Category Archives: Radio Haiti

Radio Haiti on YouTube? An Archive in the World

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist

Radio Haiti on YouTube? Now there’s an idea…. When the Radio Haiti team at the Rubenstein Library embarked on a pilot project to see how the collection would perform on YouTube and the Internet Archive, we imagined it would be a fairly straightforward process, and that it was a natural fit.  The idea for the pilot, funded as part of an NEH grant, came from discussions around how to effectively re-broadcast the archive.  “Take the archive to its listeners,” was a rallying cry, “to Haitians in Haiti!”  This approach captured the spirit of Radio Haiti, whose tireless advocacy for democracy in Haiti was brought to a halt only by assassinations and death threats carried out under an umbrella of impunity.  With our pilot now complete, we are left with some expectations unfulfilled, some questions still unresolved.  But even so, we learned a lot about the process, while enjoying one unqualified success.

If research libraries are square pegs, YouTube is the round hole.  Librarians and archivists love metadata, YouTube loves “views.”  Researchers and users love a good search tool, YouTube loves to put your eyes on ads.  The differences between the missions of an ad-supported social media platform and a dot-EDU library have the potential to obscure the common goal of content delivery.  We knew using YouTube, if not exactly a deal with a devil, demanded compromise and creative thinking.  The first challenge was finding workflows that we could apply to the entire archive, including batch conversion of audio to video and bulk uploading of content and metadata.  It was with the metadata where we started running into trouble.  With paltry character limits on titles, descriptions, and keywords, YouTube left us scratching our head (when video is clearly the data hog, how does text get such short shrift?) and scrambling for a solution to provide adequate description for the recordings.  The situation seemed especially acute because our Radio Haiti metadata is trilingual (English, Haitian Creole, French), and takes a lot of text space to accommodate our anticipated user populations.  Ultimately we built in a default: every description that exceeded the 5000-character limit had an ellipsis added to the end along with a link to the Duke Digital Repository (DDR) page for that recording, so that, on YouTube, we still depended on the Library resource for full description.

View the YouTube pilot here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLUqSmRQNALyrAMYxV44JOQ/videos

The Internet Archive, as its name might suggest, was far more accommodating, offering robust metadata fields without the ads or YouTube’s relentless “Up Next” pushiness.  It has the spirit and ethic of our great public libraries, with a dedication to the public weal.  Radio Haiti would be far from its first radio archive, and its mission, like any real archive’s, is long-term preservation.  There were only two downsides to the Internet Archive platform, and the first one it shared with YouTube:  There was no way to group related recordings (for example, multipart programs) via a relator metadata field in the upload spreadsheet.  That work would have to be done “manually,” in the description field, which might not be a big deal if there were 100 or so recordings, but the Radio Haiti Archive has 5,308 audio files.  Needless to say, the relationships between files that our DDR could make would not be replicated on these platforms.  The second, more obvious downside, is that for all its virtues the Internet Archive just doesn’t have the audiences that YouTube, media titan, boasts.

View the Internet Archive Pilot here: https://archive.org/details/radiohaiti

And that one unqualified, and unexpected, success? Our team of developers, driven by this pilot project to compress the digital footprint of Duke Digital Repository pages, thus decreasing load times in areas with limited digital infrastructure, made successful modifications repository-wide to the DDR. Data transfer required for a first-time visit was cut to as much as one sixth of the original size, meaning users’ browsers could render the site much faster and, in Haiti, where mobile data transfer is limited by plans that are typically purchased daily, more cheaply. So, while allowing faster load times in Haiti for our re-broadcasting of the Radio Haiti Archive, they also made the DDR as a whole more efficient.  For me, this is a great example of a specific need driving innovation. The Radio Haiti project improved the delivery of Duke University Libraries’ digital resources while also providing the opportunity for our team to see both the trees and the forest in our work.

The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Radio Haiti and NEH logos

Documenting Radio Haïti-Inter’s Time in Exile (1981-1986) Using Lè Ayisyen’s Archive

Post contributed by Ayanna Legros Doctoral Student in the History Department at Duke

In New York City, Radio Haïti-Inter staff joined musicians, writers, professionals, and other Haitian exiles who had fled the Duvalier regime (1957-1986). Barbershops, cafés, bookstores, churches and street corners became stages for Haitians to passionately debate politics and the future of the nation. While newspapers such as Haïti Observateur, Haïti Tribune, Haïti Progrès, and Sèl circulated around the Upper West Side of Manhattan, offering exiles room to present opinions, radio provided members of the Haitian community a sonic space to grapple with the realities of their homeland while also discussing strategies for combatting racism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, and the linguistic privileging of the French language over Kreyòl. Kreyòl – the national language of Haitians – connected exiles across differing class and educational statuses. While some radio programs operated with licensing, others bypassed state and institutional regulation to avoid surveillance and penalization for usage of airwaves.

