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# 28: Democracy in Haiti: Bellegarde-Smith reinterprets Corbett's view in light of African/Haitian religious models
From: P D Bellegarde-Smith <email@example.com>
> I want to make the case that the most significant move toward
> any serious notion of democracy in Haiti is quite new and I believe rooted
> in the coming of the "Ti Legliz" movement to Haiti in the 1970s.
One finds the idea, if not the reality, of "democracy" from the
time enslaved Africans rebelled during the Spanish, then the French
colonial period. One must keep in mind that some (not all) West African
smallish societies were organized fairly democratically, in fact more so
than in Western Europe and North America at that time. The desire for
freedom was collapsed with the quest for leberation. Democracy could not
be very fair in the minds of these enslaved Africans (most had been born
in Africa), soon to become Haitians. The second waive of the leadership
(away from Boukman, Edaise, Papillon, early on Makandal), was replaced by
dokte fey Louverture, Dessalines, Petion, Christophe -- all French
officers. That second waive betrayed that popular democractic impulse
while giving it a country. It was a dilemma well understaood by the
philosopher Dantes Bellegarde when he argued: "Que deviendrait un ilot
Dahomeen au coeur des Ameriques?" His answer? If Haiti has rejected
westernization and all Western ideologies, it would have been recolonized.
This is more of a dilemma than a paradox. P.B.-S.
> The next summer I visited there my first time and began to sit in on the
> meetings. They were just mind-boggling to me, they seem to be Paulo
> Freire's theories in living color, but with a religious twist which came
> from the Liberation Theology. I sat in on hundreds of meetings in the
> next 10 years, in all parts of the country, but a typical meeting was
> pretty much the same all over and at any time. (Corbett)
This is not unlike what happens, at all levels -- that of the
discourse, the songs, the ritual-- in Vodun and in Vodun ceremonies,
hence the horrible fear of Haitian presidents (virtually all of whom knew
Vodun intimately, many or most practicing it, even the mulatto
presidents) some of us have researched this area and shall write about
it. While presidents banned Vodun, some persecuted it, they practiced it
at the same time. These presidents understood> the potential revolutionary
message of Vodun, as presidents in the republics of Central America
understood the radical message of the Ti-Legliz, acting accordingly. The
United States government understood that challenge after its invasion of
Haiti in 1915, and brought in U.S.-based Protestant missions. The point is
made very explicitly in a number of U.S. documents. More contemporarily,
some professors know that the CIA has seen the revolutionary potential of
Vodun as being greater than the Haitian Communist Party, and has sought
information and it seems, still does so. P.B.-S.
> I suggest that is a very important shift. What the Liberation Theologians
> complain of, in part, is that traditional Christian theology of the past
> 2000 years was mainly "me and God" a theory of how the individual should
> behave in God's eyes, often in order to secure eternal reward, but at least
> in order to please God. The Liberation Theolologian wanted to shift the
> focus away from the vertical axis of "me and God" to the horizontal
> plane of "us brothers and sisters working together in God's mode."
> > That's not only theologically radical, so radical and to threated the
> Catholic church in it's very foundation, but extremely democratic. Gone
> is the hierarchy (which is the main reason they were lay-led and not
> clergy led). Gone is the authority (which is why the leader tends
> overwhelmingly to ask questions and not give answers). The people would
> then respond to these questions.... (Corbett)
> What Corbett describes in the above paragraph, is a "primer" of
Vodun theology. A number of Houngan and Manbo are working in the area of
theology, and I am one of them. Individuals, in Haiti and the United
States, sociologists tell us, are often about "promotion sociale." They
will attend a church service, preferably in a "tolerated and tolerable"
Christian denomination in order to "advance socially." But they will also
attend a service at the Ounfo the night before. They oftentimes, do not
wish to undo the ancestral cultural link. By the way, there is resistance
in admitting that the Ounfo as well as the Ti-Legliz worked for the
downfall of the Duvalier dynastic regime. Often, the same people belonged
both to the Ti-Legliz and the Ounfo. P.B.-S.
> It seems to me the country is in grave crisis over fundamental ideology.
> The cities, and especially Port-au-Prince, are mainly business as usual,
> and the classic historically normal struggle for power goes on. Aristide
> and Preval represent an attempt for this spirit of democracy to go fully
> national and move the country in that direction, but much altered as it
> became "big time." That has to be and is to be expected. Revolutions
> are not made in 10 year flashes.
> But something dramatic has been unleashed in Haiti, mainly in the countryside
> where thousands of these groups have been born and are struggling for
> survival and growth. I don't mean growth in size, I mean growth in the
> spirit and practice of democratic living, a way of life that recognizes each
> person as having fundamentally equal worth, and that recognizes we are a
> society in which working and sacrificing together creates a better life
> for all.
> Within this spirit, I would argue that Haiti needs less "leadership" from
> the hierarchies of capital or religion, and more support in theology,
> economics and politics for the growth of this form of democracy which is
> there, but at a critical stage as to whether is grows or withers away.
> I have been making many of the same points in all my books and
articles for the past 15 years. Some have listened. Democracy in Haiti,
will be an "africanizing" process as the structures of the state are
made to reflect the institutions of the nation. I wrote these lines in
1975. I am a bit surprised that my buddy Bob, an avowed atheist did such a
"spirited" defense of the Ti-Legliz movement. (I actually approved). But
Haiti will also find solace in indigenous social thought and theology, and
that is not Christianity! P.B.-S.