Radio Haiti Archive receives second National Endowment for the Humanities grant
Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant will enable continued in-depth description of the audio archive of Radio Haïti-Inter
Durham, NC: The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is pleased to announce that the Radio Haiti Archive project has received a second grant from the NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access. While the first phase of the project, Radio Haiti, Voices of Change, focused on the physical preservation and initial description of the Radio Haiti materials, Radio Haiti, Voices of Change II: Bringing Radio Haiti Home will allow library staff to continue creating detailed trilingual description of Radio Haiti’s audio (in Haitian Creole, French, and English) and to digitally repatriate the archive to libraries, archives, cultural institutions, and community radio stations in Haiti.
For three decades, Radio Haïti-Inter was Haiti’s first and most prominent independent radio station. Under the direction of Jean Léopold Dominique and Michèle Montas, Radio Haiti was a voice of social change and democracy, speaking out against oppression and impunity while advocating for human rights and celebrating Haitian culture and heritage. On 3 April 2000, Jean Dominique was assassinated in Radio Haiti’s courtyard, and in February 2003, amid escalating threats to Radio Haiti’s journalists, the station closed for good.
Laurent Dubois, professor of history and Romance Studies and the director of Duke’s Forum for Scholars and Publics, describes Voices of Change II as a “vital project that will allow this rich archive to be made available as widely as possible, notably in Haiti itself. This is of profound importance, for having learned over the past years about the richness of the materials in the Radio Haiti collection, I consider it the most important archive on contemporary Haitian politics, history, and culture in existence.” In the words of the station’s surviving director, Michèle Montas: “It is so important that these voices, which have meant so much to so many, remain alive and vibrant in the land that created them.”
Pwojè Achiv Radyo Ayiti jwenn yon dezyèm sibvansyon National Endowment for the Humanities
Sibvansyon Humanities Collections and Reference Resources pral pemèt nou kontinye dekri achiv odyo Radyo Ayiti-Entè yo an detay
Durham, Karolin di Nò: Se avèk anpil kè kontan David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Bibliyotèk David M. Rubenstein pou Liv ak Maniskri ki Ra) anonse ke pwojè Achiv Radyo Ayiti a jwenn yon dezyèm sibvansyon NEH, nan kad Division of Preservation and Access (Divizyon Konsèvasyon ak Aksè). Tandiske premye etap pwojè a, Radio Haiti, Voices of Change (Radyo Ayiti: Vwa Chanjman) te konsantre sou konsèvasyon fizik ak deskripsyon preliminè achiv Radyo Ayiti yo, dezyèm etap la, ki rele Radio Haiti, Voices of Change II: Bringing Radio Haiti Home (Radyo Ayiti, Vwa Chanjman II: Mennen Radyo Ayiti Tounen Lakay Li) pral pemèt manm staf bibliyotèk la kontinye bay chak emisyon Radyo Ayiti deskripsyon detaye nan twa lang yo (kreyòl, franse, ak angle) epi repatriye achiv yo nan bibliyotèk, achiv, enstitisyon kiltirèl, ak radyo kominotè ann Ayiti.
Radyo Ayiti-Entè te premye radyo endepandan nan peyi d Ayiti, epi pandan trant ane li te pi koni pami tout radyo nan peyi a. Anba direksyon Jean Léopold Dominique ak Michèle Montas, Radyo Ayiti te reprezante yon vwa chanjman ak demokrasi, ki te konn denonse sistèm kraze zo ak enpinite, lite pou dwa moun, epi valorize kilti ak eritaj Ayiti a. Jou 3 avril 2000, yo te krabinen Jean Dominique nan lakou Radyo Ayiti a, epi nan mwa fevriye 2003, kòm rezilta yon dal menas jounalis Radyo Ayiti yo t ap sibi, radyo a fèmen nèt.
Laurent Dubois, pwofesè istwa ak etid lang latin yo epi direktè Forum for Scholars and Publics nan Inivèsite Duke, dekri pwojè Voices of Change II kòm yon “pwojè fondalnatal ki pral rann achiv rich disponib osi lwen ke posib, sitou ann Ayiti menm. M twouve sa gen anpil enpòtans. Pandan plizyè ane m ap aprann ki richès achiv Radyo Ayiti yo gen ladan yo, ki fè m konsidere l kòm achiv ki pi enpòtan sou politik, istwa, ak kilti Ayiti kontanporen ki egziste sou latè beni.” Nan pawòl Michèle Montas, antanke direktris sivivan radyo a: “Li kapital ke vwa sa yo, ki gen anpil enpòtans pou anpil moun, toujou rete vivan ak vif nan peyi ki te kreye yo.”
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, P.h.D., Radio Haiti Archivist
This blog post is in French and Haitian Creole as well as English. Scroll down for other languages.
Cet article de blog est écrit en français et créole haïtien en plus de l’anglais. Défilez l’écran vers le bas pour les autres langues.
Blog sa a ekri an franse ak kreyòl anplis ke angle. Desann paj la pou jwenn lòt lang yo.
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is thrilled to announce the successful completion of the first major stage of Radio Haiti: Voices of Change, made possible through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Between July 2015 and spring 2018, project archivist Laura Wagner, audiovisual archivist Craig Breaden, and a committed team of student assistants have:
completed preliminary description of the entire Radio Haiti audio collection, including nearly 4,000 open reel and cassette audio tapes
managed the cleaning and high-resolution digital preservation of the tapes at Cutting Corporation in Maryland, and secured a CLIR Recordings at Risk grant to digitize — at Northeast Document Conservation Center — recordings that had suffered acute deterioration
created additional detailed, trilingual metadata (in Haitian Creole, French, and English) for more than half of the Radio Haiti audio, now available on the Duke Digital Repository
Our student assistants and volunteers, past and present, both undergraduate and graduate, have been an invaluable part of this team. They have listened to and described Radio Haiti audio; blogged about the archive; used the materials in the archive in their own research; and brought expertise, excitement, and enthusiasm to this very rewarding but intense project. Mèsi anpil to Tanya Thomas, Krystelle Rocourt, Réyina Sénatus, Catherine Farmer, Eline Roillet, Sandie Blaise, Jennifer Garçon, and Marina Magloire for everything you have done and continue to do.