One radio station that rose to prominence was Lè Ayisyen, a Haitian Creole radio show run out of Columbia University between 1969 – 2002. Like Radio Haïti Inter, Lè Ayisyen staffers and volunteers understood that Haiti’s issues had to be interconnected with the democratic struggles of Central American, Caribbean, Latin American, and African nations. Conflict in nations ranging from Nicaragua to Eritrea were documented and shared with the community. The founder of the program, Lionel Legros, stated during an oral history interview that he wanted listeners to understand “The United States was not going to save Haiti.”[2] In other words, Haitians should to be cautious of U.S. involvement in the region – Haitian exiles were aware that Cold War politics dictated the U.S.’ rapport with its Caribbean neighbor.

In November 1981, one year after living in New York in exile, Jean Dominique participated in an interview with Daniel Huttinot on Lè Ayisyen. Huttinot asked Dominique about his silence, the state of Haiti, and his perception of democratic movements. Dominique replied with messages of hope in the diaspora while also expressing frustration in lacking his own station. After two years, Jean Dominique came back on the air, on a program called Radio Haiti in New York (Radyo Ayiti nan Nouyòk) on WNYE 91.5FM. a non-commercial independent radio station licensed through City University of New York (CUNY). Co-hosted by Jean Dominique and Anthony Pascal (aka Konpè Filo), the program surveyed issues impacting the everyday lives of Haitians in the early 1980s such as immigration, HIV/AIDS stigma, and the murder of Firmin Joseph, founder of the weekly newspaper Tribune d’Haïti.

Document about the Duvalier regime and repression of Haitian journlalists
Source: Radio Haïti Archives
Duke University

Daniel Huttinot many years later recalls the impact of Lè Ayisyen on the Haitian community in New York stating that they had “loyal listeners” for years and would regularly host Haitian exiles on their program seeking to share about their experiences back home.[3] Further discussion about the collection with researcher Jennifer Garcon, PhD, as well as Radio Haïti-Inter archivist, Laura Wagner, PhD, demonstrate the force of radio within the Caribbean and the diaspora. Laura and I for several Saturdays went through the Lè Ayisyen collection and unbeknownst to us discovered many Radio Haïti in New York cassettes, adding to the robust collection already housed at Duke. These cassettes offer valuable information about Reagan’s policies in Central American and the Caribbean countries and the enormous contributions of exile voices to the ousting of Jean-Claude Duvalier 7 February 1986.

Cassette tapes
Some recovered Radio Haïti New York tapes found in L’Heure Haïtienne’s Collection
Labeled: Jan ak Filo (Jean and Filo) or Radio Haïti Nan Nouyòk (Radio Haïti in New York)

Radio Haïti in New York tapes will soon be digitized and made available. The vast majority of Lè Ayisyen’s collection remains independent and unprocessed. Both collections will offer researchers access to an important chapter in New York City Haitian migration history. Bridging the Lè Ayisyen archive with Radio Haïti Inter’s fills an important gap in the Radio Haïti Archive. Values such as tèt ansanm (heads together) and collaborative working practices in archival preservation and academic work are continued necessities particularly in the rapidly paced digital age in which data collection and digitization present libraries and researchers a new set of challenges.[4] The practice of tèt ansanm by historians, archivists, and data collectors will continue to be necessary in order to create solutions for the impending challenges of the digital age.

Patrick Elie, Lionel Legros, Jean Dominique
Patrick Elie, Lionel Legros, Jean Dominique ((Jean Dominique’s second exile in the 1990’s)
New York City

 

 

[1] Demme, Jonathan, director. The Agronomist. 2003.

[2] Legros, Lionel, phone interview, April 20, 2019

[3] Huttinot, Daniel, interview, August 2, 2017

[4] Lara Putnam, The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast, The American Historical Review, Volume 121, Issue 2, April 2016, Pages 377–402, https://doi-org.proxy.lib.duke.edu/10.1093/ahr/121.2.377

11 of My Favorite Haitian Creole Expressions from the Radio Haiti Archive

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist

Processing the archive of Radio Haïti-Inter can be difficult work. The collection is filled with human rights violations, suffering, injustice, and death — including both the repression that the station’s journalists covered and the repression they personally endured. Yet despite the heaviness of the subject matter, listening to Radio Haiti is often joyful. Jean Dominique is the single most expressive person I have ever had the privilege of spending time with. (He was, in the words of his friend Jonathan Demme, “an absolute theater superstar waiting to happen.”)  In French, he’d quote Henri de Montherlant and La Rochefoucauld. In Haitian Creole, he’d draw on the language’s evocative proverbs and expressions. Creole is a language of poetry and double meanings, of metaphor and dissembling, of mawonaj.

As I head into my last week on the Radio Haiti project, I wanted to emphasize a lighter side of the project and share some wonderful Haitian Creole phrases. I’ve also learned some fantastic French terms over the course of this project (like scélérat – a villain! often paired with mediocre, because to Jean Dominique, mediocre was one of the worst things a person could be. Or histrion, a buffoon; scribouillard, a penpusher; or crêpage de chignons, a catfight!). But, as I said, in this list I’m going to concentrate on the Creole expressions that I’ve picked up along the way, not only from Jean Dominique, but also from Michèle Montas, J.J. Dominique, Konpè Filo, and other members of the Radio Haiti team, as well as some of the people they interviewed.

