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Jean Jacques Dessalines


Original publication: 20 september 2009

By: Ezili Dantò/HLLN

September 20th is the birthday of Haiti’s founding father, Jean Jacques Dessalines, born a slave under European ideology and put in chains to serve France and the European nations in worldwide power. He lived to change the course of humanity. He did what Spartacus couldn’t and much more.

There is so much about our African and Haitian ancestors we don’t know because US/European modus operandi was about the destruction of Africa’s past, African identity and world history in order to build and create their own societies and future.

When I hear Haitians and now even some embolden foreigners, talk about Haitians must forget 1804 and the triumphs of Dessalines, stop referring to them and look to the future; when I see on Haitian forums discussing the mistreatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic the advice that Haitians ought to stop talking about the 30,000 Haitians that Trujillo had slaughtered in 1937, I am reminded that the destruction of our African past, our Haitian reality, what Haitians witness to every nanosecond of the day is still the global US/European modus operandi. Haitian self-determination is being destroyed by UN occupation, paternalism, privatization, free trade agreements, debt, wage slavery and forced assimilation.

Haitians are asked to copy and paste what whites and their overseers see as their reality, their experience, and their history. But Jean Jacques Dessalines, in creating the nation of Haiti, broke from that modus operandi. He did not copy and paste what white minds saw as civilization, justice and democracy. Jean Jacques Dessalines looked at his own world and day to day experiences, took in what he could see with his own two eyes, what he could hear with his own ears, what he could envision with his own precious heart, his own unbowed soul and created a nation, a Haiti, that reflected that reality, that vision and the future that would best serve his people. His legacy has yet to be herald. His great ideals still remain obscure, his humane vision of humanity and for peaceful and self-affirming co-existence still denied.

In fact, after the mulatto sons of France assassinated Dessalines, during both the administration of the mulatto generals, Petion and Boyer, Dessalines’ name was forbidden to be spoken in Haiti under threat of imprisonment. Dessalines’ assassination, two years after the creation of Haiti, was the first foreign-influenced coup d’etat in Haiti. The 2004 bi-centennial coup d’etat of Bush the son, was the 33rd coup d’etat to try to eradicate the influence of the Haitian revolution, which legally abolished slavery, forced assimilation, direct colonialism and the Triangular Trade in Haiti.

At Ezili’s HLLN we recapture Dessalines’ three major ideals, his law, his name for Haiti, its meaning, history, revelations and explain why Dessalines was so ahead of his time and so threatening to the white nations. In the Ezili’s Free Haiti Movement, we set out October 17th, the day of Dessalines’ assassination to discuss Dessalines’ life, vision, ideals and what he represents to Haiti and the world. Our history was so destroyed that it is only fairly recently that Haitians actually had a date for Dessalines’ birthday. Before, all we were taught was the date of his death. But Haitian scholars have done more work and now in Haiti, we have this day to celebrate. It is so very important this recapturing of our history, our people, what they witnessed to, how they reacted, what they created. We still have so little information. Still must rebuild. Still must put flesh, bone, blood and soul to those who were so destroyed, so corralled into ships and sold as property.

We still don’t have enough information about Toya, the Haitian woman who taught the greatest warrior that ever lived how to fight in hand-to-hand combat and how to throw a knife. Gran Toya was Dessalines’ aunt. She was an extraordinary warrior and commanded her own indigenous army. We still know so little about her. We know only that she taught Dessalines the physical maneuvers of effective hand to hand combat, how to shoot and how to throw a knife. We know she was old because she is affectionately called Gran Toya. Imagine her life! Imagine the inspiration she could be today to our young Haitian women. No. Imagine the inspiration she could be to the world’s women and men! But our Black history was destroyed so we could be enslaved, so we could find nothing good in ourselves, our forefathers, their thinking. And still today, I’m reading on Haitian forums we should not resurrect the past, but move on because only today matters, – with our collective Haitian persona so vilified, maligned and brutalized and with white heroes, white cultural hegemony ruling. On that ground, we are told we should deploy ourselves into this world.