In addition to our in-house work on the archive, Laura has also conducted two outreach trips to Haiti to raise awareness of the project and to distribute flash drives to cultural institutions, libraries, community radio stations, and grassroots groups.
But the project isn’t over yet! We are currently seeking additional funding to continue in-depth detailed description of the audio.
La bibliothèque David M. Rubenstein Livres Rares & Manuscrits est fière d’annoncer le succès de la première étape du projet Radio Haiti: Voices of Change, rendu possible grâce au généreux soutien de la National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Entre juillet 2015 et mars 2018, Laura Wagner, chef de projet et Craig Breaden, archiviste audiovisuel, appuyés par une équipe d’étudiants passionnés, ont :
rédigé une description préliminaire de l’intégralité des archives audio de Radio Haïti, dont près de 4000 enregistrements sur bobines et cassettes
géré le nettoyage, la préservation et la numérisation en HD des cassettes via l’entreprise Cutting Corporation (Maryland) et digitalisé les enregistrements les plus fragiles au Northeast Document Conservation Center grâce à la bourse CLIR Recordings at Risk
créé des métadonnées trilingues (créole haïtien, français et anglais) détaillant plus de la moitié de la collection, maintenant disponibles sur Duke Digital Repository
Nos étudiants et nos volontaires, passés et présents, en licence, master et doctorat ont joué un rôle inestimable au sein de l’équipe. Ils ont écouté et décrit des centaines d’émissions de Radio Haïti, rédigé des articles de blog au sujet de la collection, utilisé les documents pour leurs propres recherches et amené leur expertise, leur enthousiasme et leur motivation à ce projet intense et très gratifiant. Mèsi anpil àTanya Thomas,Krystelle Rocourt, Réyina Sénatus, Catherine Farmer, Eline Roillet, Sandie Blaise, Jennifer Garçon et Marina Magloire pour vos précieuses contributions.
En plus du travail en interne sur la collection, Laura s’est également rendue en Haïti par deux fois afin de promouvoir le projet et de distribuer des clefs USB contenant les archives à diverses institutions culturelles, bibliothèques, stations radio locales et associations.
Mais le projet n’est pas encore terminé! Nous sommes actuellement à la recherche de financement supplémentaire pour poursuivre la description détaillée en profondeur des documents sonores.
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Bibliyotèk David. M. Rubenstein pou Liv ak Maniskri ki Ra) gen anpil kè kontan anonse ke premye etap pwojè Radio Haiti: Voices of Change (Radyo Ayiti: Vwa Chanjman) a abouti. Pwojè sa a te posib gras a finansman jenere National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) la.
Soti nan mwa jiyè 2015 rive nan prentan 2018, achivis prensipal la Laura Wagner, achivis odyovizyèl la Craig Breaden, ak yon ekip etidyan trè angaje gentan reyalize objektif swivan yo:
Yo fin fè yon premye deskripsyon sou tout dokiman sonò Radyo Ayiti yo, ki gen ladan yo prèske 4.000 bann mayetik ak kasèt
Yo jere netwayaj ak konsèvasyon dijital tout tep yo, ki te fèt nan Maryland avèk konpayi Cutting Corporation, epi yo jwenn yon sibvansyon CLIR “Recordings at Risk” pou dijitalize tep ki pi frajil epi pi domaje yo nan Northeast Document Conservation Center
Kreye deskripsyon ki pi detaye epi ki trilèng (an kreyòl, franse, ak angle) pou plis pase 50% dokiman sonò Radyo Ayiti yo, ki disponib kounye a sou Duke Digital Repository la
Etidyan ki travay sou pwojè sila a, kit yo asistan peye kit yo benevòl, kit yo etidyan nan lisans, metriz, oswa nan doktora, bay pwojè a yon gwo kout men. Yo tande epi dekri odyo Radyo Ayiti a, ekri blog sou achiv yo, sèvi avèk materyèl yo nan pwòp rechèch pa yo, epi yo pote anpil ekspètiz, eksitans, ak antouzyas pou pwojè sa a, ki se yon pwojè ki vo lapenn men ki difisil, tou. Mèsi anpil Tanya Thomas,Krystelle Rocourt, Réyina Sénatus, Catherine Farmer, Eline Roillet, Sandie Blaise, Jennifer Garçon ak Marina Magloire pou tout sa nou fè pou sovgade eritaj Radyo Ayiti-Entè, ak tout sa n ap kontinye fè.
Anplis ke travay n ap fè lakay nou nan Karolin di Nò, Laura gentan fè de vwayaj ann Ayiti pou sansibilize moun sou pwojè a epi pou distribye djònp bay enstitisyon kiltirèl, bibliyotèk, radyo kominotè, ak òganizasyon de baz.
Men pwojè a poko fini! Aktiyèlman n ap chèche lòt finansman siplemantè pou nou ka kontinye fè deskripsyon detaye dokiman sonò yo, an pwofondè.
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.