    1. Sòt pa touye w, men li fè w swè – Literally, stupidity won’t kill you, but it’ll make you sweat. My personal mantra every time I made a mistake while processing the Radio Haiti collection. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: stupidity isn’t fatal, but it creates a lot more work for you.
    2. Sezi kou berejèn – Very surprised; literally, surprised as an eggplant. I have no idea why.
    3. Depi djab te kaporal – Literally, “ever since the Devil was a corporal.” Figuratively, since the beginning of time. I’m told that’s because the Devil has been a general for a long time, so if he was a low-ranking officer, that must have been a very long time ago.
    4. Mare sòsis – Literally, to tie your sausage together with someone else’s. Figuratively, to be in cahoots with someone.
    5. M a di w sa Kasayòl te di bèf la – Literally, “I’m going to tell you what Cassagnol told the cow.” When you want to curse someone out without doing it directly. No one knows who Cassagnol was, or what he told the cow, but we can only imagine that it was very bad indeed.
    6. Pitit trannde dan – Literally, “a child with thirty-two teeth.” In a report from 1979 by Konpè Filo, sex workers from Port-au-Prince explained that they referred to their pimps as “children with thirty-two teeth” because they were all grown up but still depended on women for everything.
    7. Benyen san kache lonbrit – Literally, bathing without hiding your belly button. Letting it all hang out, not having any secrets.
    8. Panzou – Traditionally, a children’s game in which you slap someone’s hand, often to make them drop something. Panzou came to mean coup d’état, referring to the way the army seized power from Haiti’s democratically-elected government in 1991. The perpetrators of the coup, accordingly, were panzouyis (panzouists).
    9. Mete absè sou klou – Literally, putting an abcess on top of a boil. Figuratively, making a bad situation worse.
    10. Nou se lanmè, nou pa kenbe kras – A proverb, and of Radio Haiti’s slogans. Literally “We are like the sea, we wash away the dirt.” It means “we reveal the truth, we don’t keep secrets.”
    11. Nou pa manje lajan Chango, nou pa manje manje bliye – Literally, “we don’t consume Chango’s money, we don’t eat the food of forgetfulness.” Figuratively, “we’re not taking part in corruption and we never forget.” Chango is a Vodou lwa known for his anger. If you take Chango’s money, you have to be prepared to do something in exchange. The original expression is Lè w manje lajan Chango, fò w peye Chango (“When you use Chango’s money, you better pay Chango back.”)
    12. Degi – A small bonus, like a baker’s dozen. (This twelfth entry on a list of eleven is your degi!) I knew this word before, from every time I’ve bought rice or beans in a Haitian market, but I did not know that degi comes from the Fon language of West Africa, as Jean Dominique learned when he interviewed the ambassador from Benin, Patrice Houngavou, in 1978.

A Note from Rubenstein Staff: Laura, we will miss you! Thank you for your incredible and invaluable work on this massive and complicated project.  We are so lucky to have pote kole with you these past few years. Because of your hard work, expertise, and passion, the Radio Haiti Archive  is accessible to people all over the world. How amazing is that?! We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about your future endeavors.

The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Event: Radio Haiti Culminating Event with Haitian Journalist and Human Rights Activist Michèle Montas

What: Radio Haiti Project Culminating Event: A Conversation with Michéle Montas

When: 5:30 PM, Thursday, April 11

Where: Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Bay 4 (C105) Smith Warehouse, 114 S Buchanan BLVD, Durham, NC 27701

Haitian journalist and human rights activist Michéle Montas discusses the legacy of Radio Haïti-Inter, Radio Haiti’s archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, and the past, present, and future of justice and impunity in Haiti. With additional remarks by Laurent Dubois, Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, and AV archivist Craig Breaden. Light refreshments. Free and open to the public.Poster for Radio Haiti Event

The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Radio Activism and the Politics of Grassroots Change

Post contributed by Jennifer Garcon, Bollinger Fellow in Public and Community Data Curation at Penn Libraries

One morning in July 1965, an unfamiliar voice radiated from the transistor radios of Port-au-Prince residents. Rather than hearing pre-recordings of President-for-Life, François Duvalier, residents heard the dissenting voices of exiles based in New York. The program, La Voix de l’Union Haïtienne Internationale, would become known as Radio Vonvon.  While they must have immediately recognized the dangers of tuning in, people unearthed radios hidden in kitchens and in bathrooms, and continued to listen to the clandestine program each Sunday, “to listen to words of hope about one day ending this nightmare, in the words of New York-based Haitian journalist Ricot Dupuy. This, I argue, was a political act.

My doctoral research explores how journalists deployed various media strategies to mobilize their audiences against dictatorship in Haiti. I centralize broadcasting because, I argue, 1) radio was, and in many places, remains a powerful cultural force; 2) the medium was easily accessible and widely available, and thus had unparalleled democratic appeal and influence; and 3) radio, unlike print media, does not require literacy as a prerequisite for participation. Radio, particularly Kreyòl language broadcasting, was a platform that embodies equity and democratized politics; and vernacular radio archives reflect this inclusion.

From a material culture standpoint, reduced cost and increased post-WWII supply transformed radio technology into a crucial instrument of struggle in Cold War Latin America, and elsewhere in the Global South. As historian Alejandra Bronfman reminds us in Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean, “the sounds of radio are [by their very nature of production and dissemination] ephemeral.” For that reason alone, the comprehensiveness of the Radio Haiti Records are indeed exceptional.

