Bois Caïman

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Bois Caïman (Haitian Creole: Bwa Kayiman: "Alligator Forest") was the site of the Vodou ceremony during which the first major slave insurrection of the Haitian Revolution was planned.

Role during the Haitian Revolution[edit]

On the night of August 14, 1791, representative slaves from nearby plantations gathered to participate in a secret ceremony conducted in the woods by nearby Le Cap in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Presided over by Dutty Boukman, a prominent slave leader and Vodou priest, the ceremony served as both a religious ritual and strategic meeting as conspirators met and planned a revolt against the ruling white planters of the colony's wealthy Northern Plain. The ceremony is considered the official beginning of the Haitian Revolution.

In the following days, the whole Northern Plain was in flames, as the revolutionaries conducted acts of violence towards those who had formerly enslaved them. Clouded in mystery, many accounts of the catalytic ceremony and its particular details have varied. There are no known first-hand written accounts about what took place that night. It was first documented in the colonist Antoine Dalmas's "History of the Saint-Domingue Revolution", published in 1814.[1]

The Haitian writer Herard Dumesle visited the region and took oral testimonies in order to write his account of the ceremony.[2] He recorded what is thought to be the earliest version of the Bois Caïman speech made by Dutty Boukman. Translated, it reads:

…This God who made the sun, who brings us light from above, who raises the sea, and who makes the storm rumble. That God is there, do you understand? Hiding in a cloud, He watches us, he sees all that the whites do! The God of the whites pushes them to crime, but he wants us to do good deeds. But the God who is so good orders us to vengeance. He will direct our hands, and give us help. Throw away the image of the God of the whites who thirsts for our tears. Listen to the liberty that speaks in all our hearts.[3]

This excerpt from the official "History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution"[4] serves as a general summary of the ceremonial events that occurred:

A man named Boukman, another houngan, organized on August 24, 1791, a meeting with the slaves in the mountains of the North. This meeting took the form of a Voodoo ceremony in the Bois Caïman in the northern mountains of the island. It was raining and the sky was raging with clouds; the slaves then started confessing their resentment of their condition. A woman started dancing languorously in the crowd, taken by the spirits of the loas. With a knife in her hand, she cut the throat of a pig and distributed the blood to all the participants of the meeting who swore to kill all the whites on the island.

Despite purported facts and embellishments that have dramatized the ceremony over the centuries, the most reoccurring anecdote is the sacrifice of a black Creole Pig to Ezili Dantor by the mambo Cécile Fatiman and the conspiratorial pact formed through its blood. Dalmas provided the first written account of the sacrifice:

A black pig, surrounded by the slaves believe to have magical powers, each carrying the most bizarre offering, was offered as a sacrifice to the all-powerful spirit...The religious community in which the nègres slit its throat, the greed with which they have believed to have marked themselves on the forehead with its blood, the importance that they attached to owning some of its bristles which they believed would make them invincible.[1]

The black Creole Pig, although indigenous to the island, being domesticated centuries earlier by the Tainos, was a sacrifice to and a symbol of Ezili Dantor, the mother of Haiti (who resembles the scarred Dahomey Amazons or Mino, meaning "Our Mothers" in the Fon language). It was a mixing of the traditions of the army of the Dahomey, which was the ethnicity of many of the slaves in Saint Domingue with the Taino, who had fled to the high mountains of Haiti (Haiti meaning high mountains in Taino) in order to escape the Spanish colonial genocide.[clarification needed]

Significance and Legacy[edit]

The Bois Caïman ceremony has often been used as a source of inspiration to nationalists and as a symbol of resistance to oppression.[5][6]

During the 1990s, some neo-evangelical Christians rewrote the events at Bois Caïman as a Haitian "blood pact with Satan".[5] They were influenced by "spiritual warfare" theology and concerned that the Aristide government had made efforts to incorporate the Vodou sector more fully into the political process.[citation needed] These Evangelicals developed a counter-narrative to the official national story. In this narrative, the ancestral spirits at the Vodou cemetery were re-cast as demons. In their view, the engagement with demons amounted to a pact that put Haiti under the rule of Satan. While some Haitian Evangelicals subscribe to this idea, most Haitian nationalists vehemently oppose it.[7] This belief was referenced by Christian media personality Pat Robertson in his controversial comments during the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Robertson declared the Haitian people "have been cursed by one thing after the other" since the 18th century after swearing "a pact to the devil". Robertson's comments were denounced.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Antoine Dalmas: History of the Saint-Domingue Revolution (Paris: Meme Frères, 1814)
  2. ^ Dumesle, Herard (1824). Voyage dans le Nord d'Haiti, ou, Revelation des lieux et des monuments historiques. Les Cayes: Imprimerie du Gouvernement.
  3. ^ Dubois, Laurent, 1971- Verfasser. (2016-09-02). Slave revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804 : a brief history with documents. ISBN 9781319048785. OCLC 1048449681.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Official Haitian Bicentennial Website "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2007-08-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ a b McAlister, Elizabeth (2012-04-25). "From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History". Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses. 41 (2): 187–215. doi:10.1177/0008429812441310. ISSN 0008-4298.
  6. ^ Blaise, Sandie (2014). "Bois Caïman as a 'Curse'". Representing Bois Caïman, The Black Atlantic Blog, Duke University. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  7. ^ Elizabeth McAlister (2012). "From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History". Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 41.2 (2012).


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