christianity, colonialism, Haiti, haiti history, haitian earthquake, haitian revolution, history of haiti, Napoleon I, Napoleon III, Pat Robertson, pat robertson haiti, slavery, Thomas Jefferson
On Wednesday morning, Dr. Robertson stated that the nation of Haiti made a pact with the devil. “True story”, he said, and claimed that this explains why Haiti suffered so much in the years since. Au contraire: everything about his statement is false.
- “Haiti was under the heel of the French, Napoleon III or whatever.”
- “They got together and made a pact with the devil: ‘We will serve you if you get us free from the French.’
- “The Haitians revolted and got themselves free, but ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another, desperately poor.”
- “The island of Hispaniola is cut down through the middle — Haiti on one side, Dominican Republic on the other. Dominican republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.”
- “They need to have (and we need to pray for them) a great turning to God, and out of this tragedy I’m optimistic that something good may come.”
1. Wrong century, Pat. Napoleon III came to power as President of France in 1848, then took over as Napoleon III in 1852. The Haitian revolution lasted from 1791 to 1803, inspired by the French Revolution 2 years before, and the American Revolution 14 years before that.
2. In my post yesterday I cited a Salon.com article, which points out that the “pact with the devil” myth is a major distortion of what occurred in a secret meeting on August 14, 1791. At this meeting in a place called Bois Caiman, slaves confided in one another how much they resented their treatment by white settlers. In harmony with their African tribal past, one of the women in the group slit 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.” It’s quite possible that the woman who led the meeting was indeed possessed by a spirit, as Christians would say it. This was a common part of the voodoo ritual religion that these people had grown up with. But she was acting alone, as one enslaved person in a meeting on the topic of oppression by a wealthy white minority. It is utterly false that this can be called a national “pact with the devil”. Moved more by the spirit of freedom that actuated the American and French revolutions than by demon possession, these poor oppressed blacks righteously decided in the face of abuse and outrage, to throw off the shackles that had been enslaving them. About a week later, the insurrection began in the northern mountains of Haiti … the first paroxysm of justifiable rage in a long-awaited revolution. But the early first successes were quickly suppressed with overwhelming power and violence by the French settlers.
There is actually some recent disagreement among historians as to whether the Bois Caiman meeting even took place. You can read an exchange among academics on the subject here.
The Bois Caiman story is so deeply intertwined in the history of a free Haiti (much like our Boston Tea Party or the Ride of Paul Revere) that to question it in Haiti is unthinkable. Whether precisely true or not, it’s been handed down from countless sources as an oral history about the quest for freedom from tyranny by this oppressed people. One thing seems clear, though — there is very little of a religious nature in the original story. The blood-covenant was more of a cultural expression, having roots in the indigenous people’s practices, mixed with traditions that came from the Senegambian coast where many Black Haitians had been captured by the French and Spanish. The blood ritual described in the oral traditions of Bois Caiman was not unusual. It was a cultural custom, transported by the slaves who had been uprooted from Africa, along with the tribal and Islamic influences that had shaped them for centuries before. Indeed, this story is not unlike the Biblical account of a blood-sealed pact of revenge by the people of Israel against the perpetrators of an atrocity — as recorded in Judges 20. Here, the people are galvanized into action in revenge, not by a testimony meeting and a symbolic use of pigs blood — but by messengers carrying the dismembered body of the single victim. The point is, it would be pointless to argue that the people of Haiti were any more primitive than the people of the Bible.
3. “The Haitians revolted and got themselves free.” Not really. This was a very unsatisfactory revolution. It lasted from 1791 to 1803, and was beset by both internal strife and outside invasion first by the French, then the English, then the French again. Yes, in the end it did result in Haiti becoming “only the 2nd republic in the Americas.” But the country was exhausted and in ruins, and no nation on earth at the time, including the United States, was willing to do business with a black republic… for fear it would enflame their own slaves’ desire for freedom. Remember, this is 50 years before the slaves began to be released in England, Russia, and finally the United States.
