Category Archives: Haiti

Les politiques de la langue : Assia Djebar en conversation avec Lyonel Trouillot

Pendant notre cours magistral aujourd’hui, on a appris que, pour des citoyens de l’empire français antérieur, la langue française est un héritage du colonialisme. Elle représente une forme de l’impérialisme « doux », et rappelle d’une histoire troublante.

Donc, il faut demander : pourquoi est-ce que tous les textes pour ce cours sont en français? Bien sûr, c’est un cours de français, mais à un autre niveau, pourquoi est-ce que ces auteurs, si dédiés à retrouver le nationalisme postcolonial, écrivent dans la langue de leurs colonisateurs?

Dans un article fascinant, Assia Djebar et Lyonel Trouillot—tous les deux auteurs que nous avons lu dans ce cours—discutent leurs réponses à cette problème, au sujet des politiques de la langue pour leur écriture.

Trouillot commence à dire que, pour lui, la langue est une question secondaire : en fait, il dit « le texte choisit la langue ». Il écrit en français et en créole, en admettant qu’il existe des avantages et des désavantages quoi qu’on choisisse. Bien que le français soit un héritage du colonialisme avec des racines problématiques, c’est une langue qui va rester.

Cependant, pour Djebar, la langue est très importante, même cruciale pour son écriture (quelque chose qu’on peut apercevoir facilement en lisant l’Amour, la fantasia). Djebar parle de ses origines multilingues (avec son histoire des pluralités Berbères, un sujet que Julene adresse ici), et comment le français se distingue en particulier:

I did learn to write in Arabic, but only sections of the Koran…But my experience is that people in Algeria who express themselves in French do so without taboo, and when they discuss questions about love or sex, they do so without any internal barriers. On the other hand, those who write in Arabic are affected by the religious shadow, not to mention that most of the books have a religious connection.

Le français donne plus de liberté pour l’écriture, surtout au sujet des femmes. Elle continue à dire qu’on peut parler du corps féminin seulement en langue française. À la lumière du texte lAmour, la fantasia, on comprend son attention à ce type de la libération. Un exemple est la section « Mon père écrit à ma mère », où on apprend que la mère de la narratrice n’a jamais parlé de son mari sauf avec « le pronom personnel arabe correspondant à ‘lui’ » (54). Mais quand elle commence à apprendre le français, elle commence à dire « mon mari », même son prénom « Tahar » (55, 56), des expressions de l’amour et des expressions de la libération.

Pourquoi est-ce qu’il existe une différence en considérant la langue entre ces deux écrivains ? Est-ce que c’est une question de la religion, du sexe, ou de l’histoire différente du colonialisme entre les deux pays, l’Haïti et l’Algérie ? Ou est-ce qu’il est seulement une différence de style ?

De tous les cas, je vous encourage de lire cette conversation intéressante et informative entre deux grands écrivains francophones!

Haiti bans plastic bags and foam containers…

A new ban came into effect today in Haiti: plastic bags and foam containers will not be imported,manufactured or marketed in the island. You can read an article on the story here.

Do you think this ban will be effective and respected by everyone in the island? What do you think will be the social impact of this ban, considering that, as they state in the article: “In Haiti the black plastic bags are the primary mode for transporting items among Haiti’s poor who shuffle back and forth to open air street markets on an almost daily basis”?

Kaiama Glover Visit to Duke

Next week in class we’ll have the visit of Professor Kaiama Glover of Barnard University. She is one of the country’s leading specialists on contemporary Haitian literature, and author of a recent book called Haiti Unbound. In class on Tuesday, she’ll be helping us to think about Lyonel Trouillot’s novels. But if you’d like to hear more about her work, she’ll be giving a lecture in the Haiti Lab, Bay 4 of the Smith Warehouse, at 4 p.m. on Monday, called “New Narratives of Haiti: Or, How to Empathize with Zombie.”


Reading Lyonel Trouillot

Lyonel Trouillot is one of Haiti’s best known contemporary writers. He comes from a remarkable family: his brother, Michel Rolph Trouillot, is a brilliant and well-known anthropologist, while his sister Evelyn is also a well-known novelist in Haiti. He stands out in his generation of writers because he has never gone into exile, unlike many others, writing consistently from within Haiti and about events in the country. (Another writer who has a similar trajectory is Franketienne, who has written novels in Haitian Creole as well as French). Trouillot also has a regular radio program, and has written poetry and lyrics for popular songs. He also write for several newspapers in Haiti. A list of all his his works is available here.

