Archive for the ‘haiti’ Category

This is five minutes long, but well worth listening to all the way to the end. As a slam poet Chin always makes sure to save the best for last. The male voice you hear at the beginning is Howard Zinn, who just passed away.

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Haiti was a land of the Tainos (Arawaks). But then one day in 1492 a white man named Columbus arrived from over the seas. He noticed they wore gold jewellery. He told them he would cut off the hands of any Taino over 13 who did not give him a certain amount of gold or cotton every three months. The Taino fled inland, but the Spanish followed, running them down with dogs and killing them, looking for the gold mines. They made girls into sex slaves. It got so bad that mothers were killing their own babies.

In two years half the Tainos were dead.  By 1555 they were all gone.

In 1505 Columbus’s son brought the first African slaves to the Americas, bringing them to Haiti. By 1519 there were already slave uprisings.

In 1697 France got Haiti from Spain and called it Saint-Domingue.

By 1789 Haiti produced three-fourths of all the sugar in the world, its black slaves producing more wealth than all of English-speaking North America. A third of slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa.

In the 1790s Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising that in time overthrew the French, making Haiti independent in 1804. The slaves were freed and the land divided among them. The 3,300 remaining French were killed and white was taken out of the flag, leaving red and blue.

For its loss France demanded payment of a crushing debt. France, Britain and America cut it off from overseas trade until it agreed to pay the debt. It took till 1947 to pay it off.

Like the Roman Empire, Haiti had no peaceful means for power to change hands. Often the government would be overthrown every few years.

From 1849 to 1913 America sent warships into Haitian waters 24
times to “protect American lives and property.”

Haiti was under American military rule from 1915 to 1934. Major General Smedley D. Butler said he hunted the Haitians “like pigs” and made Haiti “a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in.” American troops practised “indiscriminate killing of natives” while the American press called Haitians “a horde of naked niggers” in need of “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

America rewrote Haiti’s laws so that Americans could buy up land. They sent 40% of Haiti’s income to American and French banks to pay back debts.

From 1957 t0 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers: Papa Doc and Baby Doc. They ruled by terror through the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. America backed them and opened factories there.

Since the fall of Baby Doc, Haiti has gone back and forth between military rule and democracy, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a country priest, as the star democrat. America sent in troops in 1994 to restore Aristide to power, but it seems likely they were behind his overthrow in 1991 and 2004.

Democracy was last restored in 2006. The government is backed by a UN force but it is still weak. On top of that Haiti was hit by hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 that killed over a thousand and by an earthquake in 2010 that has killed 110,000 at last count.

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In Haiti the 2010s opened with utter tragedy: last week on Tuesday January 12th 2010 at 21:53 GMT the strongest Caribbean earthquake in over 60 years struck Haiti. In the first six days 70,000 bodies were found and, unnamed, have been put into mass graves.

Up to 200,000 are feared dead.  That would make it the deadliest natural disaster the world has seen since the tsunami in 2004, which killed 230,000.

The earthquake, measuring 7.0, struck not far from the capital, Port-au-Prince. That is a bad quake, but in a richer, better built city only a few dozen would have died. Even so, the quake killed few outright: instead people have been dying of their injuries because the damage has kept help from reaching them in time.

It destroyed 80% of the buildings in the capital, among them the president’s palace, government buildings, the cathedral, the United Nations mission, the main prison, most of the hospitals, even the main one. The archbishop was killed, so was the head of the UN mission, but not the president and his wife. Surprisingly, those living in shanty towns were less affected: a tin roof falling on you is not as deadly as concrete.

It knocked out the seaport and blocked all the roads, though main roads in the capital are now clear.

The airport is still open but, with only one runway and a damaged air traffic control tower, it is slow going.

People are living in tents and cars: the buildings are no longer safe.

To give you an idea of the scale, at 70,000 dead it is already 15 times worse than 9/11 and Katrina put together.

It is so bad that it is beyond the power of even television to overstate. The smell of dead bodies is everywhere.

America is sending 10,000 troops and air dropping food and water. Many other countries are sending help too, but the damage means getting that help to people will be slow.

The Americans will probably find themselves keeping law and order as well: the government is not in control of the country and it is too much for the police. People are desperate for food and water. On top of all that, 3,000 have escaped from prison, among them infamous gang leaders.

Both France and America will stop sending Haitians back to Haiti for a time. Senegal has offered free land for Haitians who move there!

Haiti has had few earthquakes over the past 40 years. Too few: the fault line that it lies on was locked, the strain on it building to dangerous levels. It was ovedue for a big one of just this size.

Pat Robertson, an American television preacher, saw it differently:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. And they (Haitians) got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you get us free from the French.” True story. And so the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal!”