And so Haiti was free in name only. While it remained the richest colony in the history of colonial exploitation, as a free nation it was forced to endure an economic embargo not unlike the one we have enforced against Cuba for the last 50 years. The southern states, who of course had enormous clout in every American administration, viewed black Haiti very much the way cold war-era Americans viewed Communist Cuba. Haiti was the worst of all possible worlds: Black, and intertwined with the French, who were now led by an ambitious non-democratic emperor, Napoleon I.
The Haitian victory over the last of several French attempts to re-impose slavery in 1803 presented an alert Thomas Jefferson with a golden opportunity. Jefferson saw that France wanted Haiti back even more than they wanted to risk war with the United States over the ownership of the Louisiana territory. He also was not as afraid of a black nation as President Adams and all the southern statesmen had been. He is reported to have said, “”Provided that the Negroes are not permitted to possess a navy, we can allow them without danger to exist and we can moreover continue with them very lucrative commercial relations.” So Jefferson reinforced the slave leaders in Haiti prior to the French invasion, and when, as he hoped, the French suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Haitian rebels, Jefferson was able to swoop down and buy the Louisiana territory for a pittance. As the Haitian ambassador stated in response to Pat Robertson’s foolish prattle, Haitian victory was the direct cause of the United States gaining the land of 13 of our western states:
Yet racism and religion-based prejudice continued to create outside pressures which continued to afflict Haiti. Beginning in 1825, the victors became the vanquished when France with the help of the other great powers forced the Haitians to pay reparations to France for their victory. “They were forced to pay again with their sweat for the freedom they had already purchased with their blood.” The details of this outrageous penalty, and its impact on Haitian society ever since, are described here. (Thanks to Paul Tullis) This immoral demand, which impoverished Haiti while it enriched France, was not paid off by Haiti until 1947! And the results are still felt to this day. Their curse was not from God, but from the White race, the “Christian” “civilized” world, who drained Haitian money away 10 different ways.
4. The Dominican Republic is not prosperous, either. It suffers from a very similar fate — poverty in the midst of plenty, government corruption, a tiny privileged class and masses who live at the edge of poverty. While it is true that the Dominican Republic has about 6 times the per-capita income of Haiti, and much better life expectancy, many of the same problems afflict this half of the island as well. I’ve been there, and once you leave the wealthy resorts for the native towns, you see grinding poverty and desperation. Pat’s characterization of the country as “healthy and prosperous” may be true of the American real estate moguls who have built golf courses and resorts, but it is certainly not true of the local people. Santo Domingans can hardly be said to own the land they inhabit.
5. Centuries of failure in Haiti have combined with an indigenous belief in supernatural causes for natural events to create a dominant attitude of fatalism. Any truly moral framework, whether Christian, Jewish, or Moslem, could make a positive impact, working one person at a time. For example Nazarene missionaries since 1950 have made a positive impact, not by producing a “great turning to God”, but by teaching people how to improve their soil, build wells, terrace hillsides, and eat the tropical fruits which easily grow in Haiti (which tribal culture teaches are harmful to pregnant women). These are not religious changes but practical agricultural and lifestyle transitions. I applaud the earnest efforts of people like Howard Culbertson to invest in Haitian improvement, one person and family at a time. But the cause of their troubles was grossly misstated by Robertson — they were not cursed by God, but by godless people masquerading as followers of Jesus. Just as fake Christians slaughtered millions and sowed weeds of poverty in the Congo, so western “Christian” “civilization” has destroyed and denuded Haiti.
When a spiritual descendant of these kinds of religious mobsters blames the victims for their troubles, I just see red. Shut up, Pat, cash in your fortune and give the money to someone who is soberly working to undo the multiple curses of exploitative “Christianity”. I don’t know for sure who might be effective, but I am certain the test we should go by is not related to the Christian doctrines or the church affiliation of the workers. “Christians” have been the curse of Haiti since Columbus first opened Pandora’s box there. Tomorrow I’ll begin to tell the story of how the arrogant jerk that my home town was named for launched Haiti’s woes, plundering the land for the queen of Spain.
After I finish telling the story of the exploitation of Haiti by one “Christian” nation after another, I’m going to examine what the Bible says about all of this, and see if we if there is any evidence that there is a God who sees, cares, and plans to do anything about exploitation by people who think they’ve got the “true religion”.