The two novels by Lyonel Trouillot we will be reading (Children of Heroes for the English section, and Bicentenaire for the French section) are both short, dramatic portraits of life and Haiti. But both are also very complex in their construction, seeking to represent both a particular historical moment and the broader weight of the past in a short text. Bicentenaire dwells more directly on the question of how a novel should and can represent a certain event, and indeed opens with an interesting meditation on the relationship between a particular historical event — the student demonstrations against Aristide in 2004 — and his novel. In Children of Heroes, the past of the Haitian Revolution is present in the statues of heroes in downtown Port-au-Prince, but the novel centers on an act of violence resistance in the present by two children. (You can read a review of the English translation of Children of Heroes here).

We’ll be discussing Trouillot’s approach during lecture on Tuesday. In preparation for that, here are a few videos that can give you a sense of his work. All are in French, since he has rarely given interview in English. As you watch the first two videos, you can also think about (and perhaps critique) the ways in which the the French press presents the novels as well; and you can think about and try to characterize Trouillot’s political position on foreign aid — a topic taken up in other posts on the blog — when you watch the third video.

Here is a short video in which he discusses Bicentenaire.

Here is a short video discussing his book “Children of Heroes,” which includes him reading an excerpt.

And here is an intervention he made regarding post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti.

What are your reactions to Trouillot’s work? What other materials can you find about Trouillot?

Maroons in the Archives

Patrick Chamoiseau’s novel Texaco makes reference to “maroons,” enslaved people who ran away from the plantation, sometimes creating independent communities in the mountains in Martinique. Maroons were a presence in most slave societies, most famously in Jamaica and in Suriname, where they ultimately negotiated treaties with the colonial government securing their permanent freedom.

When maroons left the plantation, owners put advertisers in local newspapers — basically private “wanted” ads — in the hopes of recovering the people they saw as their “property.” A group of scholars in Canada has digitized all such advertisements published in the newspapers of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), France’s most important Caribbean colony, from 1766 to 1791. In class on Tuesday, we’ll spend some time looking at this fascinating collection of materials, which ironically provides us some of the best insight into the origins, names, clothing, language abilities, and skills of the enslaved. I urge you to look through this collection a bit to get a sense of the biographies of some enslaved people, and also to understand better the kinds of sources that enable historians and novelists to reconstruct the history of slavery.

One of your classmates, Charmaine Mutucamarana, did an independent study project with the Haiti Laboratory last Spring in which she drew on this database to study the history of punishments against slaves in Saint-Domingue. You can see this terrific project here.

A conversation with Paul Farmer


I attended Paul Farmer’s lecture on Haiti after the earthquake this afternoon. It was a very informative talk on key problems the country is facing, notably education, health problems, access to medical care, lack of basic needs (water…), and the politics behind foreign aids. Farmer cites some troubling statistics: For example, the number of people in settlement camps by October 2011 is still approximately 550,000. After two years, only 30% of the rubble has been removed, and most of this labor was done manually by hands. Deaths from diseases, especially cholera, are rampant. All of this shows that there are still so much work to be done in the process of reconstructing Haiti.

One thing that captures me was Farmer’s idea on the role of university in community service. University should not only be a teaching and learning environment – it should also foster civic engagement. Farmer points out how Duke is lucky to have top-notch medical facilities, which allow high quality research to be carried out, and also input feedbacks about current policies and practices.

I’d be interested to hear what others who attended the talk think about the several issues raised by Farmer.

Un film documentaire sur l’Haïti

Aujourd’hui j’ai trouvé un site web d’un film documentaire sur l’Haïti. Il s’agit d’un « country club » qui était transformé en un camp de réfugiés d’enfants après le tremblement de terre de 2010.

Voici le lien :

Cette idée d’un rapport entre les Haïtiens pauvres est les gens riches est frappant et il est très relevant à notre cours. Ce film m’a aussi rappelé le film « Un homme qui crie » à cause du présence d’un hôtel de luxe au milieu d’un communauté sans ressources.

Vodou dans les nouvelles

Au sujet de Haïti et la race, j’ai trouvé un vidéo de Henry Louis Gates et PBS (en anglais) qui s’agit de l’histoire des africaines en l’Amérique latine. Le documentaire s’appelle « Black in Latin America » et le première épisode retrace la race et l’identité aux Haïti et la République dominicaine. Je trouve intéressant de comparer les expériences des haïtiens avec les africains dans les colonies non-français. Le film est sorti en avril 2011. (Notez bien que Gates a des opinions politiques très forts.)

