Haiti, “All Souls Rising”.

All Souls Rising. Madison Smartt Bell. Granta Books, London (1996).
Colony of Saint Domingue was established in the western half of Columbus’s Hispaniola. Native Americans called it Haiti. It was regarded as the richest, most productive French possession overseas and regarded as the Jewel of the Antilles.

Colony plantations were sugar, coffee with slaves. Proprietors were frequently absent, and known locally as grand blancs. Most grand blancs were royalist by disposition and after 1789 French revolution wore the white cockade and known as pompous blancs.

Lower class whites had radical ideas and were an artisan class concentrated in Cape Francais (Le Cap) and Port au Prince. Not necessarily French in origin these petit blancs wore the red cockade and were known as pompous rouges.

The population in 1791 was 39,000 white, 27,000 mixed blood and 422,000 black slaves. The large mulatto population had some enslaved and some free. A class of freedmen, the afranchis were mostly mixed race with some blacks. There were 64 shades of colour identified and named. Mulattos had wealth but no rights. Petit blancs had rights but no wealth.

The French revolutionary abolitionist organisation was the Les Amis de Noirs. The term creole designated anyone of any race born in the colony.

Due to loss from disease, neglect and murder some 20,000 African slaves imported annually. Therefore two thirds of the slave majority were born in Africa. Twelve different tribes with as many languages communicated in patois – a French vocabulary with African syntax. Patois was also called creole.

Synthetised several African religious traditions into a common religion called Vodoun with a pantheon of gods. Universal among black slaves and creoles it was also called Voodoo. Thus “Practitioners believe that Africa, or Guinee, existed as an island below the sea and that death was the portal of return to Africa.” [p xiii].

Toussaint L’Ouverture had a wife Suzanne and a son called Placide as well as two younger cons Isaac and Jean. Toussaint came from the African tribe the Aradas. His valet was called Mars Plaisir. The soignees said “Guinee, on dit, se trove en bas de l’eau” or “They say that Africa is at the bottom of the ocean.” Also “En me reversant, on n’a abattu a Saint Domingue  que le tronc de l’arbrre de la liberte des noirs; il poussera par les recines parce que’elles sont profundes et nombreuses.” [Cited p. 8.  Whilst aboard ‘Les Heros’.]

Deshabille – housedress, in colonial Saint Domingue apt to be very revealing. White creole women were famous for their daring in this regard. Thus: “In overthrowing me, you will have done no more that cut the trunk of the tree of black liberty in Saint Domingue – it will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”

Pariade – the wholesale rape of slave women by sailors on slave ships. The pariade had something of the status of a ritual. Any pregnancies resulted were assumed to increase the value of the slave women to their eventual employers.

A grand case or grand chemin was a manager or overseer of a gerant or plantation. Thus “Pour un coup de tafia elle fercist n’importe quoi’” [For a tot of rum, she will do anything]. In Creole it is “Ou koma se se travay la.”

Maroon is a runaway slave. Numerous communities of maroons in the mountains of Saint Domingue, and in some cases they won battles with whites and negotiated treaties that recognised their freedom and their territory.

“En bas de l’eau, where Guinee is the sunken island beneath the waters, where the loa want to meet us.” Loa is a general term for Voodoo deity.  Marechausee. Mait tete.

Ti-bon-ange means big good angel and is an aspect of the vodoun soul. The gros-bon-ange is  thus “…the life force that all sentient beings share; it enters the individual at a conception and functions only to keep the body alive. At blinical death, it returns immediately to god and becomes part of the reservoir of energy that supports life. [Wade Davis, ibid, New York, 1985].  A hungan is a voodoo priest.

Creole is any person born in the colony whether white, black, or coloured, whether slave of free. Also – a dialect combining a primarily French vocabulary with primarily African syntax is also called creole; thus patois was not only the means of communication between whites and blacks but was often the sole common language among Africans of different tribal origins.

A femme de coleur was a woman of mixed blood. A griffe was a particular combination of African and European blood. A griffe or griffoire (female) would result from the congress of full blood black with a mulatto or a marabou. [See: Jamaica where sambo or three quarters black and one quarter white.  [Fernando Henriques. Colour and Caste in Jamaica].

An homme de coleur is a man of mixed blood. See gens de coleur or people of colour, or persons of mixed blood as a polite expression.

A mulatto is a person of mixed European and African blood, whether slave of free. Tables existed to define 64 different possible admixtures, with a specific name and social standing assigned to each. A quarteronne was a quadroon which was a particular combination of African and European blood, that is a full blooded white with a mamalouque.

A petite marron was a runaway slave or maroon who intended to remain absent for only a short period – these escapees often returned to their owners of their own accord.

A sacatra was a particular combination of African and European blood, that is a full blooded black with a griffe or griffonne. A sang-mele was the particular combination of African and European, that is a full white with a quarteronne or quadroon.


Leave a comment

Filed under Notes

Discussion & Comment Welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s