Happy Black History Month! This year we’ll be celebrating #28daysofblack by sharing materials from the Rubenstein Library’s collections and by highlighting our work on current projects. Stay tuned to follow our rare materials catalogers and manuscript archivists as they catalog and process collections that feature black authors, activists, artists, characters, entrepreneurs, and families. You will also be hearing regularly from John Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. John will be posting about the SNCC Legacy project, among many other things. You can follow us on our various social media platforms:
In the 1960s a group of brash young organizers worked alongside local people in the Deep South to change the direction of America. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a key catalyst for mobilizing grassroots activists to address voting and political power, economic equity, education, and civil rights. Over the last three years, the SNCC Digital Gateway project has worked to create an online platform that highlights the work of SNCC activists, mentors and allies using primary sources from our library and libraries across the country.
Contract with freedmen on Plains Plantation, 1865 June 8-August 28
This worn and creased contract was once framed and ostensibly hung on someone’s wall. It contains language binding newly-freed African Americans and their children to the Plains Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi and was signed not even a month after the Civil War was over. According to the contract, the laborers committed to working every day “from sun to sun,” except Sunday, with other possible days off. They were to be paid one quarter of the net proceeds for the crop. Surnames of the freedmen include: Wilson, Thompson, Digg, Turner, Lonsway, Hatton, Clement, Willis, Payne, West, Blair, Garner, Kelley, Arran, and Johnson. The contract was written in iron gall ink, which caused corrosion of the paper. It now has a catalog record and a collection guide and is currently with Duke Libraries’ Conservation Department to receive repairs and proper housing.
Radio Haiti is an ongoing, multi-year project to create a trilingual (Haitian Creole, French, and English) public-facing digital archive of all the audio of Radio Haiti-Inter, Haiti’s first and most prominent independent radio station. Our goal is to make the content as accessible as possible to people living in Haiti.
In February, we are going to finish up the processing of Radio Haiti’s papers, and archivist Laura Wagner will be traveling to Haiti to continue to do outreach around the project and to distribute flash drives with a large selection of Radio Haiti audio (around 500 recordings) to libraries in Haiti.
Allen Building Takeover
February 13th will mark the 49th anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover at Duke in 1969. This month we’ll be continuing work on the Vice President for Student Affairs Records, which include materials documenting the events during and after the Allen Building Takeover. Some items of note include eye-witness accounts of events written by students as well as materials documenting the administration’s planning for an African and African-American Studies Program in the wake of the Allen Building Takeover.
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D, Radio Haiti Archivist
In January 1982, Richard Brisson – poet, actor, journalist, station manager at Radio Haïti-Inter – was killed, along with Robert Mathurin and Louis Célestin, following a quixotic attempt to invade Haiti via Île-de-la-Tortue, the island off Haiti’s northern coast. He was thirty-one years old. Along with the rest of Radio Haiti’s journalists, Brisson had been in exile following the Duvalier regime’s violent crackdown on the independent press on November 28, 1980. Richard, they say, could not bear exile. The dictatorship claimed that Brisson and his comrades had been killed in combat. They were, in fact, executed.
In 1987, a few months after Radio Haiti returned from exile after the fall of Duvalier, they paid tribute to Richard Brisson. The broadcast opened and closed with the Alain Barrière song “Un poète,” which begins, “A poet does not live long.” Richard’s cousins Ady Brisson and Freddy Burr-Reynaud and Radio Haiti journalists Michèle Montas, Konpè Filo, and Jean Dominique remembered Richard the journalist, the poet, the iconoclast, the dreamer.
Dominique’s words are translated below.
This would have been the title of a fine fairytale, Richard’s death, for the two eyes of a princess. I have rightly said “two eyes” [deux yeux] and not “sweet eyes” [doux yeux]. But quickly consider, good people, that this is the wicked fairy godmother[i] of whom we speak, that evil princess whose two eyes Richard wished to gouge out in a famous song about one of the poor neighborhoods of our capital — do you recall, “Panno Caye Nan Bois Chêne”?[ii] And it was due to an evil spell cast by those two eyes that our poet was killed. But his murderers were so ashamed of their crime that they then tried to disguise it as a death in combat. Yet you must have seen those photos of Richard and his two comrades shackled and perfectly alive after their arrest on Île de la Tortue…
I read in the newspaper that slumber eludes that wicked fairy who so despised Richard, now in exile in France where she and her husband were dispatched, thanks to the complacency, or the complicity, of the world’s powerful. “She cannot sleep at night!” she complained. The ghost of Richard must haunt her sleepless nights, and that is as it should be.
For the death of Richard, whose memory we are celebrating this week, paradoxically raises very current questions. Paradoxically, because Richard approached news as he approached politics, as he approached everything: as a poet. He wanted to represent Léogâne in parliament, like his grandfather Frédéric Burr Reynaud. Richard’s photo soon hung from the electrical towers along the road. When asked about his lack of political experience, he laughed uproariously and responded, brows knitted: “Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.” And when Luc Désir[iii] made it clear to him this was not his place: “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” demanded the Duvaliers’ chief torturer, future lackey of the wicked fairy. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” Richard told me this story smiling once more, then added, “Jean Do, are we truly the Jews of this land?” And on he went, whistling, hands in his pockets, a song by Jacques Brel on his lips, a song about the bourgeois who are like… you know…[iv]
Amidst the ups and downs of life at Duke, one of my most treasured experiences was working as a student assistant for the Rubenstein Library’s Radio Haiti Archives. The collection has over 5,000 recordings covering decades of Haitian history, and listening to just a portion of them was like traveling back in time. While most of the recordings covered the various human and political rights issues of the Haitian people in the last century, they also made me think critically of how quickly the present becomes the past. It’s so easy to look back and judge the actors of the past for their mistakes. What’s harder is to draw parallels between our present and what that will look like to people listening to or reading about our exploits decades from now.
