January 1st marked the 214th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution. Haiti is one of the only slave revolts to free themselves from bondage and become the first black free nation. Not only were they able to free themselves, they also helped Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, and Dominican Republic fight for their freedom.
It all started 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered an island he declared Hispaniola, currently called Haiti. Prior to the island of Ayiti being invaded by Christopher Columbus, the colony was inhibited by the indigenous Taino people. In one of his many journal entries, Columbus stated, “It appears to me, that the people are indigenous, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion.” Columbus and his army identified what appeared to be weak people and saw an opportunity to take over the natives and their land. The Spaniards believed Hispaniola possessed large amounts of gold along with other valuable resources and planned on using slave labor to exploit the island of its assets.
After the Spanish settlers arrived on the land the population of the indigenous people began to dwindle. It’s been documented that the settlers worked the people so hard that the life expectancy for a slave was less than 10 years in the Carribean.
The exact number of Taino people on the island before Columbus arrived is unknown, however, it is estimated that after about fifty years of being on the colony, Europeans had killed off over eighty percent of the native population with disease, labor, and murder. This forced them to turn to other nations to get more slaves. New servants were imported from Jamaica and Africa to replace the laborers that were dying by the thousands. The newly imported slaves were brought to maintain the sugar canes, coffee, cotton, and tobacco plantations that brought forth much wealth for the new French coloners.
By the 17th century, the number of slaves on the island outnumbered the free people. In 1791 there was a reported 500,000 slaves and about 50,000 free people; of the free, 30,000 of them were black and mulatto. At this particular time, the colony was under exploitation by France. The island of Hispaniola helped France to become one of the wealthiest nations through the use of free labor and extraction of the nation’s resources. The French brought forth a racial hierarchy structure based off of the color of skin, making themselves apart of the ruling class. The skin color hierarchy still exists in the Dominican Republic today.
The slave revolt began in August 1791 under the leadership of a Jamaican voodoo priest named Boukman. Boukman and mambo Cécile Fatiman worked together and held the first Voudou ceremony at Bois Caima to initiate the start of the Haitian Revolution. The priest taught their followers how to use herbs and other natural resources to fight off their enemy’s. Boukman and about two thousand followers went around the northern part of Saint-Dominique and began to poison overseers, burn down plantations, and kill off white’s and mulattos that would oppose their freedom. It is said that Boukman asked all followers to cast aside the God given to them by their oppressors, and to call upon a God that would be in favor of their interest.
Within months of starting the slave revolt, the French had caught and killed Boukman. His head was cut off and put on a stake as an example to scare off the possibility of any future insurrections.
After the death of Boukman, Toussaint Louventure rose to become the new leader of the Haitian Revolution. Louventure rose quickly in the military ranks and became a very effective leader in the revolution before his demise. He was the leader of the army from 1791 until about 1802.
The French saw the uprising as a threat towards their wealth and recognized Toussaint as a threat to their power structure in Haiti as well as surrounding islands.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte the French military leader, sent for Toussaint Louventure to come to France, where Toussaint was eventually captured and starved to death.
The death of Louventure brought forth a new general by the name of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines was the driving force behind the win against the French, he understood that you could not negotiate with Europeans, he understood that they only recognized force. After successfully fighting off the invaders and forcing them off the island, Dessalines named the colony after the original name the native Taino people called it which was Ayiti.
In 1805 Jean-Jacques Dessalines promulgated the Constitution of Independence abolishing slavery forever. The constitution declared the citizens of the joint island formally called St. Domingo (Dominican Republic) would become part of Hayit’s empire, also making it a free sovereign state, relieved from any power in the universe. No man was considered to be a Haitian if he wasn’t a good son, father, husband, or solider. Parents are not allowed to disinherit their children. No White man of any nation shall step foot on the province with the title proprietor or master or shall he own any land on the island.
The constitution did not cast out all white people. The article did not affect the white woman who was already naturalized by the Haitian government or their children. Polanders and Germans were also excluded from the article and were allowed to stay in the colony.
Prior to his death, Dessalines ordered to death nearly 5,000 white children, women, and men for fear that the French would return and reinstate slavery. This call ended in Dessalines losing his life to his own army men who killed and dismembered his body.
What can we learn from the Haitian Revolution:
1. In order to come together as one, we need to be able to put aside our individual beliefs.
Blacks and mulattoes came together to fight for their freedom despite their differences in rank on the plantation. Both parties cast aside any opposing beliefs and engaged in the ancient African Spiritual system to achieve freedom for all blacks.
2. We don’t need a leader, just a common goal.
There were many leaders that stepped up to command during the Haitian Revolution, many did not live long enough to see the end results. It does not matter if you consider yourself the best, smartest, or cutest leader. What matters is that you live out your purpose and bring whatever it is that your soul possesses to the table while we manifest new beginnings.
3. If your leader happens to die, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of your fight.
Pay homage and keep the fight going. Simple.