Haiti was Christopher Columbus' second stop, having first arrived in the new world at the island of San Salvador. Friendly natives greeted Columbus, and directed him to Haiti when he inquired about gold. On his way to the island, a ship was wrecked. So peaceful and honest were the Native Indians that they helped him save almost the entire cargo. Nothing was stolen.
In return, for the Indians' kindness:
The Spaniards, the most advanced Europeans of their day, annexed the island, called it Hispaniola, and took the backward natives under their protection. They introduced Christianity, forced labour in mines, murder, rape, blood hounds, strange diseases, and artificial famine (by the destruction of cultivation to starve the rebellious). These and other requirements of the higher civilisation reduced the native population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in 15 years. (The Black Jacobins, Pg 3-4)
Las Casas, a Dominican priest, was greatly disturbed by the prospect of the entire native population being wiped out within a generation, so he went to Spain and pleaded for the abolition of NATIVE slavery.
There could be no end because the colony could not exist without slavery.
So to maintain the facade of a civilized country, Spain compromised; it outlawed forced labor on paper while its colonies maintained it. The brutal conditions of life for the slaves continued to kill the Natives off. So Las Casas, hit on the expedience of importing the more robust Negroes from a populous Africa; in 1517, Charles V. authorised the export of 15,000 slaves to San Domingo, and thus priest and King launched on the world the American slave-trade and slavery (The Black Jacobins, P4).
In 1629 the French settled on the small island of Tortuga six miles away from San Domingo (Haiti).Then came the English and the Dutch. San Domingo was a lush and fertile island with millions of cattle that roamed its forests. The French hunted the cattle. Fugitives, debtors, escaped slaves, quick fortune hunters, found a home in Tortuga.
For 30 years the Spaniards, English, Dutch and French fought over the land. In 1659, the men of all crimes and all nationalities, from France were victorious. They contacted France and demanded women and a chief be sent to the island. From Tortuga the French moved to San Domingo. The Spaniards killed all San Domingo’s cattle hoping this would cause the French to leave. However the island remained quite desirable. Instead of leaving the island the French cultivated cocoa, indigo, cotton and sugar cane. After decades of raids and counter raids between French, British and Spaniards, in 1695 the French secured legal right to the western part of the island from Spain with the Treaty of Ryswick. In 1734 the French began to cultivate coffee. The fertile island and labor intensive crops demanded more laborers. At the time there were white slaves, called engagés, too. Regulations for white slaves and black slaves were similar. But the engagés,, could not handle the life and died off. So the slave traders took more and more people from Africa. Eventually taking millions yearly.
(I am re-posting this diary. I posted it for a short time and deleted it. A big thanks to my daughter, Charysse for editing)
Haiti diary book day posted on Sundays (biweekly) : Current book is The Black Jacobins
The slave traders’ primary hunting ground was Guinea. However capitalism's incessant demand for more, along with target regions dwindling population, made the traders hunt for slaves further and further into the continent.
Propaganda has been an essential tool of the slave traders and its proponents since the beginning.
The propagandists of the time claimed that however cruel was the slave traffic, the African slave in America was happier than in his own African civilisation. Ours, too, is an age of propaganda. We excel our ancestors only in system and organisation: they lied as fluently and as brazenly. In the sixteenth century, Central Africa was a territory of peace and happy civilisation. Traders travelled thousands of miles from one side of the continent to another without molestation. The tribal wars from which the European pirates claimed to deliver the people were mere sham-fights; it was a great battle when half-a-dozen men were killed. It was on a peasantry in many respects superior to the serfs in large areas of Europe, that the slave-trade fell. (The Black Jacobins, Pg 6-7)Central Africa was peaceful; the trader roamed from region to region unharmed. The tribal wars the traders claimed to be saving the Africans from were nonexistent excepting small sham fights where if 6 people were killed was considered a major battle.
The traders were the savages, not the Natives. They swept through Africa devastating one region after another. The Africans who were left, the survivors, were both terror stricken and isolated. Violence and ferocity became the necessities for survival, and violence and ferocity survived.