Progress is not granted by some unspoken law of nature, whether we look at U.S. history or the twentieth-century Haitian history covered in the Radio Haiti Archives. The themes in the archives that I found most sobering were the ones that are still being debated today. The first that comes to mind is the treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic by the Dominican state. In 1979, Radio Haiti reporter Sonny Bastien interviewed a sugar cane worker (click on the hypertext to listen to the interviews in Duke’s Digital Repository) who described to Radio Haiti listeners the working and living conditions of a bracero (Haitian cane worker) living on the batèy (squalid camps for braceros) in the Dominican Republic. This worker, in addition to describing being shortchanged for his labor by the sugar cane speculators, describes Dominicans calling him and other Haitian migrants “pigs,” because if his country were in good shape, he wouldn’t be working in sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic.
The events covered by Radio Haiti also foreshadowed Haitian political issues of today, since the issue of human rights of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent remains a salient issue for the island. Relations between the two nations have been strained from the time of Haiti’s occupation of the Dominican Republic, to the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti, to the 1937 genocidal massacre of Haitian and Haitian-Dominican families by the Dominican army under dictator Rafael Trujillo, to the antihaitianismo (anti-Haitian sentiment) pervasive in Dominican nationalism. Most notably, in 2013 a Dominican court ruling known as the sentencia stripped citizenship from the descendants of undocumented immigrants to the country up to 80 years prior. The result was the statelessness of many who knew no other country than the Dominican Republic, and a massive influx of Dominicans of Haitian descent to a Haiti still reeling from the 2010 earthquake. Many of those who fled had never been to Haiti nor learned to speak Creole. This forced “repatriation” was not a new phenomenon. The Radio Haiti archive contains testimonials of deported Haitian-Dominicans adrift in Port-au-Prince as early as 1976, and extensive coverage of Dominican repatriation policy in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The minimal change between the present and the past is saddening, but it also serves as a mirror reminding me to judge my actions against the human rights abuses of today. Protesting against human rights violations is not a necessity of the past, but an essential component for any nation or group of people to create the change they want to see. Just as most Americans look back at the Civil Rights Movement as a tumultuous yet crucial part of the nation’s entrance to a more progressive age, future generations will look at our involvement or lack thereof with the Black Lives Matter movement. The difference between the past and the present is that there is still time to get on the right side of history. I am heartened by the efforts of activists like Sonia Pierre, a Dominican activist born to Haitian parents on a batèy who fought for the rights of migrant workers and Dominican peasants for most of her life. At age 14, Pierre led a group of cane cutters to march for better wages and living conditions. Pierre was arrested, but the demands of the marchers were met. During her life, she received recognition from her human rights work from Amnesty International and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
In a way, listening to the archives also transported me to the future. The world is no stranger to Haiti’s troubles, be they environmental or political, yet few know how they came about, or how adamantly Haitians refused to be defined by these terms. Radio Haiti gave a platform to Haitians often overlooked by their own government and media, so they could express themselves on issues most important to them. By listening to the voices of the past, I know that the fight for a better future is not a fight I have to enter alone, and I retain the hope that I can add my voice to those that will encourage the next generation to fight on.
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.
Please join us this week for three very exciting events:
The SNCC Digital Gateway Project presents “Music & the Movement,” Tuesday, September 19, 7:30-9:30 pm
Please join us for an exciting discussion with five veteran activists on Tuesday, September 19th at 7:30 p.m. at NCCU’s Alfonso Elder Student Union. Music & The Movement – During the Civil Rights Movement, mass meetings overflowed with people singing and clapping to freedom songs, demanding justice in the face of oppression and showing courage in the face of danger. Join us for a roundtable discussion with five veteran activists as they speak about the power of the music of the Movement. As song leaders, Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, and Hollis Watkins carried the music in their own communities in the South or across the nation as part of the SNCC Freedom Singers. Meanwhile, Candie Carawan and Worth Long worked to document the music of the Movement, recording and preserving the songs that moved people to action. They experienced firsthand how music was a tool for liberation, not only bringing people together but holding them together. The conversation will be moderated by SNCC veteran Charles Cobb. Many thanks to our co-sponsors: SNCC Legacy Project, Duke University Libraries, The Center for Documentary Studies, North Carolina Central University, and SNCC Digital Gateway Project.
Event Speakers: Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, Hollis Watkins, Candie Carawan, and Worth Long
Event Location: NCCU’s Alfonso Elder Student Union
Event Contact: CDS Front Desk
Event Contact Phone: 660-3663
Exhibit Tour and Reception: ‘I Sing the Body Electric’: Walt Whitman and the Body, Thursday, September 21, 11:45-1:30pm
Blog post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. Translation by Laura Wagner and Tanya Thomas.
It was Radio Haiti’s eighty-first birthday a few days ago. The station was founded on 17 September 1935 by Ricardo Widmaïer, and later, under Jean Dominique’s leadership, Radio Haïti-Inter continued to commemorate that anniversary. On 17 September 1991, they did a special broadcast celebrating fifty-six years of Radio Haiti. It is a beautiful, moving, and enchanting program. They dove into their own archives, revisiting some of their most memorable broadcasts. And Jean Dominique, always the interviewer of others, at last became the interviewee. Michèle Montas asked him about Vodou, the Haitian Creole language, pale andaki (speaking in veiled or covert ways) the 1973 kidnapping of American ambassador Clinton Knox, and resistance to Duvalierism and dictatorship. At the end of the program, Jean took back the microphone to pay surprise tribute to Michèle. He gave credit to the fanm vayan (courageous woman) who shared the struggle, knew how to fouye zo l nan kalalou (investigate, dig deep), ran the newsroom and trained Radio Haiti’s journalists. That less than two weeks after this broadcast, Haiti’s democratically-elected government was overthrown in a military coup makes the program all the more poignant: Radio Haiti was hurtling toward another long exile.