Using a sampling of the approximately 5300 recordings and 191 boxes of paper documents that constitute the Radio Haiti archives —  spanning  field reports, editorials, investigative reports, in-studio interviews, and special programming —  I built an argument that reframes the everyday activities of ordinary people as political activity and agitation.

Investigating radio listening as a form of political engagement allows for a more granular examination of the transformation of civil society that I argue occurred between 1971 and 1987, during the presidency of Jean-Claude Duvalier and in the immediate aftermath of his fall from power. This, I contend, challenges the scholarly interpretations that mischaracterize peasants as politically inert throughout much of the Duvalier era, until the killing of three schoolboys in Gonaïves on November 28, 1985 (the Twa Flè Lespwa, or Three Flowers of Hope). In contrast, my research charts broad domestic ferment on the air-waves. Radio media, in addition to independent vernacular print outlets, offered a space where dispersed sectors of the Haitian population could critique and challenge state power. Radio records have helped to offer insights into patterns of open opposition to government excess that predate the 1985 killings. These included reactions to the murder of the young journalist Gasner Raymond, who was killed after investigating workers’ strikes at the state-owned cement factory in 1976;  rice farmers’ revolts against repressive local Macoutes in the Artibonite between 1977 and 1979; peasant farmers’ and workers’ opposition to Reynolds Haitian Mines in Miragoâne; attempted coups in 1981 and 1982, and anti-government bombings between 1980 and 1983.

Radio programming offered a discursive public space in which to practice one’s politics, where few other avenues remained. Having grown used to practicing forbidden forms of citizenship on the airwaves, this radio activism soon moved onto the streets. In the popular movement that uprooted Duvalierism, the Haitian majority– Kreyòl speaking peasant farmers, agricultural day laborers, and urban workers—who had once formed bases of support for the regime now demanded the end of the dictatorship. I plot the emergence of a nearly decade and a half long grassroots political movement against Jean-Claude Duvalier by examining radio media to show  how ordinary people first negotiated the terms of their citizenship within an authoritarian system, and later struggled to uproot that system in its entirety.

The complete audio archive of Radio Haiti will soon be available to the public via Duke’s Digital Repository, which will be an unparalleled resource for historians and other researchers interested in radio, political resistance, and the circulation of information in Haiti and in the Haitian diaspora.

When Beale Street Spoke in Haiti: From Port-au-Prince to the Oscars

This is a guest blog post by Nathan Dize, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University specializing in Haitian literature and history.

Cover of Baldwin's novel, "If Beale Street Could Talk"
First edition of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

Twenty-eight days after the passing of James Baldwin, on December 28, 1987, Haitian writers Jan J. Dominique and Yanick Lahens and their cohost, bookseller Monique Lafontant, paid homage to the African American writer with a discussion of the significance of his novel If Beale Street Could Talk on Radio Haïti Inter’s weekly cultural program, Entre Nous. Set in New York City, the novel focuses on the lives of childhood friends-turned-lovers Tish and Fonny as they prepare to welcome their first child. The two are suddenly separated when Fonny is arrested and accused for the alleged rape of a Puerto Rican woman. Tish narrates the story as both her and Fonny’s families attempt to prove the young Black man’s innocence. Yanick Lahens begins with her review of the book, followed by a brief discussion of Baldwin’s literary career.

For Lahens, Beale Street is a “faithful and realistic portrait” of the generation of the Great Migration where African Americans moved to northern and industrial cities in the Midwest as a response to the tightening of Jim Crow legislation and racial violence in the South. More importantly, Lahens explains that the literary strength of the novel lies in the way it presents an “evolution of hope or extreme despair” as the plot unfolds. She argues that readers never completely slip into despair, yet readers cannot enjoy hopeful moments long enough to sustain a sense of optimism that Fonny will ever be freed from prison.

Photograph of James Baldwin.
Back cover of James Balwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

In recent weeks, If Beale Street Could Talk has again been on the tips of critics’ tongues as Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the novel was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Critics of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-nominated adaptation of Beale Street have also focused on Baldwin’s ability to productively operate between the poles of hope and despair. While some reviewers bristle at how some of the novel’s more severe moments, like Tish and Fonny’s first sexual encounter, “shimmer romantically in Jenkins’ film,” other parts of the film faithfully reach for Baldwin’s depth of blues and melancholy. Back in 1987, Yanick Lahens explained that readers immediately encounter despair “from the first lines [of the novel] we see that this young man will never leave prison.”[1] Baldwin’s novel exposes the “judiciary machine” in the United States that gives the semblance of hope, but that will ultimately never let him go or leave the two families unscathed.[2]

Towards the end of her review, Lahens explains that the accents, the sounds, the feelings of the blues permeate Baldwin’s writing. These “accents of the blues” in Beale Street are found in the characters’ despair and bitterness in the face of Fonny’s imprisonment. In an essay from his collection Nobody Knows My Name, James Baldwin writes about his discovery of the language of the blues through the music of Bessie Smith, which Lahens reads in French:

“It was Bessie Smith, through her tone and her cadence, who helped me to dig back to the way I myself must have spoken when I was a pickaninny, and to remember the things I had heard and seen and felt. I had buried them very deep […] I had never listened to Bessie Smith in America (in the same way that, for years, I never touched watermelon), but in Europe she helped me to reconcile myself to being a ‘nigger.’”