This morning I was blessed to be a participant on a Radio Kajou interview celebrating the holy day that’s the birthday of Haiti’s forefather, Jean Jacques Dessalines and I learned from a colleague in that discussion that Desalines’ mother was a woman named Marie Elizabeth. I did not know this. Until this morning’s panel when Haitian historian and scholar, Jafrikayiti said this, I did not know the name of Dessalines’ mother or that this enslaved African-Ayisyen, founder of the nation of Haiti, even had a mother who could be positively identified. Most of us are told our African ancestors were enslaved, we were sold as property, familes separated and thus it’s impossible to know who gave birth to the which child. And that is that.

But there are Haitian scholars unearthing our stories, our stolen identities and lives. This job is ours to do. I want to know more, to empower more. I want to know more about Defile, the Haitian woman who gave Dessalines a proper burial after he was chopped up in pieces and left in the Pont Rouge bridge as garbage. The old historians of Haiti called her crazy Defile, as if who would give honor and burial to the father of a Black nation.

Yet, Defile, an enslaved woman who freed herself, thought for herself, took action even some warrior men may have been hesitant to take, and left us a legacy of courage. Manman Defile went against the mob violence and group thinking, preserved our nations dignity, faced the powers of the mulatto generals, and faced France to honor our fallen founding father. Who was the woman named Defile? Really. How did she get so much focus, courage, and so much gumption? We want to know so we can tell the next generation of Haitian the non-colonial narrative on Haiti. (See, Kouwòn pou Defile.)

We want to know about Marie Claire Heureuse Felicite, Dessalines’ wife.

We are told, she was so kind, so elegant, so gentle, so beautiful that even the murderers of her husband bowed down to her. The mulatto general, General Petion, who became President of Haiti after the assassination of Jean Jacques Dessalines, actually wrote to Dessalines’ wife, Marie Claire Heureuse, to tell her not to worry she would be a “widow of the nation” and taken care of by the nation, for life. (See, Three Historical Documents on Dessalines’ Assassination.) Why did this woman, the wife of General Petion’s archenemy, deserve such notice, respect, and accolades? Why? We want every Haitian child, every women in the world, to know more about Marie Claire Heureuse. The little history we know tell us that during the Haitian revolutionary war against colonialism, forced assimilation, the Triangular Trade, and slavery, Marie Claire Heureuse took care of the sick soldiers, of the prisoners of the Revolutionary War, that she rode out onto the battlefield and even the French stopped their canon firing while she ministered to the dying, the wounded on both sides of the battle.

It has been said that this black Haitian woman named Marie Claire Heureuse was the first Red Cross. The world needs to know more about this woman, this hero, her model for human interaction. We should want to teach our children that one of the greatest, fiercest warriors on planet earth – the African warrior General Jean Jacques Dessalines – whose very name still scares the hell out of US/Euro writers and history scholars, still horrifies enslavers, tyrants and despots everywhere, that this man was taught how to fight and throw a knife by a woman named Toya and that he married a woman, a healer, a pacifist, who insisted he not bring his weapons inside their home and he lovingly complied with his beloved wife’s request. This, in a time and at a place where the First World War was happening in the world, where all the nations-of-power had converged on small Haiti to annihilate it and Dessalines’ weapon was his life. Who was this man! This beautiful woman, this wife, lover, nurse, herbal healer and pacifist?

What you read in history books on Haiti of hundreds of pages will mostly not tell you, what I’ve just put down in these few paragraphs about the people of Haiti. No. For, how many of us know greater details about Sanit Belè, the Haitian woman who taught the African warriors of Haiti how to die with dignity on a French scaffold that was tearing her in two?

There is so much we need to know in order to know ourselves today. In order to know we need not copy and paste another’s history of ourself and engraft that hatred in our soul. There is so much we need to recover from the destruction of African people, life, culture.

