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Haiti's founding father - The women who influenced him, his ideals and legacy

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Jean Jacques Dessalines - The women who influenced him, his ideals and legacy remembered on Sept. 20th, his birthday (born, September 20, 1758)

September 20th is the birthday of Haiti's founding father, Jean Jacques Dessalines, born a slave under European ideology and put in chains to serve France and the European nations in worldwide power. He lived to change the course of humanity. He did what Spartacus couldn't and much more.

There is so much about our African and Haitian ancestors we don't know because US/European modus operandi was about the destruction of Africa's past, African identity and world history in order to build and create their own societies and future.

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When I hear Haitians and now even some embolden foreigners, talk about Haitians must forget 1804 and the triumphs of Jean Jacques Dessalines, the general of the native army of Haiti, stop referring to them and look to the future; when I see on Haitian forums discussing the mistreatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic the advice that Haitians ought to stop talking about the 30,000 Haitians that Trujillo had slaughtered in 1937, I am reminded that the destruction of our African past, our Haitian reality, what Haitians witness to every nanosecond of the day is still the global US/European modus operandi. Haitian self-determination is being destroyed by UN occupation, paternalism, privatization, free trade agreements, debt, wage slavery and forced assimilation.

Haitians are asked to copy and paste what whites and their overseers see as their reality, their experience, and their history. But Jean Jacques Dessalines, in creating the nation of Haiti, broke from that modus operandi. He did not copy and paste what white minds saw as civilization, justice and democracy. Jean Jacques Dessalines looked at his own world and day to day experiences, took in what he could see with his own two eyes, what he could hear with his own ears, what he could envision with his own precious heart, his own unbowed soul and created a nation, a Haiti, that reflected that reality, that vision and the future that would best serve his people. His legacy has yet to be herald. His great ideals still remain obscure, his humane vision of humanity and for peaceful and self-affirming co-existence still denied.

In fact, after the mulatto sons of France assassinated Dessalines, during both the administration of the mulatto generals, Petion and Boyer, Dessalines' name was forbidden to be spoken in Haiti under threat of imprisonment. Dessalines' assassination, two years after the creation of Haiti, was the first foreign-influenced coup d'etat in Haiti. The 2004 bi-centennial coup d'etat of Bush the son, was the 33rd coup d'etat to try to eradicate the influence of the Haitian revolution, which legally abolished slavery, forced assimilation, direct colonialism and the Triangular Trade in Haiti.

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At Ezili's HLLN we recapture Dessalines' three major ideals, his law, his name for Haiti, its meaning, history, revelations and explain why Dessalines was so ahead of his time and so threatening to the white nations. In the Ezili's Free Haiti Movement, we set out October 17th, the day of Dessalines' assassination to discuss Dessalines' life, vision, ideals and what he represents to Haiti and the world. Our history was so destroyed that it is only fairly recently that Haitians actually had a date for Dessalines' birthday. Before, all we were taught was the date of his death. But Haitian scholars have done more work and now in Haiti, we have this day to celebrate. It is so very important this recapturing of our history, our people, what they witnessed to, how they reacted, what they created. We still have so little information. Still must rebuild. Still must put flesh, bone, blood and soul to those who were so destroyed, so corralled into ships and sold as property.

We still don't have enough information about Victoria Montou, known as Toya, the Haitian woman who taught the greatest warrior that ever lived how to fight in hand-to-hand combat and how to throw a knife. Gran Toya guided Dessalines in his youth and he called her "aunt." She was an extraordinary warrior and commanded her own indigenous army. We still know so little about her. We know only that she taught Dessalines the physical maneuvers of effective hand to hand combat, how to shoot and how to throw a knife. We know she was old because she is affectionately called Gran Toya. Imagine her life! Imagine the inspiration she could be today to our young Haitian women. No. Imagine the inspiration she could be to the world's women and men! But our Black history was destroyed so we could be enslaved, so we could find nothing good in ourselves, our forefathers, their thinking. And still today, I'm reading on Haitian forums we should not resurrect the past, but move on because only today matters, - with our collective Haitian persona so vilified, maligned and brutalized and with white heroes, white cultural hegemony ruling. On that ground, we are told we should deploy ourselves into this world.