When captured the slaves were chained one to another, a heavy stone was tied to them to prevent escape, and marched to the ports with the weak dying along the way. Upon arrival slaves, thousands of human beings, were packed in trunks to be inspected by buyers. The trunks were so putrid that a full 20 percent died. The remaining were packed in the slave ships gallery for what would be a long and brutal voyage.
Outside in the harbour, waiting to empty the "trunks" as they filled, was the captain of the slave-ship, with so clear a conscience that one of them, in the intervals of waiting to enrich British capitalism with the profits of another valuable cargo, enriched British religion by composing the hymn "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds!"(The Black Jacobins, Pg 8)The slaves were put in spaces too small to either lay straight or sit up, one on top of another. There were revolts and slaves would often commit suicide by jumping ship to spite the owner.
The close proximity of so many naked human beings, their bruised and festering flesh, the foetid air, the prevailing dysentery, the accumulation of filth, turned these holds into a hell. During the storms the hatches were battened down, and in the close and loathsome darkness they were hurled from one side to another by the heaving vessel, held in position by the chains on their bleeding flesh. No place on earth, observed one writer of the time, concentrated so much misery as the hold of a slave-ship.(The Black Jacobins, Pg 8)
To the traders, the slave was no different than anything else they traded. They were simply discarded when the captain of a slave ship felt it necessary. When wind caused a ship to be delayed one captain poisoned the slaves. And worse yet:
Another killed some of his slaves to feed the others with the flesh. They died not only from the regime but from grief and rage and despair. They undertook vast hunger strikes; undid their chains and hurled themselves on the crew in futile attempts at insurrection. What could these inland tribesmen do on the open sea, in a complicated sailing vessel? To brighten their spirits it became the custom to have them up on the deck once a day and force them to dance. Some took the opportunity to jump overboard, uttering cries of triumph as they cleared the vessel and disappeared below the surface. .(The Black Jacobins, Pg 8-9)Once the ships reached the New World's harbor the slaves were brought up to deck as to be inspected. The purchasers inspected them the same as they would inspect any large purchase. They checked for defects and on completion of inspection the owner sealed the deal by spitting in the slaves face and branded both front and back of slave with hot iron. His duties were explained to him by an interpreter, and a priest instructed him in the first principles of Christianity (The Black Jacobins, Pg 9).
Fear of their cargo bred a savage cruelty in the crew. The fear, depravity and greed of the slave owners in Haiti combined to make the most cruel, inhumane, and violent colony perhaps of modern time.
A Swiss traveler gave a famous account of a day in the life of slaves on the island of San Domingo:
"They were about a hundred men and women of different ages, all occupied in digging ditches in a cane-field, the majority of them naked or covered with rags. The sun shone down with full force on their heads. Sweat rolled from all parts of their bodies. Their limbs, weighed down by the heat, fatigued with the weight of their picks and by the resistance of the clay soil baked hard enough to break their implements, strained themselves to overcome every obstacle. A mournful silence reigned. Exhaustion was stamped on every face, but the hour of rest had not yet come. The pitiless eye of the Manager patrolled the gang and several foremen armed with long whips moved periodically between them, giving stinging blows to all who, worn out by fatigue, were compelled to take a rest--men or women, young or old." (The Black Jacobins, Pg 10).Treated and housed like animals the slaves were beaten with more regularity then they were fed. In 1685, Louis XIV enacted the Negro Code. It specified what the slaves should be fed, how many slashes with whips the slaves could be punished with, etc... The colonists ignored this and fed the slaves so little they often ran out before the end of the week.
The slaves used the two hours they were given a day and holidays and Sundays to tend to a small plot of land to add to the ration. Some slaves grew vegetables and raised chickens to sell in town and make money. Most bought rum and tobacco with the money but some through combination of hard work and luck were able to purchase their freedom.
No matter how much the traders brutalized, humiliated and terrorized the slaves, the fact that they were human could not be erased.