When I read the neocolonial chorus of ‘let’s move on,” of reconciling with lies and injustice, lwa Desalin pran mwen vre – I remember that the destruction of the African identity was built on bitter, twisted lies that must be unearth for the hidden and lost African body to rise untainted; I remember that Dessalines did not copy and paste what was considered the height of human development where slavery, forced assimilation and colonialism was the rule. Dessalines created a nation that rejected Bourgeois Freedom, forced assimilation, colonialism, and enslavement of all types – physical, psychological, economic. Dessalines’ legacy has still to be fully put into black and write papyrus form, but the Haitian masses, thank goodness, have never become zombies, carbon copies, phonies. They’ve never had enough missionary/ecclesiastic schooling to be other than Dessalines’ descendants. They understand and live self-referral. That is why Haiti still exists, still struggles, still does not copy and paste. Se lan lekòl lavi nou pran leson. Se pa lan lespas nou apran. Se pa yon bagay ki soti o lè – yon bagay etranje – ki tonbe a tè ke nou ranmase kòm pa nou. Non. Ayisyen pran sa ki touprè yo, ki sòti lan yo, lan zantray yo, ki pou yo. Yo pa lan kopye kolè bagay esklavajist-kolyanist.

Haitians learn from the university of life. That’s where they get their lessons, their view of life, the world they create and extend. It’s not from some economic theory by some dead white guy overseas or, from Paul Collier, Bill Clinton, Ban Ki Moon, Condi Rice, Colin Powell or some Washington/Canadian/French think tank, foreign NGO or world renowned expert in humanitarian aid. No. Haiti’s masses mostly don’t even fight their arrogance; they smile, they agree, take what’s useful and then go about trying to live with what’s in their hands. Haiti still exists, despite two centuries of systemic, structural Euro-US impoverishment and destruction, because Haitians live with their environment and mold it towards the life-giving forces the best way they can. (See, Black is the Color of Liberty .)

The lucrative nature of the Haiti venture to the US, the United Nations and Brazil

On this September day, the 251st year to mark the birthday of Jean Jacques Dessalines (September 20, 1758 to September 20, 2009), Haiti is under occupation and there is a lot of copying and pasting going on. Most of our so-called intellectuals and politicians are not creating a nation that serves Haitian realities. They have refused to raise the minimum wage to a fair wage and are keeping free trade wages. They are passing legislation and creating a space for foreign interests to thrive in Haiti that Dessalines’ law forbid. In general, they are destroying Haiti by copying and pasting onto the Haitian people, the Haitian soul, the Haitian reality, concepts and policies that have nothing to do with Haiti, its masses’ long term health, wealth, mobility, useful education and progress.

Brazil who is in charge of the 9,000 UN troops in Haiti is making, as an administration fee, 20% of the $600 million per year paid to the UN troops in Haiti. The UN troops landed in Haiti right after the US Marines left and that was right after US Special forces had put Haiti’s democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide on a plane effectively rendering him back to Africa. The US/UN’s primary “success” to date in Haiti has been the murder, uprooting and killing of Haitian men and women who opposed the disenfranchisement and occupation. Haitians who mostly resided in the poorest areas of Haiti’s capital, mostly in Sitey Soley and who objected to the occupation. Site Soley is an area in Haiti’s capital with about 350,000 people crowded in great misery and deprivation. Site Soley resulted and was created from US free trade legislation for sweatshops back in the late 70s, early 80s.

