Tuesday, January 19, 2010
A successful Slave Revolt
Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois and William Faulkner all had links with and a fascination for the dark courage of this determined people — Douglass was Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Haiti and Dubois had family roots on the island, and Haiti and its people figured in William Faulkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom. Even the Haitians’ opponents were charmed. A contingent of Polish conscripts under Napoleon’s ill-fated General Leclerc defected, and fought side by side with slaves who knew they faced either slavery, freedom, or death, yet chose freedom and the risk of death rather than submission. Much, much later, even under the opportunistic and cruel regime of Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) at the height of the Cold War, the Haitian government welcomed Polish citizens without visas as an expression of undying gratitude. Blue-eyed Haitians can still be found in the southwestern region of the country.
After Columbus’ first voyage to the present site of Cape Haitian, Queen Isabela of Spain asked him to describe the land he called “Hispaniola.” According to legend he took a sheet of paper, crumpled it in his hand and placed it on a table before the Queen, to describe its rugged and mountainous landscape. The land has been Haiti’s blessing and its curse ever since: it was the most fertile and productive land in the world in the 18th century, yet is now a partial wasteland of deforested hills. Today hunger and poverty prevail. In the marketplaces shopkeepers peddle a hamburger-shaped comestible made of clay and sugar, made to “deceive hunger” for citizens in one of the world’s hungriest and most densely populated countries.