Photo of audio cassette tape.
Tape from the Radio-Haiti show Entre Nous. The title reads “Prix Deschamps 1987” (Jacques Godart) et Baldwin.

Some critics have claimed that Barry Jenkins’ adaptation is a failure, that Baldwin deserves better. “Is [Jenkins’] movie too beautiful?” Doreen St. Félix writes for the New Yorker. St. Félix agrees that film adaptations do not have to remain faithful to the text; they are adaptations, after all. But, the point where Lahens’ reading of Baldwin’s blues coincides with Jenkins’ film is perhaps best captured when Fonny’s old friend, the good-natured and affable Daniel, played by Brian Tyree Henry, tells Fonny about his arrest. St. Félix explains that this scene “is washed in a darkness that is incongruous with the rest of the film’s palette.” In the novel, Baldwin sounds the depths of despair as Daniel confesses that he was gang-raped in prison, instead Jenkins renders this aesthetically with color saturation. In his own right, Henry’s portrayal of Daniel’s character had many critics calling for him to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category. Brian Tyree Henry expertly contrasts moments of superficial cheer with sullen, vacant looks through clouds of cigarette smoke to convey Daniel’s fractured dignity. Beyond Henry’s performance, Regina King’s wails from the streets of Viejo San Juan also supremely express what Lahens describes as “all the accents of the blues,” earning her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Still image of Brian Tyree Henry.
Brian Tyree Henry in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) (Photo courtesy of Awardscircuit.com)

Baldwin’s discovery of the blues in the Swiss Alps is remarkable for Lahens, Dominique, and Lafontant who consider James Baldwin as a writer of the African American Diaspora. The three conclude the segment by comparing Baldwin to Haitian writers forced to flee the successive dictatorial regimes of François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier. For many of the journalists and employees of Radio Haïti Inter, forced exile remained an open wound as the station had just re-opened the previous year in October 1986. Decades later, when the radio station finally shuttered its doors, Jan J. Dominique herself would also eventually go into exile in Montreal in 2003, fleeing a violent climate towards the press that led to the assassination of her father, Radio Haiti director Jean Dominique, on April 3, 2000.

As I listened to this review on the eve of the 91st Academy Awards, I was reminded of the importance of James Baldwin in global expressions of Blackness in literature, how artists and writers have thought through and with Baldwin even after his passing. I am also reminded of the significance of the recording’s survival through the efforts of project archivist Laura Wagner and the other archivists, librarians, and graduate and undergraduates working at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The review of If Beale Street Could Talk is but the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as a search in the Duke University Libraries Digital Repository leads to more than 4,000 individual recordings of cultural, historical, literary, and journalistic reportages from 1957-2003. At present, an excess of 4,800 of an approximate 5,300 recordings have been described and are either available or will be available online for listening this spring. So, as you process the results of this year’s Academy Awards, be sure to make a visit to the Radio Haiti Archives catalog and browse their collection that has just as much to do with Haiti’s past as it does with our cultural and historical present in 2019.

[1] “Dès la première ligne [du roman] on voit que ce bonhomme ne sortira pas de prison…”

[2] Yanick Lahens refers to the US judicial system a “machine judiciaire.”

Providing Access to Radio Haiti Through Multilingual Metadata

Post contributed by Maggie Dickson, Metadata Architect, Digital Collections and Curation Services

As the metadata architect in the Digital Collections and Curation Services Department at Duke University Libraries, I have the opportunity to work on the design and development of many fabulous digital collections. This includes the Radio Haiti Archive, which has been one of the most interesting—and challenging—projects I’ve worked on throughout my 10+ years of working with digital collections.

Over the past few years, we’ve been standardizing our metadata practices across digital collections so that they will be more scalable and sustainable—we’ve learned the hard way that the more specialized a collection is, the more prone it is to breakages and difficulties over time. The Radio Haiti project needs are really specialized, and the metadata (description) is rich, granular, and multilingual. So, striking the right balance between standardization and specialization is definitely a challenge.

One of the foundational goals of the NEH grant we received for our work with Radio Haiti is to make sure that the collection is accessible to people in Haiti as well as the Haitian diaspora, and therefore we needed to provide description in three languages: English, Haitian Creole, and French. While we’d worked with metadata in multiple languages before, we’d never worked with trilingual content, and the technology we use to present and manage our digital collections doesn’t accommodate multilingual metadata in a sophisticated way. To get around this, rather than create lots of custom metadata fields just for this collection, we decided to use our standard fields, such as title, description, and subject, to store the multilingual content. The metadata displays in the item record and is keyword searchable and, in the case of subjects and formats, faceted. This isn’t the most elegant solution, but it works, and when the digital library community develops support for multilingual content, we will be ready!

Subject headings in English, French, and Haitian Creole.
Example multilingual subject headings.