On this September 17th “Brazil and the United States ratified their plan on Thursday to establish industrial plants in Haiti. This would enable the duty-free export of products to both countries and thus support Haiti’s reconstruction.” These newspaper’s narratives mostly won’t explain the massive lucrative nature of the Haiti venture to the US, the United Nation and Brazil, the financial interests in « their plan » for Haiti. The general spin is that the fundamental motivation of this trade initiative was humanitarian, « to aid Haiti’s economic development through sustainable production activity. »

The authorities in the US, UN and Brazilian governments won’t explain that the Brazilian-headed UN troops are, by-the-way, in Haiti not only to secure the use of cheap Haitian labor for their transnational corporations, exploit Haiti’s natural resources, but also to defend Brazil’s dream of becoming more of a status quo power itself and gain a seat in the UN Security Council.

Brazilian troops in Haiti, after securing Site Soley, are helping to maintain the containment-in-poverty status quo with the US HOPE Act free trade legislation.

Their soldiers’ guns help keep the minimum wage from increasing to the proposed 200 gourdes (.63 cents per hour), which was not even high enough to meet the inflation rate. In recent months, UN soldiers have collided with workers and protestors demanding the 200 gourdes higher salary, killed a few, thrown some in prison. It’s in Brazil’s domestic interest because Brazilian corporations have successfully lobbied Washington and made Brazil a beneficiary under the Washington HOPE Act that allows for duty free textile goods from Haiti for 10 years.

That means, for instance, the Brazilian company, Coteminas – Latin America’s largest textile company, owned by the brother-in-law of Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – does not have to pay the higher minimum salary ($200.95 per month or, roughly $7 per day) required in Brazil to its workers because it can now pay Haitians, at the point of UN-Brazilian guns, .22 cents an hour or $1.70 for an 8-hour day (its even less than .22 cents an hour since Haitian workers are mostly forced to meet daily work goals that take 10 or 12 hours to accomplish.) This September, the Haitian minimum wage was voted to 125 gourdes (.38 cents for an 8-hour day) and the 200 gourdes fairer wage that did not even meet with the rate of inflation was rejected by the Haitian politicos working for the ruling oligarchy’s interests. But that .38 cents is not yet being applied. The 70 gourdes is. (See, Brazil raises ’09 minimum wage 6.4 pct to 465 reais ($209.95 per month.)

Amending Haiti’s Constitution under UN occupation: Neocolonialism’s copy and paste impositions

Another example of how this International Community is destroying Haitian life, liberty and future is the current discussion about amending the 1987 Constitution. Back during the first US occupation of Haiti in 1915, the Haitian Constitution was also amended and Dessalines’ law prohibiting foreigners from owning land was deleted. Today amending the Haitian Constitution is an obsession of the International Community and its Haitian blan peyi folks. Why? How can the 1987 Haitian Constitution that was put together with the approval of the Haitian masses be ethically changed when today the people are under occupation, the Haitian parliament serves foreign interests and Haiti’s president is simply a puppet?

The process of revision or amendment of the Constitution that is being deployed is not equitable. It’s not public; the public is not part of the discussion. There’s just foreign concepts copied and pasted into papers and pronouncement made by a committee that does not consult with the people of Haiti, but with foreigners. Like under the first occupation, in this one the masses are not required to participate.

There’s no provision in the 1987 Haitian Constitution for a national referendum when changing the Constitution, so this make it easier for the new occupiers and their sycophants to exclude the masses in the life and concerns of their nation.

Dessalines did not copy and paste like these Haitian puppets and parliamentarians are quick to do right now. Dessalines looked at the reality of the people, referred to his own experience and reality and then created an 1805 Constitution that met the needs and the realities of his people. Today’s Haitian Parliament is paid by foreigners and goes to Canada, France, US and refers to their visions, their concepts of democracy and good governance that have nothing to do with current realities of Haitian life.

They don’t bother to consult with the population. Behind close doors with foreign experts, right now the Haitian constitution is being revised.

Today, September 20 on the birthday of Dessalines, it’s good to recall that one of the things Haiti’s founding father did not replicate in Haiti was the forced assimilation and race system of the white nations. (See Dessaline’s Ideal# 1). He leveled the racial, economic and social playing field that was glued together based on a person’s lack of melanin content. Dessalines’ 1805 Constitution did this by not making a distinction between mulatto, black or white – all Haitians, he said, shall be known by the appellation, Black.