The difficulty was that though one could trap them like animals, transport them in pens, work them alongside an ass or a horse and beat both with the same stick, stable them and starve them, they remained, despite their black skins and curly hair, quite invincibly human beings; with the intelligence and resentments of human beings. To cow them into the necessary docility and acceptance necessitated a regime of calculated brutality and terrorism, and it is this that explains the unusual spectacle of property. owners apparently careless of preserving their property: they had first to ensure their own safety. (The Black Jacobins, Pg 11-12)
France could enact what it pleased, there was no right the San Domingo slave had that the colonists would respect. The Negro Code meant nothing to the colonists. The slaves were commonly whipped to death. They were subjected to punishment only the most vile and depraved mind could conjure up:
But there was no ingenuity that fear or a depraved imagination could devise which was not employed to break their spirit and satisfy the lusts and resentment of their owners and guardians-... Their masters poured burning wax on their arms and hand and shoulders, emptied the boiling cane sugar over their heads, burned them alive, roasted them on slow fires, filled them with gunpowder and blew them up with a match; buried them up to the neck and smeared their heads with sugar that the flies might devour them; fastened them near to nests of ants or wasps; made them eat their excrement, drink their urine, and lick the saliva of other slaves. (The Black Jacobins, Pg 12)A Century after the Negro Code was enacted, in 1788, the law was tested. When Le Jeune, a coffee planter, suspected slaves of recent poisonings, he murdered four of them and tortured two women slaves. He roasted their feet, legs and elbows, while alternately gagging them thoroughly and then withdrawing the gag (P 22). Fourteen brave slaves went to the officials and pressed charges against Le Jeune. The case made clear to all that the slaves could never be given any rights, it was just too dangerous for the colonists.
"To put it shortly," wrote the Governor and the intendant to the Minister, "it seems that the safety of the colony depends on the acquittal of Le Jeune." It did, if the slaves were to be kept in their place... (P 23).
There are, and always will be, some who, ashamed of the behaviour of their ancestors, try to prove that slavery was not so bad after all, that its evils and its cruelty were the exaggerations of propagandists and not the habitual lot of the slaves. Men will say (and accept) anything in order to foster national pride or soothe a troubled conscience. (The Black Jacobins, Pg 13)The propagandists say that they rescued Africans from a savagery; the truth is they were civilized and peaceful. The propagandists claim their lives were easier than many European laborers; the truth is, the life of a slave was brutal.
Two major propagandist of the time had interests maintaining the status quo. There was One of these is Vaublanc, whom we shall meet again, and whose testimony we will understand better when we know more of him. And Malouet, who was an official in the colonies and fellow-reactionary of Vaublanc against all change in the colonies, also sought to give some ideas of the privileges of slavery (P14). We learn more about Malouet and Vaublanc later in the book.
There was murder, suicide, and infanticide on the island. Poisoning was common. A slave, for example, who learned the owner was selling the plantation, might poison the owner to prevent his family from being broken up.
And Midwives would:
The most dreadful of all this cold-blooded murder was, however, the jaw-sickness--a disease which attacked children only, in the first few days of their existence. Their jaws were closed to such an extent that it was impossible to open them and to get anything down, with the result that they died of hunger. It was not a natural disease and never attacked children delivered by white women. The Negro midwives alone could cause it, and it is believed that they performed some simple operation on the newly born child which resulted in the jaw-sickness. Whatever the method, this disease caused the death of nearly one third of the children born on the plantations. (The Black Jacobins, Pg 16)The small class of house slaves, whose lives were much better than the field slaves, were extremely loyal to their master, who spared them the field life. They hated the field slave (which complicates social and class structure; we learn more about this later in the book).
All the slaves, however, did not undergo this regime. There was a small privileged caste, the foremen of the gangs, coachmen, cooks, butlers, maids, nurses, female companions, and other house-servants. These repaid their kind treatment and comparatively easy life with a strong attachment to their masters, and have thus enabled Tory historians, regius professors and sentimentalists to represent plantation slavery as a patriarchal relation between master and slave. Permeated with the vices of their masters and mistresses, these upper servants gave themselves airs and despised the slaves in the fields. (The Black Jacobins, P 19)Those who observed the slaves away from their owners could not help but to notice their intelligence.
It was this intelligence which refused to be crushed, these latent possibilities, that frightened the colonists, as it frightens the whites in Africa today. "No species of men has more intelligence," wrote Hilliard d'Auberteuil, a colonist, in 1784, and had his book banned (P 18).
