More on Haiti and "The Pact"

Check out this guest post by Robert Taber, a doctoral candidate in Carribbean History at the University of Florida, at the 538 blog. It offers some nuance and background to the conversation about Pat Robertson's claim that Haiti made a "pact with the devil." The opening paragraphs of Tabor's post:

Contrary to most people’s reactions to Pat Robertson’s remarks on Wednesday, his reference to Haiti’s “pact with the devil” did not appear out of thin air. As Matt Yglesias has pointed out this was a reference to the Bois Caiman ceremony at the beginning of the Haitian Revolution in 1791. This is not strictly a mangling of history on Robertson’s part. His comments come straight out of a blend of theology and history that, at the grassroots, pervades Haiti’s political discourse. Labeling the event at Bois Caiman a satanic pact touches on the most potent part of a vibrant oral tradition, a national myth that attempts to explain Haiti’s relationship with God and the world.

The French Revolution had been going on for two years when slave leaders gathered in the Caiman woods outside of what’s today Cap Haitien. The fighting between and within the white elite and the free mulatto population presented an excellent opportunity for general revolt. Most of the slaves present worked as overseers or coachmen for their respective masters, giving them freedom of movement and the right to carry swords. Dutty Boukman, a slave originally from Jamaica, and a priestess of disputed identity led a Voudou ceremony where they allegedly charged the gathered slaves “to throw away the image of the god of the whites who thirsts for our tears and listen to the voice of liberty that speaks in the hearts of all of us.” They then made an oath of secrecy and revenge, sealing it by drinking the blood of a sacrificed pig, a ceremony possibly West African in origin. This event bears a similar relationship to the Haitian Revolution as the Boston Tea Party does to the American Revolution—a critical event that helped galvanize the founding generation and forms a centerpoint for revolutionary legend today.

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5 thoughts on “More on Haiti and "The Pact"”

  1. Even if Pat Robertson's incredibly insensitive comments were based in fact, why wouldn't the Haitian people throw off the god of their French slave masters? I'd make a deal with anyone - including the devil if he was the enemy of the hateful and cruel god who, apparently to the Haitian people, had been viciously oppressing them for years. Is Taber's response supposed to vindicate Robertson's spiteful rhetoric? Blaming victims for "wrath of God" events is about as low and un-Christlike as you can get.

  2. I don't think anyone questioned that a historical event like this happened, it was just that Robertson used it as the central explanation for all that Haiti has suffered. It leads to a way of thinking where the blame gets put in all the wrong places. Greg

  3. Actually, there is significant question about the historicity of such an event. This is a post from one Haitian source.

    All in all, I think Jon Stewart was exactly right. It's the sort of thing that today we call urban legends. A myth, in other words.

  4. Having spent time in Haiti, I do know that whether or not a pact with the devil was ever made, the practice of Voodoo and spiritism dominates the country and keeps the people in fear - from the PM on down.

    It may be insensitive and tactless to bring up the spiritual state of Haiti at a time of terrible suffering, but for anyone who has experienced the culture it is pretty clear that the spiritual state of the people must be addressed if any sort of real change is going to happen.

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