In the 1805 Dessalines constitution there was no difference between Haitians who were educated outside of Haiti and Haitians who lived in Haiti. Dessalines said Haitian are Black, every slave who touched Haitian soil became free, Black and would enjoy the full rights of Haitian citizenship. If you were white and you helped fight for Haiti’s liberty, like the Polish who had left Napoleon’s army to fight with Dessalines’ African warriors, then under Dessalines’ 1805 Constitution, you were Black and could own property in Haiti. Haitians then are defined, at the inception of the new country’s history, as Lovers of Liberty no matter their skin color or economic resources.

In this way, the 1805 Constitution met the needs of Haiti.

It did not go to Thomas Jefferson or John Locke’s hypocrisy. It dealt with the needs of all the people within its borders no matter their culture, race, gender or religion.

I’ve written much about Dessalines’ Three Ideals and so I won’t go into this right now. (See, Three Ideals of Dessalines).

Suffice it to know that Dessalines did not allow, in his 1805 Constitution for greater rights to the Mulattos who were insisting they had more rights to the plantations and land that had just been liberated because it was their white French father’s properties. Dessalines said the Africans who fought for liberation shall not be left behind economically. All the country’s asset was to be equitably divided.

This is why he was murdered. He refused to allow Pitit Deyò (say here the Mulattos) to have more rights than Pitit Andan (say here the Haitian masses). No, he said all who had fought for Haiti’s liberty, whether their skin color was white, black or mulatto were Pitit Kay (Black) and must share equitably in the resources and therefore the power of the new nation. He wasn’t into hierarchy either, but meritocracy. (See, From Slave to Emperor, His Majesty, Jean Jacques Dessalines, The greatest story marginalized and never told…)

« In Haiti, Black is de-racialized in terms of skin color giving the person superior substance but racialized as a people bound together because of their shared experience, distinct moral conscience vis-a-vis those they defeated, unique Kreyòl language and African-based culture. This paradox is the amazing genius of Dessalines’ Haiti. He simultaneously empowered the Black « race » to both be proud of self and their lineage under the socia-politically constructed race paradigm and to transcend it. First, Haiti is racialized because in creating Haiti in combat against the US/Euro enslavement tribes, Jean Jacques Dessalines empowered the Black « race » to carry the mantle of the African struggle for justice against racism, colonialism, economic tyranny and imperialism. Second, Haiti is de-racialized because by naming and defining, in Haiti’s first Constitution, the white settlers who fought on the side of the liberty, awarding them the appellation « Black, » Dessalines showed his profound understanding that human nature goes deeper than skin color. Thus, he urged unity of humanity, co-existence, self-determination, working for consensus towards a common universal purpose, empowering both « Black » people and « white » people to not wear their identities on their skins, but to transcend it. » (Dessalines’ Three Ideals.)

The challenge for Dessalines’ descendants and all Lovers of Liberty is to think up and extend a new world that meets the needs of all the peoples on this planet and that rises to meet our current circumstances. And for Haiti, we Haitians need to meet the needs of Haitians living both inside and outside of Haiti’s borders.

If a man born at a time when before his life, his kind was locked into 300 years of total barbaric Western enslavement, a man who could not read or write, born with actually chains put on his feet, if that man would become one of the world’s greatest warriors, thinkers and humanists to ever live, if that man with no great weaponry, no formal education could leave the world such a legacy, why, why can’t we do better than we’ve been presented, be like the greatest warrior that ever lived. Confront the despots, protect nature and not leave any Lover of Liberty in the cold. To do that, we must issue from source, like Dessalines, Toya, Defile, Sanit Belè and Marie Claire Heureuse, not copy and paste.

Mesi papa Desalin. Happy Birthday papa Desalin.

Ezili Dantò/HLLN
September 20, 2009