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.
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.
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, KouwÃ²n pou Defile.)
We want to know about Marie Claire Heureuse Fe'licite' Bonheur, Dessalines' wife.
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.
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 BelÃ¨, 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 BelÃ¨ boldly presented her breast to receive the firing squad's fatal shots.