At their midnight celebrations of Voodoo, their African cult, they danced and sang usually this favorite song:
|Eh I Eh I Bomba I Heu!
Canga, bafio te !
Canga, moune de Ie !
Canga, do ki la !
Canga, Ii !
Naturally there were all types of men among them, ranging from native chieftains, as was the father of Toussaint L'Ouverture, to men who had been slaves in their own country... (P. 17)
Christophe was a house slave who worked as a waiter at a public hotel in Cap Francois. He took advantage of his relative privileged position and learned as much as he could.
Toussaint L 'Ouverture was in this privileged class of slaves. His father was sold into slavery. The colonist who bought him was one of the better ones. He recognized his exceptional abilities and gave him five slaves and a plot of land. He married and had eight children. Toussaint was the oldest. Toussaint's God father Pierre Baptiste passed on the little education he had to Toussaint. He knew a little French and Latin as well as geometry. Toussaint also learned to draw and his father taught him what he knew from Africa about medicinal plants. Toussaint’s owner made him a steward; a position usually held by a white man.
If Toussaint's genius came from where genius comes, yet circumstances conspired to give him exceptional parents and friends and a kind master. (The Black Jacobins, P 20)
Despite the myth of the docile Africans, there were constant revolts from the beginning. And there were slaves whose spirit did not allow them to submit to slavery or suicide, and who escaped to the mountains. A century before the 1789 French Revolution the bands of free man maroons threatened the colony. In 1720 there were 1000 maroons and by 1751 there were 3000. They usually formed small bands but there was the occasional chief strong enough to unite them. The maroons organized, raided plantations and killed the slave owners. The greatest of these chiefs was Mackandal (P. 20).
For six years he built up his organisation, he and his followers poisoning not only whites but disobedient members of their own band. Then he arranged that on a particular day the water of every house in the capital of the province was to be poisoned, and the general attack made on the whites while they were in the convulsions and anguish of death. He had lists of all members of his party in each slave gang; appointed captains, lieutenants and other officers arranged for bands of negroes to leave the town and spread over the plains to massacre the whites. His temerity was the cause of his downfall. He went one day to a plantation, got drunk and was betrayed, and being captured was burnt alive.An anti slavery priest, Abbe Raynal, who preached revolution would have major impact on Toussaint.
The Mackandal rebellion never reached fruition and it was the only hint of an organised attempt at revolt during the hundred years preceding the French Revolution. (The Black Jacobins, P 21)
...He was a priest, the Abbe Raynal, and he preached his revolutionary doctrine in “The Philosophical and Political History of the Establishments and Commerce of the Europeans in the Two Indies”. It was a book famous in its time and it came into the hands of the slave most fitted to make use of it, Toussaint L'Ouverture. "Natural liberty is the right which nature has given to everyone to dispose of himself according to his will. . . . (The Black Jacobins, P 25)
Over and over again Toussaint read this passage: "A courageous chief only is wanted. It is the tragedy of mass movements that they need and can only too rarely find adequate leadership. But much else was wanted.
Men make their own history, and the black Jacobins of San Domingo were to make history which would alter the fate of millions of men and shift the economic currents of three continents. But if they could seize opportunity they could not create it. The slave-trade and slavery were woven tight into the economics of the eighteenth century. Three forces, the proprietors of San Domingo, the French bourgeoisie and the British bourgeoisie, throve on this devastation of a continent and on the brutal exploitation of millions. As long as these maintained an equilibrium the infernal traffic would go on, and for that matter would have gone on until the present day. But nothing, however profitable, goes on forever. From the very momentum of their own development, colonial planters, French and British bourgeois, were generating internal stresses and intensifying external rivalries, moving blindly to explosions and conflicts which would shatter the basis of their dominance and create the possibility of emancipation.
(The Black Jacobins, P 25-26)
The Black Jacobins Written in 1938 by C.L.R. groundbreaking: it not only told history but shaped it. When C.L.R. James updated the book in 1962 there were only a few corrections needed and none that changed the "fundamental ideas which governed its conception."
