Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who's Doing the Devil's Work?

Haiti is our responsibility, because we helped to create it

By "we" I mean not specifically the United States, but all of us who live under the domain of the World Financial Machine. I'll define that term another day; for now, let's consider it a convenient metaphor You know what I mean.

The intellectual father of capitalism, Adam Smith, promoted the myth that on Hispanola (the original Spanish name for the island on which Haiti resides), Columbus found "nothing but a country quite covered with wood, uncultivated, and inhabited only by some tribes of naked and miserable savages". In fact, an eyewitness account from 1552 described it as "perhaps the most densely populated place in the world, a beehive of people," who "of all the infinite universe of humanity, ...are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity" (Bartolomé de las Casas).

And those were the people who made a pact with the devil?

Of course not. That was, allegedly, some 250 years later, when Toussaint L'Ouverture led the slave revolt that expelled the French colonial rulers and their allies. And it was not even their descendants, because the indigenous population was virtually exterminated through a combination of mistreatment, disease, and mass suicide. They were rapidly replaced by African slaves who supported the new plantation economy. The righteous disdain of Pat Robertson is directed at the descendants of the African slaves, many of whom clung to vestiges of their ancestral religions, which are now characterized as "pacts with the devil".

Fortunately, the people of the world have opened their hearts and wallets to the people of Haiti. I hope that, going forward, we will be able to help the Haitians recover from this devastating natural catastrophe -- without condition or blame. Whatever lessons are to be drawn from this tragedy, they most certainly do not include the notions that ordinary Haitians are primarily responsible for their own plight or that they are unworthy of our aid.

Following the immediate recovery efforts (which are likely to be long-lasting), there will be legitimate questions about what forms effective aid should take. But we'll leave the discussion of colonial exploitation for another day, too.

Details of Haitian history are taken from Year 501, a 1993 book by Noam Chomsky. I highly recommend you read this book for a perspective on colonialism that is sadly and conspicuously absent from the popular dialog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The truth is that they did make a pact with the devil.

Now the significance you put on that pact I guess has to do with whether you believe the devil is real or not.

But it is one of Haiti's founding myths.

According to Haitian national history, the revolutionary war was launched on the eve of a religious ceremony at a place in the north called Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman, in French). At that ceremony on August 14, 1791, an African slave named Boukman sacrificed a pig, and both Kongo and Creole spirits descended to possess the bodies of the participants, encouraging them and fortifying them for the upcoming revolutionary war. Despite deep ambivalence on the part of intellectuals, Catholics, and the moneyed classes, Vodou has always been linked with militarism and the war of independence and, through it, the pride of national sovereignty.

So, yeah if there is a devil, Haiti made a pact with it. Might explain why even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, the Dominican Republic has been far more successful.

1:15 PM  
Blogger xenofile said...

Makes ya wonder why people would choose that vendor, the if customer service is that poor.

No, I don't believe in a devil. And I don't believe "Kongo and Creole spirits" possessed anyone. I believe in personal responsibility. And I think it's racist superstition to assume that their "spirits" are the same thing as your "devil".

3:43 PM  
Blogger xenofile said...

P.S. to Anonymous:
Not very friendly to link to articles that require a paid subscription.

But even assuming the alleged voodoo ceremony took place as you describe, it's hardly proof of a "pact with the devil". To me it sounds a lot like people in church speaking in tongues.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the great things about free speech is that guys like Pat Robertson are allowed enough rope to hang themselves.

5:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home