 

Beyond figuring out how to present the metadata to users of the archive, it has also been an ongoing challenge to figure out how to manage the workflow for the development of the metadata—not only is it complex, it is voluminous! Created iteratively by project archivist Laura Wagner and her team of intrepid translators, the metadata passes through several hands and undergoes quite a few transformations before it is ready to go live on the website. Therefore, it has been critically important that we continuously review and revise our process to make sure nothing gets lost or distorted along the way. So many spreadsheets!

Spreadsheet with complex metadata.
An example snapshot of one of our many spreadsheets.

Through much careful consideration and many meetings with project staff, I think we’ve achieved a good balance between meeting project needs and being responsible to the long-term health and sustainability of this and other digital collections. That being said, we still recognize the inherent limitations to providing broad accessibility to this important content—despite the inclusion of multilingual metadata in the digital collection, it is still embedded in a predominantly English language website for an academic research institution located in the United States. And as project archivist Laura Wagner stated in an earlier blog post, “Radio Haiti’s digital archive is not only for scholars writing about Haiti; it isn’t even principally for them. It is for everyone.”

We’re experimenting with a few options to try to address this limitation, including engaging in ‘digital repatriation’ by distributing flash drives loaded with content to cultural heritage organizations in Haiti, standing up pilot collections of the content to reach a broader audience using YouTube and the Internet Archive, and improving the performance of the digital collection in low-bandwidth environments.

Working on the Radio Haiti Archive has been a challenge both in technological ways as well as how we think about collections, collecting, and access. Providing broad, equitable access to our digital collections, through our use of metadata and otherwise, is an intense and critical challenge, but one which we are beginning to tackle with intentionality and enthusiasm.

The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Discovering Haitian Culture One Sentence at a Time: A Translator’s Journey in the Radio Haiti Archive

Post contributed by Eline Roillet, Translator for the Radio Haiti Archive

Person with headphones sitting at a computer.
Eline Roillet translating Radio Haiti broadcast descriptions from English to French.

“What do you know about Haiti?“ asked Laura during my interview in September 2017. I knew it was a Caribbean country where Creole was spoken; I knew it had suffered a devastating earthquake almost a decade ago; and I knew it struggled economically. And that was about all I knew.

“Well,” she said, “you’re going to learn a lot more”.

And thus began my journey with Radio Haiti. As a French Master’s student in literature, I am in charge of translating thousands of broadcast descriptions from English to French. I love translation. It requires not only the ability to understand the sentences in a text, but their very essence too, and in turn to channel this essence into another dialect. Spelling, conjugation and vocabulary are crucial, of course, but to be a good translator, one must also look beyond the words and explore the context.

Text in English, Creole, and French.
Description in three languages for the digitized radio drama about the Battle of Vertières.

The very first description I translated was about the Battle of Vertières which I promptly researched in order to make sense of who Jean Jacques Dessalines was and his significance for Haiti. To my astonishment, the battle was fought between the Haitian rebels and the French colonial army. In all my years in the French educational system, I was never taught about French colonialism. I never knew Haiti was the first successful slave revolution, nor that France asked for an independence debt, which greatly contributed to Haiti’s economic woes.

Two stacks of boxes holding audio reels.
Newly restored and digitized audio reels from the Radio Haiti Archive.

I felt like I was learning a whole new history, one much less European-centric. Over the course of the last 13 months, I got acquainted with Erzulie and the other Lwa; I admired paintings by the Mouvement Saint-Soleil; I was introduced to the liberation theology; and I learned about how the US devised strategies to control and influence the Western hemisphere. What an eye-opening experience!

This new knowledge has changed the way I think about Haitian history and spilled over in to my everyday life, sometimes in unintended ways. For example, I recently met a Dominican young woman at a bar and when she announced her nationality, I eagerly asked her what her take on antihaitianismo was, upon which she looked at me like I had three heads and declared “This is not the kind of thing I want to discuss at a club.”

Still, the Radio Haiti project has taught me more than I ever could have thought about history, geopolitics, and the cultural context of 1970-2000, and I can honestly say that I am learning more and more every day.

Mèsi anpil Laura and Radio Haiti staff for the experience!

The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Learning to Listen: A Student Assistant’s Experience in the Radio Haiti Archive

Post contributed by Tanya Thomas, Radio Haiti Student Assistant

Photo of Tanya outside beside a blossoming bush.
Student Assistant Tanya Thomas.

As a Haitian-American raised in Miramar, FL and Petit-Goâve, Haiti, moving to Durham, NC in 2013 for my freshman year at Duke was a culture shock. For one thing, I learned the hard way that ordering patties from a restaurant menu meant getting the ground beef portion of a burger, not a deliciously deep-fried, meat-filled Caribbean staple. As I began to settle into life at Duke and in Durham as a pre-med student majoring in International Comparative Studies with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean, I started working on the Rubenstein Library’s Radio Haiti Archive project. The main part of my job was to listen to interviews from Haiti’s first independent radio station, Radio Haiti-Inter, a station that ran from the early 1970s to 2003, finally closing a few years after the assassination in spring 2000 of the station’s director, the agronomist-turned-journalist Jean Dominique. Working on the Radio Haiti project was my work-study job, but the job meant so much more to my Duke experience than extra cash. It gave me the opportunity to explore and understand the history of my homeland, which is why when I graduated in 2017, I wanted to keep working on the project, even while applying to medical school and working as a medical scribe in Miami.