Today, we have translated a portion of the 17 September 1991 broadcast from Haitian Creole into English. In an earlier broadcast, he referred to the Italian adage “traduttore, traditore” – “translator, traitor” – to describe the perils and impossibility of translating Haitian Creole to French. Translating Haitian Creole to English, too, was an exciting challenge, made all the more exciting because the original words were spoken by an uncommonly gifted and playful wordsmith with an uncommonly expressive voice.
With that caveat, we present Jean Dominique:
Before I did radio – don’t forget, I’m an agronomist – I spent a lot of time in the field, since as an agronomist, as an agronomy student, I spent a lot of time in the Artibonite when I finished my studies I went to work as an agronomist in Quartier Morin, in the Plaine du Nord, in Plaine Bayeux, where I spent time face-to-face with Vodou, with peasants who served the lwa, with oungan [Vodou priests], with manbo [Vodou priestesses].
Since I also had books to read, I read them, I learned from them. And after I finished studying agronomy I spent two years in the School of Ethnology (which later became the Institute of Ethnology, but at the time it was the School of Ethnology), where I met a whole bunch of professors who showed me the way. I came to know the way, so I could find what I was searching for. And when I began to work in radio, radio could let people hear Vodou songs for the spirits, to hear rasin songs, to hear the beats of the drum. That too is an important thing. But this also presented a big problem because Duvalier used Vodou, too. The problem was that many people who were opposed to Duvalier thought that all of Vodou was tied to Duvalier. Likewise, anyone who spoke about Vodou was suspected of being pro-Duvalier. So I had to be very careful. Yet again l’oncle, Jean Price-Mars, helped me to be very careful. And the fellow we just heard there, Maître Pierre, and another of my spiritual fathers named Aristène. Aristène Jecrois. They both greatly helped me to understand. And another of my fathers, a father from the Northwest… Hmm! That’s another story. A patriarch, a patriarch from the Northwest. He came one day to the station, and I was testing the waters for my usual little afternoon program, and from time to time I’d put on a little music. And one day he showed up at the station to see me, and he told me, “I had a dream about you.”
And he described the dream to me, and then he said, “There are things you understand, and there are others you do not understand. I understand what you don’t understand. And I understand why you don’t understand it.” Hmm! And he told me. And it was he who put me on the path. It was he who told me, “Jean, under the American occupation, we spoke of everything in the peristil (Vodou temple).” They would speak those words, and the Americans were there, within the peristil, but they didn’t understand anything at all. And so the word spread. It was he who told me of Charlemagne Péralte [who led an armed resistance to the US occupation] . It was he who told me of Benoît Batraville. It was he who told me of the Cacos. It was he who told me of the role of Vodou in the resistance. It was he who explained that this tradition began waaaay back, long long ago, from the time of Boukman, from the time of Biassou. Those words, [historian Thomas] Madiou didn’t write them, [François] Dalencourt didn’t write them, but those words were passed along through song.
Likewise, I came to understand something important that dialectical philosophy could show me, but that the blan could never understand: what we call the Haitian people’s strategy of mawonaj. The dialectic of mawonaj. The dialectic of everything having two faces, two sides. Heads and tails. Everything on the blessed earth has two sides to it. There are two sides. Duvalier took one side, but there is another side he didn’t take. He couldn’t take it.
And so it was, when an oungan was taking me through his lakou, he was showing me his lakou. And when they saw that I wasn’t an enemy, when they saw that I all I wanted was to learn – I didn’t make any trouble – they taught me. And I learned that there were some altars that were sealed shut.
“Oh-oh!” I said, “Papa, why are these altars sealed?”
“Mm-mm. I’ll tell you another time.”
Another altar was sealed. I said again, “Oh, papa, why are these altars sealed?”
Now remember, this was in ‘73, ‘74, we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier. When I got home, I kept thinking about what he had said, I got in my car, I came back, and I asked again. “Why are these altars sealed off? I know there is a spirit, some meaning behind it.”
Eventually, one day, the patriarch told me, “I’ll tell you why those altars are sealed off. In 1957, when the devils took over the country, a great many of the Ginen spirits returned to Africa. They turned their back on the country. They left the country for the devils.”
I said, “Oh!” I said, “Papa, those are serious words you’re telling me!”
He said, “They are serious words, my child. That’s why the altars are shut.”
I said, “So, they’ve abandoned us! They’ve left us helpless!”
He said, “No, my child. The day the Ginen spirits return, that means the time has come. The time has come.”
So, since I’ve been traveling deep, deep into the countryside, I’ve come to realize that there is a force in the Haitian people. The word “no” cannot cross their lips — but that’s not what’s going on in their hearts. They bow their heads when someone says “Bow your head!” It looks like they’re bowing their heads, but in their hearts they’re not. And they’re waiting for the day to come. They’re waiting for the moment to come, when they can say, “No!” When they will raise their heads again. That is what I learned within the peristil. That is what I learned Vodou held.
