Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Rainy Season by Amy Wilentz

I discovered this scholarly discussian of Haiti in the aftermath of the Duvaliers when I saw Wilentz interviewd by CNN soon after the January 12 earthquake. Published in 1989, this is arguably the heavyweight reportage on modern Haiti. At one point in the book (p. 170) Wilentz hears "We Are the World" booming from a huge cassette player, an eerie foreshadowng of the remake that was recorded this February for Haiti's earthquake victims.
Wilentz does an excellent treatment of how Papa Doc Duvalier brought the ascendent mulatto elite to their knees through massacres and confiscation of property and forcing flight, ultimately creating a huge Haitian diaspora, over a million, especially in the U.S. Post Duvalier, two new pseudoclasses emerged. Peasants would refer to the returning mulattos "Li se yon dyas" (He's from the Diaspora), likewise the response would be "Limemn ? Se ti makout li ye" (Him ? He's just a little Macoute").
She also gives compelling explication of the role of voodoo and how it was opportunistically adopted by Duvalier and fused with his thugs the Tontons Macoute. Since the U.S. occupation in 1915, the Haitians have suffered ostracism from foreign forces and subsequently the mulatto elite in an effort to wipe out the peasant voodoo religion. At the onset of the AIDS epidemic, nonbelievers often adopted voodoo as a last resort for treatment, inevitably for naught. The Creole word katrach is fascinating, referring to the four "H"s, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users, and Haitians.
THe Haitian Revolution in 1804 would be the world's only successful slave uprising and rendered the U.S. and Haiti the only two independent nations in the Western hemisphere at that time. It has been a long hard road since then.
Haitian fatalism is best described in resignation by the Creole motto Bondye Bon (the Good Lord is Good). Doing and undoing is what Haitian politics is all about. "Neg fe, neg defe" (what one man does, another can undo). Haitians generally describe politics as a process of correcting the mistakes of the past.

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