The “Voodoo Ceremony” of Boïs-Caiman and the Need for Another Revolution in Haiti

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By: Henry Boisrolin / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / August 14, 2016

In the night of August 14, 1971, those enslaved by the French colony of St. Domingue, who had organized themselves in the early months of that year to fight for their freedom, held a Political Congress to prepare a vast insurrectional movement. Defying the prohibitions to gather, for many months the enslaved had walked long distances to sing, dance, speak, discuss political events, discuss their suffering, their desire for freedom, and the actions they would take to meet their goals. However, history (which is written by the victors) wrongly remembers this event as a simple Voodoo ceremony in Bois-Caïman, located in the northern area of the French Cape (renamed Haitian Cape since 1804), where those who had been deprived from their freedom swore to live free or die.

It’s necessary to highlight that Voodoo, the religion created by slaves, was the means they used to get organized, conspire and prepare the insurrection against the regime of slavery and exploitation, and it was a key element in the triumph of their revolution.

The insurrection was so well and meticulously planned that the slavist authorities, despite their power and their success in capturing and torturing some of the revolutionary leaders, couldn’t veer the course of events. Thus, since August 22, 1791, half of the rich Northern Plains burned in fire. As the tale goes, for three days the people of the French Cape couldn’t tell night from day. Entire plantations were burnt and their proprietaries executed. They had lost their monopoly of violence. And the strength of the mass insurrection was such that other social sectors were drawn to it in a matter of weeks.

There are several artistic depictions of the Boïs-Caiman Congress. This one is by artist Nicole Jean-Louis.


That August of freedom was the beginning of the final phase of the struggle for freedom in St. Domingue that the enslaved had begun since they were first captured in their homeland, Africa. It was the beginning of the independence war that ended on November 18, 1803, when the revolutionary troops defeated the Napoleonic army in the Veitères battle. And thus, the Commander in Chief, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, proclaimed on January 1, 1804, the independence of St. Domingue, replacing that colonial name for a new one —the name that its first indigenous inhabitants called it before the Spanish conquest in 1492: Haiti.

In fact, 1971 represented the explosion of all contradictions and the collapse of the structures of the regime of slavist exploitation, left out in the open the fact that there was a profound and revolutionary crisis. That crisis was brilliantly solved through a war fought by the grassroots, using different tactics that ranged from guerilla war to trench warfare. It was a freedom war, led by the most radicalized of the exploited, the only one of its kind that was victorious in modern history, and it allowed for the creation of the first free country in Latin America.

How to write history

But 1971 was not a lucky turn nor a “pact with the devil”, as several racist preachers say for lack of a better explanation for a victory of the “black” over the “white”. Similarly, some historians that reproduce the modern eurocentric ideology simplify and reduce the Haitian revolution by saying it is a child of the French Revolution that occurred in 1789. This is not only mistaken, but it also blocks all potential comprehension of the true mechanisms of thought and struggle that determined this event, this political subversion by the victims of the cruelest system of domination and exploitation ever known to this continent. But those who can’t yet shake off the weight of their education and the supposedly universal knowledge produced by eurocentrism will inevitably fall under those deforming reductionist categories. Eurocentrism can only explain facts under a capitalist relation system, and, of course, it uses categories that were created in a world that is far from resembling our own. So they ignore or despise other categories of analysis that are necessary to understand different histories, and different human beings —those considered “lesser” than modern, European people.

Without waking up to these deformations, we’ll never achieve a critical and revolutionary thought that can orient the actions to transform the current crisis in Haiti. There won’t be any change in favor of the exploited in Haiti unless we retake the road opened in 1971. To us, members of the Democratic Committee of Argentina, it’s not about a nostalgic remembrance of a glorious past, but a guide, something to learn lessons from, in order to overcome the current occupation of the country.

A sign of the European bias of history: Toussaint Louverture, liberator of Haiti, is remembered as "The Black Napoleon" —the name of his number one enemy.
A sign of the European bias of history: Toussaint Louverture, liberator of Haiti, is remembered as “The Black Napoleon” —the name of his number one enemy.

1971 is not the past, it holds a lot of relevance to transform the present, and to build the future of the nation with freedom, sovereignty and independence. Yes, 1971 can guide us amidst all this humiliation, all this pain, all these deceits and all these betrayals, amidst the confusion, the myths and the falsifications of truth.

For example, one of the biggest myths and falsehoods is the way in which they try to convince us that a social and political change in favor of the masses could be achieved through elections while the country is militarily occupied by the MINUSTAH, disguised as humanitarian aid. If the elections were carried out on October 9, as planned, they will obviously be sparsely attended, because most of the Haitian people knows that the change that they want can’t come from a farce as coarse as this one.