And then came a day, then came a day (I don’t remember whether it was in ‘72 to ‘73), I said to someone who was close to me, “Oh, I’m going to take a little trip, I’m going to go up to Ville Bonheur, to the annual July pilgrimage, when they celebrate the festival of Saut d’Eau.” So I went, like any tourist, like any citizen, like anyone else from Port-au-Prince, who goes to watch and have fun! When I got there, that fateful July at Saut d’Eau, I started moving through the crowd: people, people, people, people, people everywhere! I got to the front of the church, cassette in hand, I started to record, and there I discovered a great truth. That truth…! I realized — and I said all of this on the radio in a report that caused an uproar at the time, because it was the first time that listeners had heard such things. And we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier, we were under [high-ranking Macoutes like] Luc Désir, Jean Valmé, Luckner Cambronne, and company! We were under the tigers! The people opened their arms in front of the pilgrimage site, they looked toward the church, and they described their misery. They described their oppression, how the life was squeezed out of them [peze-souse]. They described how everything was being destroyed [kraze-brize]. They spelled it all out. They described it in a litany, for hours. For days. And when I arrived under the palm tree — you know? You go past the church, go straight down, and there’s the palm tree where they say Emperor Faustin saw the apparition. When I arrived under the palm tree, I heard something else: “Those who do evil cannot set foot in Saut d’Eau.” Big words! When you got up to the water, they said the same thing. I said, “Hmm! Listen to what the people are saying. The people are using the spirits to reveal their enemies.” That is what I meant at that time [in that report].
I feel the same thing in the drumbeats that echo throughout the country. Sure, Macoutes could use the drum, too. To make a show, to intimidate people. But there is another kind of drumbeat: boom. And that beat, Haitians of courage will understand it. Haitians who are ready to fight will understand it. That is the drumbeat that sounded at Bocozelle [where peasant farmers rose up against landowners]. That is the truth I came to see — implicitly! secretly! — but I came to see it nonetheless. And when I saw it, I held onto it! I held tight! And it revitalized me. It let me understand that my people are a people of courage. Days came and went — February 7, 1986 was about to be set in motion. That is the quest that Vodou taught me.
I’m not saying “go practice Vodou, sprinkle water for the spirits” — no. That’s not the question, no, that’s not it. It’s that strength, that capacity for resistance that I found within the peristil. And I found it again, later, in the ti legliz [Catholic churches preaching liberation theology]. The current was always there… heheh. The current was flowing, the current knows nothing of the borders between the Vodou peristil and the church of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost — no! The current doesn’t know anything about those kinds of borders. Wherever it finds an outlet, it gushes out! Like hot water ready to boil! It finds an outlet under a mapou tree, it gushes out! It finds an outlet under layers of rock, it gushes out! It doesn’t choose. It pushes ahead. And that is what I discovered at Saut d’Eau, Ville Bonheur. That’s what I discovered in the Artibonite, that it what I came to understand, deep in the countryside, from Aristène Jecrois: one day, the Ginen spirits are going to come back, they’re coming to purge the country and drive the devils out, so that the brave people can rebuild their home. That’s the message contained in the songs. That’s the message contained each beat of the drum. And that is why, on Radio Haiti, the drum never stops beating.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
(Note that the interview excerpts in this post have been translated from Haitian Creole and French, and in some cases have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Father Jean-Marie Vincent was halfway around the globe, at a conference in Rome, when he received word that mass violence had broken out in the remote town of Jean Rabel in arid northwest Haiti on July 23, 1987. The priest, part of the ti legliz (small church) liberation theology movement, had been working with the grassroots peasants’ rights organization Tèt Ansanm (which later became Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen) in Jean Rabel for fourteen years. Upon hearing that scores of Tèt Ansanm members had been massacred in his absence, Father Vincent returned to Haiti as soon as he could, only to find it impossible to reach Jean Rabel. In the midst of what were surely desperate days, he spoke with Michèle Montas at Radio Haiti-Inter to try to make sense of what had happened, and to explain the seemingly unthinkable: that a group of poor farmers had slaughtered other poor farmers en masse.
“There is an alliance between the big landowners [in Jean Rabel] and Macoutes, who coerced the ti peyizan… to kill other ti peyizan malere [poor peasant farmers] just like them, who are agitating for justice and for their rights in this country.” In Jean Rabel, most of the land was controlled by a few families: the Lucas, Poitevien, and Richardson clans. As in most of Haiti, those landowners had long profited from their alliance with the Duvalier regime, while the landless peasants remained systematically oppressed.
Father Vincent was accustomed to violent opposition from those in power, and was unruffled by rumors about his own ideology and practices. “If I’m not there anymore… there won’t be anyone to bother the landowners anymore, and they’ll regain the same power they’ve always had over people in the area, everyone calling them Uncle, Papa, so they can buy them off, do whatever they want with them. So I think it’s natural that they attack me…They’ve come to my house already, that same Nicol Poitevien and [others], carrying machetes, they said they were going to kill me… But I don’t think that’s what’s most important. What’s most important is that peasants’ rights be respected, that they continue to be able to organize.” His voice was measured and calm, even comforting, infused with warmth and good humor despite the circumstances.
In his early forties, Father Vincent still had a boyish, lively face and the energy of the soccer player he had been in his youth. “If you’re mobilizing poor peasants to assert their rights, you aren’t going to make certain big families who have held political and economic power for more than forty years very happy, because they’re going to lose certain advantages, they’re not going to find workers to come and work their fields for only one or two gourdes [a few cents] anymore… They find that people are a little ‘disrespectful’ now, they find people aren’t docile anymore. The peasants have become a little too enlightened, and they say, ‘You, you’ve taken the blindfold of the peasants’ eyes.’ They don’t like that kind of work, obviously. They call that kind of work communism.”
Jean-Marie Vincent’s analysis reflected not only the case of Jean Rabel, but also a wider reality about the Catholic Church’s moral and political identity in the 1980s, in Haiti as well as beyond. Liberation theology had emerged in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on poverty, human rights violations, and political oppression. For Jean-Marie Vincent and priests like him, following Christ’s example meant fighting against structures of oppression and injustice, against the tangible, worldly causes of suffering. Church authorities lashed out against liberation theology, in essence creating a battle for the soul of the Catholic Church.