Haiti & the Dominican Republic – An Island Divided

Dans une interview sur le site de PBS, Gates explique qu’il y a beaucoup d’idées fausses d’Haïti : « Haiti just had the earthquake, it was very much in the news. Every night for months I would watch Anderson Cooper talking about the earthquake. But never did Anderson Cooper or anyone else talk about the history of Haiti. They’d talk about voodoo as if it was lunatic superstitions rather than one of the world’s old religions. »

Le vodou est mentionné dans un article sur le blog de Foreign Policy (en anglais), qui s’appelle « Rebranding Haiti : The Voodoo Tours ». Le président haïtien, Michel Martelly, était à New York le semaine dernière pour se présenter à la tribune de l’Assemblée générale de l’ONU.  L’article note que Martelly  « wants to wash away the country’s reputation as the Western Hemisphere’s basket case. »

Cet article explique aussi la polémique des casques bleus de l’ONU en Haïti et les difficultés de la reconstruction.

Une citation sur une vue de Créole

J’ai trouvée une citation d’une linguiste Algérien qui s’appelle Alain Bentolila. Il est auteur d’une vingtaine d’ouvrages concernant l’illettrisme des jeunes et l’apprentissage de la lecture et du langage chez l’enfant. Il remarque de les langages français et créole en Haiti…

“Whether we like it or not, one and the other language is a historical part of the Haitian national patrimony. In spite of its minor standing, Creole is one of the traits that fines the Haitian nation and is experiences by each Haitian as a component of his identity. Although issuing from the slave period, Creole in Haiti is not soiled with the vice of servitude, because the struggle for independence gave it a national significance as the language of a people who liberated itself with arms in its hands and Creole in its mouth.”

Après avoir appris l’histoire d’Haiti et son révolution, je peux mieux comprendre ce qu’il veux expliquer de l’independence et les esclaves en Haiti. Mais, je ne suis sûre qu’il ait raison en disant que la langue de Creole n’est pas connecté á la servitude.

Haitian immigration

My roommate is doing her senior thesis on immigration detention in the US and a lot of her research has been on Haitian immigration. So, I asked her for some more information.

As Prof. Dubois mentioned in class, Haitians don’t get asylum in the US. About 5% of Haitian immigrants receive asylum. Between 1981 and 1999, 22940 Haitians were intercepted by the Coast Guard and only 9 were even considered qualified for asylum. When Haitians arrive they are put in detention centers, like Krome or Guantanamo, as Prof. Dubois said. Legal precedents say that they can’t be detained longer than six months but there are a ton of loop holes and most are detained for several years. Detention is not considered punishment, and they are not considered criminals so they do not have right to a lawyer. Most go to their asylum hearings without representation.

The Attorney General under Regan was quoted saying, “Detention of aliens seeking asylum was necessary to discourage people like the Haitians from setting sail in the first place.”

My roommate told me this anecdote a few years ago. In 2004, Joseph Dantica a former minister in Haiti and his son came to the United States. Gang members had taken over his village and accused him of conspiring with the police. He came to the US where his niece, a prominent Haitian-American author lives. At customs, when asked why he was here, he said he was seeking asylum and was immediately detained. Had he said he was visiting and then stayed illegally, he probably would have been okay. Dantica got seriously ill while in detention and needed medication. The staff thought he was faking it and didn’t do anything. By the time they actually took him to a hospital, he died.  (

Another interesting point to that story is that Dantica flew into the United States. The 80s created this image of Haitians trying to get to Florida in boats. According to my roommate, many immigrants now come by plane. All airports are borders now.

Something else Prof. Dubois mentioned was the difference in treatment the Haitians get from the Cubans. Cubans are considered political refugees. Haitians consider themselves refugees, but technical name given to them by the government is economic migrants. Whether or not it is due to the favorable treatment they have received, Cubans have become very successful in the United States. Miami’s last five mayors have been Cuban and Florida now has a Cuban senator. This partly fuels the image that Cubans are good upright citizens and the stereotype that Haitian immigrants will end up on welfare and cost the government money. Since Cubans have attained as much power as they have, policy will likely remain favorable to Cubans and less favorable to Haitians.

My roommate is also from South Florida, where there are large Haitian and Cuban communities. She said that in South Florida you have examples of successful Cuban immigrants. You learn about Cuban refugees in elementary school and they come as guest speakers. Cubans are traditionally held in a sympathetic light. However, Haitians are viewed in a much more criminal light.  Since the earthquake this has changed a little bit, as people are beginning to view Haitians as victims.