And since storytelling has become the favorite activity of the leaders of the Haitian state, the current authorities tell us a story about how we will recover our sovereignty through the elections that will be financed only by the Haitian state and some generous members of civil society, who will rake up 55 million dollars from their private arks, and this time they swear they won’t rely on the usual “selfless generosity” of the international community that finances this “democratic exercise”. They also want to make us believe that the elections of October 9, as a logical consequence of their sovereign nature, will be a panacea, the one and only solution for for all of our problems. Sovereignty is equated to the economical aspect of an election. Since we rule out the hypothesis that they might be stupid, all we can think is that they take all of us for idiots, thereby insulting the reason and dignity of a whole people.


It’s time for another 1804

We believe that elections should be further questioned in order to leave this senseless and perverse essentialism. Leaving behind preconceived schemes and catchphrases, we take a stance that is completely opposite and fundamental: the cease of the occupation of the country must be the first step, and it will only be achieved by a liberation struggle fought by the organized exploited masses, and not as a consequence of subtle and smart balancing act of politicians that call themself pragmatic and believe they can confound and defeat the enemies of the Haitian people. With this stance as a starting point we analyze our problems. Only with a new 1791 our victory can be achieved.

Now, to further clarify our position, we’ll analyze the current and electoral problems. We don’t do it inspired by academic passion, but because there may be new slaughters before or during the elections, and the main victims will be the poor voters of some marginalized neighborhoods. The ghost of what happened during the bloody electoral day of November 29, 1987, flies once again over the Haitian political arena.

What is this arena like? To begin with, the country is submerged in a profound economic and institutional crisis. In this context, the imperial power tried to impose last year their candidate, Jovenel Moïse (the official successor of President Martelly) , through fraudulent elections, with the help of their local servants. This decision underestimated the potential reaction of big parts of the Haitian people in defense of their dignity and survival. This was evidenced by the massive protest held last January 22 that prevented the carrying out of the illegitimate second round of elections —which was an election with only one candidate, Jovenel Moïse, since the other runner-up refused to participate due to the massive allegations of fraud in the first round. When this possibility was blocked, the government thought of a different way to save Martelly from humiliation as he left his seat: a spurious political pact, which was sealed last February 7.


Martelly, who had also been elected through rigged elections in 2010-2011, left the Presidential seat amidst a plundering economy and denounces of embezzlement, corruption, and obedience to the interests of North American imperialism. But, as this was a pact made behind the backs of the people and with the complicity of Deputies and Senators who had also been elected through these fraudulent elections, the result was that they elected Jocelerme Privert as interim president. According to the document he signed, he had the mission of organizing elections in April so that a new president could be inaugurated in June this year. But the masses demanded an Independent Commission for Electoral Verification to be created in order to evaluate whether the first round of elections had been actually clean. Otherwise, the second round would be illegitimate.

Privert was forced to comply with this demand, despite the resistance from the “international community”, that conveniently agreed with the way things had been done and wanted to go on despite the fraud allegations. But the Commission confirmed the existence of frauds and issued a recommendation: to start over the elections.

Undoubtedly, under these circumstances, the weakness of Privert is evident. He was forced to form a government with men and women that only act as representatives for other true powers. Privert has a cabinet full of figures with alliances with these powers, which leaves the interim president with very little power. Since elections weren’t held in April 14, and since Privert’s mandate ended on June 14, Privert is now waiting for the National Assembly to confirm whether or not he may continue to be the interim president.

But the National Assembly is blocked by a minority of Deputies and Senators from Martelly’s party and its allies. Since they refuse to concede Privert’s wish to stay in power, he’s attempting to impose his decision whether everyone likes it or not: he convened to new elections on October 9, but first he formed a new Commission for Electoral Verification of his own.

This is an omen of some serious conflict ahead. We’re already seeing an increase of insecurity with murders of citizens, attacks to companies and permanent threats to block every activity in the country. Meanwhile, the colonial system that prevails since the first US invasion to the country (1915-1934) is crumbling but claws on to the country by seeking to crush popular resistance. And one of their tactics is the electoral trap: to make everyone believe this is the only way to make Haiti better.

But the excluded Haitian people have a different grasp of the situation. Thus, we should potentiate the current efforts that led to the creation of a front and grouped together several forces of the popular field, and direct them towards a central objective: the ceasing of the occupation of Haiti. In these days of tension, where those on top can’t lead as they used to and those down below don’t want to live as they used to, some are beginning to look back on our glorious history. And there, Bois-Caïman shines with all its transcendence, and its unmatched revolutionary force, to lead us to a new 1804.


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