As so often the truth does not lie in between. Great men make history. but only such history as it is possible for them to make. Their freedom of achievement is limited by the necessities of their environment. To portray the limits of those necessities and the realisation, complete or partial, of all possibilities, that is the true business of the historian.For More information: The Black Jacobins: a Class Analysis of Revolution; The Black Jacobins;
The writer has sought not only to analyze, but to demonstrate the economic and social forces of the mass and of individual men; the powerful effect of these forces on their environment at a rare moment when society is at its boiling point, and therefore fluid. (The Black Jacobins, Pg x)
At the heart of the book is an exploration of the relationship between consciousness and circumstances, between the willingness of human beings to act, and the material and social conditions that constrain or enhance their ability to do so.
- Helpful information including a glossary can be found at The Louverture Project
- The Black Jacobins
- Timeline of Events in Haitian Revolutionary History
A huge thank you to Charysse, my daughter, for editing diary!
RunawayRose and I alternate writing about chapters every other week. However, more diarists would be wonderful. If you are interested in joining on either a regular basis or you want to write about a particular chapter, please leave comment.
Haiti slavery- Indulgence had the white colonial in its grip from childhood. "I want an egg," said a colonial child. "There are none." "Then I want two." This notorious anecdote was characteristic. (The Black Jacobins, P29)This is our book list so far:
|Isabel Allende||Island Beneath the Sea|
|Jean-B Aristide||In the Parish of the Poor -- Eyes of the Heart|
|Beverly Bell||Walking on Fire|
|Edwidge Danticat||Brother, I'm Dying -- The Farming of Bones -- Krik? Krak! --|
|Paul Farmer||The Uses of Haiti -- Partner To The Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader --|
|Peter Hallward||Damming The Flood|
|C.L.R. James||The Black Jacobins (h/t Deoliver47)|
|Erica James||Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti|
|Tracy Kidder||Mountains Beyond Mountains|
|Maurice Lemoine||Bitter Sugar: Slaves Today in the Caribbean |
|Paule Marshall||The Chosen Place, The Timeless People|
|Randall Robinson||An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President|
|Timothy T. Schwartz||Travesty in Haiti|
|Amy Wilentz||The Rainy Season - Haiti after Duvalier|
|Eric Williams||From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean -- Capitalism and Slavery h/t Deoliver47|
- Dominique Esser (twitter @ dominique_e_ ) excellent list of Haiti news and history: Haiti Links
- AID FACTS ON HAITI, as of June 2011 | Canada Haiti Action Network:
- Human Rights Reports
|Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti:
IJDH Does amazing work in Haiti. I donate to them whenever I can. Please support IJDH's work.
IJDH draws on its founders’ internationally-acclaimed success accompanying Haiti’s poor majority in the fields of law, medicine and social justice activism. We seek the restoration of the rule of law and democracy in the short term, and work for the long-term sustainable change necessary to avert Haiti’s next crisis.
6 Jul via web Unfavorite Undo Retweet Reply
|The Aristide Foundation for Democracy (AFD) was created in 1996 by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (the first democratically elected president of Haiti) with a simple principle in mind: "The promise of democracy can only be fulfilled if all sectors of Haitian society are able to actively participate in the democratic life of the nation."
|Haiti Emergency Relief Foundation (HERF):
Haiti’s grassroots movement – including labor unions, women’s groups, educators and human rights activists, support committees for political prisoners, and agricultural cooperatives – are funneling needed aid to those most hit by the earthquake. They are doing what they can – with the most limited of funds – to make a difference. Please take this chance to lend them your support. All donations to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund will be forwarded to our partners on the ground to help them rebuild what has been destroyed.
|Partners in Health At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services. Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.|
|Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods(SOIL)
Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. We believe that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy and pollution into valuable resources.
- Excellent review of Damming The Flood: Bursting the Dam of Containment by Justin Podur
- princss6 has an important diary series called Slavery in the United States - History
- ojibwa has written excellent essays about Haiti: Haiti's Pact with the Devil; And related topics Indigenous Puerto Rico; Indians 101: The Great Debate
- Denise Oliver Velez Aristide speaks from South Africa. Denise's Diary Haitians fought in our Revolutionary War...we turned our backs on theirs, inspired me to learn more about Haiti.
- I donate to Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti for Haiti.