This morning I was blessed to be a participant on a Radio Kajou interview celebrating the holy day that's the birthday of Haiti's forefather, Jean Jacques Dessalines and I learned from a colleague in that discussion that Desalines' mother was a woman named Marie Elisabeth. I did not know this. Until this morning's panel when Haitian historian and scholar, Jafrikayiti said this, I did not know the name of Dessalines' mother or that this enslaved African-Ayisyen, founder of the nation of Haiti, even had a mother who could be positively identified. Most of us are told our African ancestors were enslaved, we were sold as property, families separated and thus it's impossible to know who gave birth to the which child. And that is that.

But there are Haitian scholars unearthing our stories, our stolen identities and lives. This job is ours to do. I want to know more, to empower more. I want to know more about Marissainte De'de' Brazil, known as Defile, the Haitian woman who gave Dessalines a proper burial after he was chopped up in pieces and left in the Pont Rouge bridge as garbage. The old historians of Haiti called her crazy Defile, as if who would give honor and burial to the father of a Black nation.

Yet, Defile, an enslaved woman who freed herself, thought for herself, took action even some warrior men may have been hesitant to take, and left us a legacy of courage. Manman Defile went against the mob violence and group thinking, preserved our nation's dignity, faced the powers of the mulatto generals, and faced France to honor our fallen founding father. Who was the woman named Defile? Really. How did she get so much focus, courage, and so much gumption? We want to know so we can tell the next generation of Haitian the non-colonial narrative on Haiti. (See, Kouwòn pou Defile.)

We want to know about Marie Claire Heureuse Fe'licite' Bonheur, Dessalines' wife.

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We are told, she was so kind, so elegant, so gentle, so beautiful that even the murderers of her husband bowed down to her. The mulatto general, General Petion, who became President of Haiti after the assassination of Jean Jacques Dessalines, actually wrote to Dessalines' wife, Marie Claire Heureuse, to tell her not to worry she would be the "adoptive spouse" of the nation and taken care of by the nation, for life. (See, Three Historical Documents on Dessalines' Assassination.) Why did this woman, the wife of General Petion's archenemy, deserve such notice, admiration, and accolades? Why? We want every Haitian child, every women in the world, to know more about Marie Claire Heureuse. The little history we know tell us that during the Haitian revolutionary war against colonialism, forced assimilation, the Triangular Trade, and slavery, Marie Claire Heureuse took care of the sick soldiers, of the prisoners of the Revolutionary War, that she rode out onto the battlefield and even the French stopped their canon firing while she ministered to the dying, the wounded on both sides of the battle.

It has been said that this black Haitian woman named Marie Claire Heureuse was the first Red Cross. The world needs to know more about this woman, this hero, her model for human interaction. We should want to teach our children that one of the greatest, fiercest warriors on planet earth - the African warrior General Jean Jacques Dessalines - whose very name still scares the hell out of US/Euro writers and history scholars, still horrifies enslavers, tyrants and despots everywhere, that this man was taught how to fight and throw a knife by a woman named Toya and that he married a woman, a healer, a pacifist, who insisted he not bring his weapons inside their home and he lovingly complied with his beloved wife's request. This, in a time and at a place where the First World War was happening in the world, where all the nations-of-power had converged on small Haiti to annihilate it and Dessalines' weapon was his life. Who was this man! This beautiful woman, this wife, lover, nurse, herbal healer and pacifist?

What you read in history books on Haiti of hundreds of pages will mostly not tell you, what I've just put down in these few paragraphs about the people of Haiti. No. For, how many of us know greater details about sergeant Suzanne Be'lair, known as Sanit Belè, the fierce Haitian woman who taught the African warriors of Haiti how to die with dignity as the French executioner's bullets shattered her to shreds?

Sanit, fell into the hands of the French. In the hope of saving her life, her husband, Charles Belair, voluntarily gave himself up. But his chivalrous action went for naught. The two, husband and wife, were sentenced to death by firing squad and executed the same day. When her hateful executioners tried to blindfold her because she was a woman, Sanit refused. She considered it an insult to a woman's bravery and courage to be executed any differently than her husband. And, after watching unblinkingly while her husband was executed, Sanit Belè boldly presented her breast to receive the firing squad's fatal shots.

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Human Rights Lawyer, Ezili Danto is dedicated to correcting the media lies and colonial narratives about Haiti. An award winning playwright, a performance poet, author and lawyer, Ezili Danto is founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, (more...)

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