The rise of and backlash against liberation theology in Haiti cannot be separated from the particularities of political context, for in Haiti, the “hierarchical Church” was associated with the powers-that-be: the Duvalier regime and their supporters and henchmen—the Macoutes. On February 7, 1986, the brutal right-wing Duvalier dictatorship had fallen after nearly thirty years in power, and the unsteady process of democratization cast Haiti into political uncertainty. For pro-democracy activists and human rights advocates, 1987 was filled with promise often overtaken by peril, a push-and-pull of freedom and repression. New political parties formed, while the army cracked down on the democratic movement. Although Duvalier was gone along with his death squads, the official Tontons Macoutes, Duvalierism nonetheless persisted, as did the Macoutes themselves. They were no longer formally designated Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale, or VSN; now, “macoute” referred to members of the army, chefs de section and others who employed Duvalierist methods of domination and violence. Rural farmers, long oppressed under the Duvalier regime, began to organize. For the members of Tèt Ansanm and other grassroots peasant groups, the fall of the regime and the possibility of democracy represented an opportunity to at last reclaim their land and literally reap the fruits of their own labor.
The massacre began on July 23, but it lasted through the weekend and into the next week. Members of Tèt Ansanm hid in the brush – some survived, while others were found and slaughtered by the armed brigades. Those who had been injured were threatened at the hospital. Those who had been arrested were threatened at the prison. In the days that followed, members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre spoke on the radio. On Catholic-run Radio Soleil, they called on the Catholic Church authorities, the monsignors, the Red Cross, or any “moral person” to come with a convoy of cars to save the 120 or so people “who are left, whom they haven’t yet killed.” They declared it a duty for the Church to save them, and asked how many cars they could expect.
By July 28, 1987, two members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre made their way to Port-au-Prince and spoke with Michèle Montas on the air at Radio Haiti:
“It was a group of landowners that organized it, in La Montagne [in the commune of Jean Rabel],” explained Anne Jean-Louis. “They paid people 10 or 15 gourdes, to organize them to kill people…. [The landowners] are hiding behind them, they’re hiding themselves to send those people out to fight for them.”
Noland Métayer described what had happened. “We went to go see our fellow peasants in La Montagne, near La Reserve. We were going to have a meeting between peasant and peasant. We were going to hold a demonstration. We came in solidarity with our brothers. But when we arrived, they didn’t accept being together with us. From the moment we appeared, we didn’t even have the chance to explain why we’d come. They began to attack us, to throw rocks at us, shoot bullets at us, shoot rifles. And that’s when everyone became afraid. There were four people who got shot, they got hurt, they died – I believe of the four who were shot, we only saw one. The others, they disappeared. After that, when we saw that we had come in friendship and they hadn’t accepted it, we turned to leave, and that’s when they ganged up on us, they cornered us on a path, they joined up with the Macoutes from Jean Rabel… They formed their brigades. They blocked a bunch of people on the path, they forced them to go to Jean Rabel. And there were a lot of other people who were hurt, who had broken bones, and they thought that in the town of Jean Rabel they would be safe. So they tried to get to Jean Rabel. But when they got to Jean Rabel, that’s where they really massacred them. They put them in prison, they put some in the hospital. But even in the hospital, they weren’t safe. The Macoutes, all those people, they entered freely whenever they wanted. They were threatening them, they were putting lots of pressure on them, and they told them that whenever a single one of them was released, they’d be watching them, and they’d be eliminated nonetheless. They are going to die nonetheless. All those people…” his voice trailed off.
Anne Jean-Louis described in harrowing detail her escape from the massacre. “I pulled myself together not to sleep on the street, I didn’t want to sleep at someone else’s house. If someone came and found me sleeping on their porch, they could beat me and I could die badly. I had already almost died. I managed to sleep in a corner of the hospital, on the ground behind a toilet.” Her brother Fadiné, also a member of Tèt Ansanm, was arrested. “They took him, they wounded him to the point that he was in the hospital. I tried to see him, then. Everyone was worried. They were already saying I’d been killed, that I wasn’t among the living anymore. They thought I was dead, and when they saw me on Friday they were shocked. As for Fadiné, he was inside the hospital, and there was no security. They were asking for members of the gwoupman in both the hospital and the prison. They blamed them for everything…. Their lives are in danger. They can’t sleep. People say there was a massacre on July 23, but that’s only when it started. It lasted Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. They kept killing people.” In the interview, Anne Jean-Louis said she had last seen her brother in the hospital. She wanted to know what had become of him, but she was afraid that if she reappeared, she would be arrested and killed.
The two pleaded, again, for people to come and rescue the survivors. “The danger is still there,” explained Noland Métayer. “That’s why we’ve left, because the lives of those people are in danger, we left to see if we could find any authorities, anyone who is mindful, if there’s any possibility for them to rescue those people as soon as possible from the prison so they don’t finish killing them all. That’s why we left.“
“If those people don’t get out of the hospital tomorrow, we should buy our mourning clothes here… Even though we’ve already lost people, we don’t want anyone else to die,” added Anne Jean-Louis. She requested perhaps thirty or forty cars, and asked that the rescuers come all at once, nan yon sèl kou, because if they came in shifts, those who were left behind would certainly be killed.
The events of July 1987 were strategic, born of long-standing anti-communism (which had been central to political strategy throughout the Duvalier years), the instability of the post-dictatorship landscape, and deepening divisions in the Catholic Church that pitted the church hierarchy, which was allied with the elites, against liberation theology priests like Jean-Marie Vincent, who worked alongside and promoted the rights of the poor.