Postscript: The earthquake killed 159,000, making it the second deadliest natural disaster of the past 30 years and the worst earthquake on record in the Americas.

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Afro-Latinos are those in the New World who are black by race, or at least mixed with black, and Latin by culture. Females are called Afro-Latinas. They mostly come from one of two places:

  • the Caribbean region, which has as many black and mixed people as America, about 40 million. Most live in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
  • Brazil, which has half of all the black and mixed people in the New World.

There are other blacks here and there in Latin America, like in Uruguay.

A few well-known Afro-Latinos or those with Afro-Latino roots:

The blackest countries in Latin America which have at least a million black and mixed people:

  1. 98% Haiti: 9.8m
  2. 64% Dominican Republic: 8.5m
  3. 62% Cuba: 7.1m
  4. 49% Brazil: 91.2m
  5. 21% Colombia: 9.0m
  6. 10% Venezuela: 2.7m

Puerto Rico has almost a million. The western shore of the Caribbean has another million spread between different countries.

America – in very round numbers – has about 3 million (not counting Puerto Rico):

  • 0.5m Haitians
  • 0.6m black Hispanics, mainly from the Caribbean
  • 2.0m Creoles, whose roots go back to French New Orleans but now are pretty much Americanized

There are three times more Afro-Latinos than Afro-Americans – because sugar in the Caribbean and Brazil brought in way more slave labour from Africa than did cotton or tobacco in North America.

Some main points to keep in mind:

  • There is no One Drop Rule in Latin countries. So those who are mixed do not see themselves as black and look down on pure blacks. That means colourism runs deeper and yet there is more race mixing.
  • Like America, Latin countries kept black slaves and so have racist beliefs about blacks too. On the other hand, the law in Latin countries comes from Roman law where slaves had certain rights, like buying their freedom or taking their master to court. They were not mere property as in Anglo law.
  • They freed their slaves but never went through a civil rights movement. Note, though, that Haiti had a revolution.

Racism: just as in America, black and mixed people have lower reading scores, die younger and are twice as likely to live in poverty.

Languages: Portuguese, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole.

Religion: most are Roman Catholics, though often practised with African elements. Voodoo, Candomble and Santeria come from African beliefs. Most of the African Diaspora is Catholic – something you would never guess from living in North America or the West Indies.

Music: Afro-Latinos have given the world new kinds of music, like jazz, merengue, salsa, mambo and samba.

– Abagond, 2009.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Haitian Creole:

Papa nou ki nan sièl la,
Nou mandé pou yo toujou réspékté non ou.
Vi-n tabli gouvènman ou,
pou yo fè volonté ou so latè,
tankou yo fè-l nan sièl la.
Manjé nou bézouin an, ban nou-l jòdi-a.
Padonnin tout mal nou fè,
minm jan nou padonnin moun ki fè nou mal.
Pa kité nou nan pozision pou-n tonbé nan tantasion,
min, délivré nou anba Satan.

Haitian Creole (1700- ), also known as simply Creole or even Kreyol, is the main language of Haiti. About 8 million speak it. Most live in Haiti but some live in Miami, Cuba and elsewhere.

Creole grew out of the broken French of the African slaves in Haiti. The slaves came from different parts of Africa and had no common language other than pidgin French, the simple sort of French that the slaves masters spoke to them in. But the French was too simple to use as a full language. The children of the slaves, growing up knowing nothing else, made it into a full language, making pidgin French into creole French. This became Haitian Creole.

Haitian Creole can do anything that French can do. But because it is the language of the poor in Haiti – the rich speak French – many look down on it.

Haitian Creole is like French but much simpler. The grammar does away with things like gender and word endings that make French hard to learn. It is more like English: word order and short little words put here and there help you to make sense of it.

Most words come from French:

English Latin French Creole
sing cantare chanter chante
goat capra chevre kabrit
cheese caseus fromage fromaj
key clave clef kle
night noctem nuit nuit
place platea place kote
bridge pontem pont pon

The difference is not as bad as it seems on paper: Creole spelling is way more up to date than French spelling.

What makes Creole different is the way these words are put together.

It is no more bad French than French is bad Latin. French itself is simpler than Latin in many of the same ways that Creole is simpler than French. It merely takes French one step further.

But is it a separate language? Some, out of pride for the Haiti they grew up in, say that it is. And because the grammar is so different, it is hard to think of it as French. Yet if you go by the simplest test to tell if two languages are the same – whether a speaker of one can understand the other – then Creole is, in fact, just a form of French.

It is a form of French by its very nature: for society to function those at the top, who spoke French, had to be able to understand it, even if they could not speak it themselves.

If you speak French, you will not understand Creole right away, but once you hear it enough you will. It is not like learning a whole new language, but rather getting used to a different form of a language you already know.

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