labels were invented. Describing the ambivalence of this creolizing process in Jamaica from the perspective of the subordinate majority, the Barbadian historian and poet Kamau Brathwaite writes: “‘Invisible,’ anxious to be ‘seen’ by their masters, the elite blacks and the mass of the free coloureds conceived of visibility through the lenses of their masters’ already uncertain vision, as a form of ‘greyness’—an imitation of an imitation.”³...

    • 4 Gothic Americas
      (pp. 187-268)

      In the chapter “Results” inUncle Tom’s Cabin, the mulatto George, presented by Harriet Beecher Stowe as spokesman for “the oppressed, enslaved African race,” wonders where to look for “an Africannationality.” He dismisses Haiti, for “in Hayti they had nothing to start with. A stream cannot rise above its fountain. The race that formed the character of the Haytiens was a worn-out, effeminate one; and, of course, the subject race will be centuries in rising to anything.” Although George probably means the French, he does not say who formed the race that formed the Haitian character, or what that...

  10. Chronology
    (pp. 269-286)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 287-328)
  12. Index
    (pp. 329-339)