Web page that includes description in English and Haitian Creole.
A screenshot of an interview described by Tanya Thomas in the Radio Haiti Archive.

As an assistant for the Radio Haiti Archive, part of what I do is listen to Jean Dominique’s daily Face à l’Opinon interviews. I then describe these interviews in English and Haitian Creole so that anyone, from academics who study Haitian history to someone curious about twentieth century Haitian life, can browse and learn. I tag the relevant topic, place, and name labels to go with the descriptions. What made Radio Haiti special was the fact that Jean Dominique interviewed peasant farmers and grassroots activists just as often as he did political leaders and members of the intellectual and economic elite. It’s one thing for a renowned journalist to interview a member of parliament about how a policy affects peasants. It’s another to interview a rice farmer and local activist about how government organizations are actually impacting their livelihoods. No social position was too small to be heard on Radio Haiti. Listening to hundreds of these interviews helped me gain skills and insights that I will use moving forward as a doctor who aims to provide care to underserved populations.

Tanya and Laura sitting back-to-back in a work cubicle.
Tanya Thomas working with Laura Wagner, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.

As a medical scribe, I work in the consult room as the patient is being seen by the doctor. I listen to their health concerns in real-time and type their symptoms and relevant information about their life circumstances into their electronic medical record. In the summarizing sections of the notes, I condense the entire visit to the patient’s most pressing symptoms. I also record what the doctor tells me that she or he finds during the physical examination, and the treatment plan they decided on with the patient. I write these notes not only for the doctor’s own reference, but also for anyone with access to the patient’s record. For example, this could be a paramedic taking a seriously ill patient to the hospital, or a judge in a court of law if the visit were to come up in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

In that respect, medically scribing a patient encounter is quite like describing Radio Haiti recordings. In both these jobs, my notes must be clear enough to lay out the situation so that someone reading what I wrote for the first time can be caught up enough to know what the most pressing thing that happened was, and what related issues can be investigated for further context. Though I am a subjective human being, I must faithfully and dispassionately communicate what happened and who said it with as little subjective input as possible. Whether listening to descriptions of injustice and human rights violations in the Radio Haiti materials, or creating a record of the pain and suffering of a patient in the clinic, it can be difficult to keep my emotions from clouding my understanding of events, but critical distance remains crucial to the work at hand. Moreover, the patients we served in the Miami clinic were, like many of the people Jean Dominique interviewed at Radio Haiti, people who are excluded from the political process or silenced in clinical encounters: immigrants, undocumented people, people who do not speak English, and poor people. I have learned to balance the processing of personal information with the larger social responsibility of providing a service to the marginalized, and this skill is something I will keep nurturing throughout medical school and beyond.  As I reflect on this past year and prepare to start medical school this month, I realize that by working as a medical scribe and an assistant for the Radio Haiti Archive the most important skill I have learned this year has been listening. As one of Radio Haiti’s old jingles went, “Radyo Ayiti: anvan nou pale, nou koute w!” (“Radio Haiti: before we speak, we listen to you!”)

The Rubenstein Library staff, and particularly the Radio Haiti team (Laura Wagner, Craig Breaden, Patrick Stawski, Sarah Schmidt, and Naomi Nelson) would like to congratulate Tanya on starting medical school at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine this week! We are proud of you, we appreciate everything you’ve done for this project, and we wish you bon chans as you undertake this next exciting step.

The processing of the Radio Haiti Archive and the Radio Haiti Archive digital collection were made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Jean Dominique on Collective Passion and Geopolitics in Haiti during the 1998 World Cup

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist

In a 13 July 1998 editorial, Jean Dominique of Radio Haïti-Inter reflected on the geopolitical implications of World Cup soccer, focusing in particular on Haitian love for the Brazilian national team. This passion, and the political ramifications of soccer, continue to this day. Just last week, the Haitian government raised gas prices during the Brazil-Belgium World Cup match, in very wrongheaded hopes that people would be too distracted to notice.

Transcript of original editorial, translated from French:

“La France Métisse”: this is the headline splashed across the front page of an Italian newspaper. “Long live King Zidane,” says the one in Algiers – Zidane is of Algerian descent. The victory of the French team yesterday presents certain social dilemmas: Jean-Marie Le Pen’s[1] blood must have boiled to see the Stade de France streaming with black people and beurs (beurs are French people of North African descent). Soccer is no mere sport ; it is something else as well, and the World Cup has geopolitical implications. But in Port-au-Prince, one has to wonder about the phenomenon of Haitians willing to shed their blood for Brazil or Argentina. At first glance, this appears quite strange. In the aftermath of the World Cup, would it not be thrilling and fun to examine how things unfolded at home and elsewhere, beyond technical and professional terms and 4-2-4 formations, penalties, red cards, or semi-finalists?

Flags painted on a brick wall.
Brazillian, Haitian, and Argentine flags. Photograph by Laura Wagner, 2011.

