Bois Caïman

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Bois Caïman (Haitian Creole : Bwa Kayiman: "Alligator Forest" or Bwa Kay Imam: “Forest near the Imam’s house” [1] ) was the site of the first major meeting of enslave blacks during which the first major slave insurrection of the Haitian Revolution was planned.


Role during the Haitian Revolution

Before the Bois Caiman ceremony, Vodou rituals were seen as an event of social gathering where enslaved Africans had the ability to organize. [2] These meetings and opportunities to organize were considered harmless by white slave owners, therefore, they were permitted. It is also argued that Vodou created a more homogeneous black culture in Haiti.

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 enslaved African leader and Vodou priest, the ceremony served as both a religious ritual and strategic meeting as enslave Africans met and planned a revolt against their ruling white enslavers of the colony's wealthy Northern Plain. The ceremony is considered the official beginning of the Haitian Revolution.

The event was followed by participants of the Bois Caiman ceremony to revolt against their white oppressors due to their promise to the mysterious woman who appeared during the ceremony. The participants liberated plantations throughout the area. The leader of this rebellion, Boukman, had made claims that he had obtained the power of invincibility from divine power. To reduce the social disorder of the rebellion, the French captured Boukman and beheaded him. The French then displayed his head on Cap’s square to prove his mortality and French power. [3]

During the Bois Caiman ceremony, a witness described the presence of 200 enslaved Africans at the event. [2] The event was presided over by Dutty Boukman, a Houngan priest. The African woman figure that appeared declared Boukman the “Supreme Chief” of the rebellion.

In the following days, the whole Northern Plain was in flames, as the revolutionaries fought against the whites who 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 white enslaver Antoine Dalmas's "History of the Saint-Domingue Revolution", published in 1814. [4]

The Haitian writer Herard Dumesle visited the region and took oral testimonies in order to write his account of the ceremony. [5] 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. [6]

This excerpt from the official "History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution" [7] 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 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. [4]

Critics offers the theory that the ceremony never occurred at all. Dr. Leon-Francois Hoffmannn theorizes that the event simply had motivational and unitary roles to politically gather allies throughout Haiti. Where Hoffmannn found the narrative to have a strong impact on shaping the motivations of those involved in the revolution, Hoffmannn feels there is no factual bias for the event occurring. [8]

The black Creole Pig 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 enslaved Africans 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

The Bois Caïman ceremony has often been used as a source of inspiration to nationalists and as a symbol of resistance to oppression. [9] [10]

In pop culture, Bois Caiman has been referenced in music and other artistic works as a symbol of resistance and unity. In the 1970s, Roots Music has referred to the Bois Caiman event as a parallel to resisting the Duvalier totalitarian regime like their ancestors. [11]

Due to the influx of American protestants in Haiti during the 1990s, some neo-evangelical Christians rewrote the events at Bois Caïman as a Haitian "blood pact with Satan" [9] 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. [12] 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.

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  1. "Bois Caïman". The Louverture Project. Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  2. 1 2 Geggus, David Patrick (2002). Haitian revolutionary studies. Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 72.
  3. "Haitain Bicentennial Site". 2007-08-26. Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  4. 1 2 Antoine Dalmas: History of the Saint-Domingue Revolution (Paris: Meme Frères, 1814)
  5. Dumesle, Herard (1824). Voyage dans le Nord d'Haiti, ou, Revelation des lieux et des monuments historiques. Les Cayes: Imprimerie du Gouvernement.
  6. 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)
  7. 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)
  8. Simidor, Daniel (2005-03-17). "Haiti: The Bois Caiman Meeting of 1791". Archived from the original on 2005-03-17. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  9. 1 2 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.
  10. Blaise, Sandie (2014). "Bois Caïman as a 'Curse'". Representing Bois Caïman, The Black Atlantic Blog, Duke University. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  11. Blaise, Sandie (2014-04-12). "Bois Caïman as a "curse"". The Black Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  12. 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).