If the vast majority of Haitians are as head-over-heels in love with Ronaldo as are the residents of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, we should seek the cause of this phenomenon. Is it a sense of Latin-American belonging? Is it a racial reflex? — for Brazil, or at least Brazilian soccer, has been strongly permeated with African diasporic origins. Let’s not forget King Pelé or the brown-skinned Ronaldo himself. But then why would we have in our midst so many fans of Argentina, which has nothing to do with Blackness? Our fervor for and aggressive attachment to foreign soccer teams stem from other factors: outsized love for the game, of course, and in the momentary absence of a national team, the people of our land want to take part in a collective passion. We must love together. And, alas, we must also hate together.

Let us recall Carnival ‘98, let us recall those Sundays of sport and culture organized so skillfully by Dady Lescouflair[2]. Throughout all the neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, we came together to appreciate wholesomeness, sport — all sports! — and painting. And so it must be that for us, soccer draws upon collective urges that have as much to do with politics as they do with religion. Let us add immediately that in Haiti, during this month of the World Cup, the political fervor for Brazil and Argentina would seem at first glance to have nothing to do with imminent political choices; some of the candidates have even argued that soccer represents a new opium to distract the masses from pressing economic concerns… But bear with me.

A less simplistic explanation for this phenomenon should allow us to pose other questions, for Haiti’s passion for soccer retraces the very lines that define and connect our world. We should not dismiss the political ramifications: the popularity rating of Chirac and Jospin[3] and France demonstrates that a national team’s victory can be taken advantage of by politicians. But if we zoom out a little more on this World Cup, we discover first off, as did the journalists of Manière de Voir in a special edition of Le Monde Diplomatique that just happened to be devoted to this very World Cup ‘98, that there exists such a thing as a geopolitics of soccer in our world today. It is as global a phenomenon as the economy, but it differs from the globalization of the economy in a crucial way. Whereas the world economy is dominated by the United States, with Wall Street reigning supreme over the stock markets while Hollywood dictates global culture, in the world of soccer, Brazil is the superpower and the United States plays no role at all. One can see perhaps a parallel with today’s geopolitical dynamics, with the main difference being that a global superpower in soccer arouses universal goodwill and the admiration of all, which is not the case for the United States.

The latter has had some curious reactions to the World Cup. Earlier today, I recalled yesterday morning’s mise-au-point in the New York Times. I recently noted the francophobia on display in weekly and daily newspapers during the preliminary matches at the Stade de France. Subsequently, the special envoys changed course, bouncing back by highlighting France’s successful organization of the World Cup. But this only further revealed the feelings of exclusion the Yankees feel in the face of the globalization of soccer zeal. Barely 12% of viewers from New York to Los Angeles watched the games, while some thirty-eight billion people, all told, sat before their television screens around the world. A bit of humor emerges, however, from this American sense of social isolation and exclusion — these Americans who, as everyone knows, prefer baseball and American football to soccer — they call it soccer, by the way, not football. Michael Elliott, the resident francophobe at Newsweek, losing his luster, evokes the hope — wait for it — that his compatriots might start playing soccer in the future, and he adds, with a touch of humor, that it is high time for the American barbarians to begin to civilize. Let us recall with some nostalgia that even Shakespeare was anti-soccer and that in King Lear, one finds the king himself addressing a peasant — which is to say, a man of the people — as a “base football-player.” Well, well!

So, reading that declaration by Michael Elliott, with the barbarians on one side and the civilized on the other, I remembered a joke from a Marine colonel, who said of our country, quote: “How can you expect a people to evolve after nineteen years of occupation, if they have never even learned to play baseball?” A people that cannot learn to play baseball is not a civilized people, according to that Marine colonel. This World Cup has indeed avenged our footballing people…

This perhaps is taking us away from clashes between Haitian fans of Brazil and of Argentina. But have we truly departed from the questions that these strange passions present to us? A mystery remains, certainly, but the vapors of this opium will dissipate quickly, and the realities of everyday life will quickly resume. It will remain once again a diffuse state of mind. The masses of our homeland, like those elsewhere, are able to come together around a collective passion, to transform it into a sort of mobilization. And in the lingering indifference to the electoral crisis of 6 April 1997, is there not an indication of a collective awakening soon to come? It remains to be seen what the motivations of this coming awakening might be…

A taptap (elaborately-painted bus) in Port-au-Prince, decorated with images of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and other soccer images. Photograph by Laura Wagner, 2011.

Finally, a small suggestion to one and all concerning the political crisis: why should there not be a decision — at the state level obviously, parliamentary of course — to offer Ronaldo Haitian citizenship, bring him to Port-au-Prince, and then appoint him Prime Minister? But of course, there is the matter of his grandmother’s papers…[4]

Special thanks to Dr. Grégory Pierrot for transcription of the original French text. He recently reflected on race, colonial legacies, and what the 2018 French national team represents to French people of African descent over at Africa is a Country. Thanks also to Eline Roillet for help with this translation.

[1] Jean-Marie Le Pen was a far-right French politician who espoused explicitly racist beliefs.

[2] Evans “Dady” Lescouflair was Haiti’s Minister of Sports and Youth in the late 1990s.

[3] Lionel Jospin of the Parti Socialiste was the Prime Minister of France under right-wing President Jacques Chirac from 1997-2002.

[4] Ericq Pierre was appointed Prime Minister by President René Préval, only to have his nomination rejected by an obstructionist parliament because he could not prove his Haitian citizenship by producing his grandparents’ birth certificates.