Violence and discontent had been escalating for months in Jean Rabel. In February of 1987, the powerful landowning families had orchestrated the burning of peasant farmers’ homes in the nearby village of Gros Sable, though the wealthy landowners maintained that they were the true victims and accused Father Vincent and his team of fostering violence and communist ideology among the peasants. “The grassroots group is the arm of the movement, but the ekip misyonè [missionary team] is the head,” declared Rémy Lucas in an interview with Konpè Filo after the events in Gros Sable. When Filo asked Jean-Michel Richardson if he was affiliated with the Macoutes, his response was evasive and absurd. “That’s a strange question, because Tonton Macoutes don’t exist anymore, so I don’t see what relation I could have with the Tonton Macoutes.”
In the face of escalating oppression, Tèt Ansanm continued to demand their rights. Two days before the July 23 massacre, Tèt Ansanm issued a kout lambi [call to action]. Over drumbeats, a member of Tèt Ansanm invoked the revolutionary spirit of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Charlemagne Péralte and called on rural cultivators, grassroots groups, and ti legliz members throughout Haiti to come together to uproot the spirit of Macoutism.
In the aftermath of the massacre, journalists and human rights advocates tried to understand its roots. It was not immediately clear what had happened, nor exactly how it had happened. The independent press could not reach Jean Rabel, and so Radio Haiti’s only option was to speak to people who had managed to approach the area. In an Inter-Actualités Magazine special report on Jean Rabel, Jean Dominique sat with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Michèle Pierre-Louis, and they tried to comprehend a situation in which, as Jean-Baptiste put it, “the little dog eats the little dog, poor peasants are killing poor peasants just like themselves.” Agronomist and activist Jean-Baptiste described the unrelenting propaganda campaign to convince the rural peasantry that Father Vincent was a communist, and that the communists were going to seize their land, their homes, even their wives. Michèle Pierre-Louis, who at the time was with the literacy program Mission Alpha, described a devastated landscape filled with incinerated houses, and the conflict between the peasant farmers and the landowners as a battle between good and evil. “This is what’s happening in this country, a face-off between the forces of change and the forces of death. There are certain forces, it is death they are spreading. That is their lifeblood and their source of power. And there are forces that are demanding change, and those are the forces of life. This is what is happening now. And all the forces that worship death, as we say, are coming into action now.”
“Forces de changement contre forces de mort,” repeated Jean Dominique. “Michèle has defined it well for us. What has happened in Jean Rabel, and what is at risk of happening to the rest of the peasantry.”
From the studios of Radio Haiti-Inter in Port-au-Prince, Dominique used his razor-sharp analysis to piece the story together and explain the political context of the slaughter to listeners throughout the country. He demonstrated that the Jean Rabel massacre was not spontaneous, and the manipulation of the poor and landless by the region’s powerful landowners was not an extraordinary act of brutality and avarice. “Jean Rabel is not an isolated case. Jean Rabel is not an exception. At the heart of Jean Rabel are problems that are taking place among all the Haitian peasantry, and, alas, throughout the whole Church, as well.”
On August 28, 1994, Jean-Marie Vincent was gunned down in a rainstorm in front of his rectory in Port-au-Prince. He was forty-eight years old. No one has been held accountable for his assassination. There has been no justice for Jean-Marie Vincent, just as there has been no justice for most of the victims of the “land conflicts” and politically-motivated massacres of which Jean Rabel was only one. Twentieth-century Haitian history is inscribed with the names of the recognized dead and with a litany of locations (Cazale, Jean Rabel, St. Jean Bosco, Piatre, Ruelle Vaillant, Gervais, Raboteau, Carrefour-Feuilles…) which have come to stand for the untold numbers of dead, mostly poor, whose names are largely unknown.
Yet they are not erased. Their voices persist, in Radio Haiti’s archive. “Is Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm going to be destroyed by this?” asked Jean-Marie Vincent in his July 28, 1987 interview at Radio Haiti. “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe that.” He laughed a little, a laugh that somehow contained exasperation, sadness, and hope all in one. “There is no people who will accept wearing chains forever. The solution for Haiti cannot come about through anything other than grassroots organization…. Are these peasants going to be discouraged? Are these deaths going to make it so we can no longer work alongside them?… Or is the solidarity of the Haitian people so strong that Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm will not perish? That is what I most believe, myself…I believe that the peasants may die, but they will not disappear… I believe that the poor will have their day, and the Macoutes will indeed lose, one day.”
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
This post originally appeared on H-Net on June 29, 2016. Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
In June 2016, with the processing of the Radio Haiti archive well underway but only partially completed, we took another big step in bringing Radio Haiti home. I traveled to Haiti to present the archive project at the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) and Association of Caribbean University, Research, and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL) conferences, both of which were held in Port-au-Prince during the same week, and brought with me a thousand flash drives. Each flash drive contains a small sample of twenty-nine Radio Haiti programs, and is emblazoned with Radio Haiti’s iconic microphone-inspired vèvè logo and the permanent URL of the collection’s finding aid.
The contents of the flash drives span nearly thirty years, from 1973 to 2002. It includes subjects ranging from the Battle of Vertières and the Haitian Revolution, the annual vodou pilgrimage to Saut d’Eau, the brutality of the Duvalier regime, the tribulations of Haitian refugees at sea, the 1987 Jean Rabel massacre, the persecution of Haitian cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic, the aftermath of the coup years, agrarian reform in the mid-1990s, women’s rights, and the search for justice in the assassination of Jean Dominique and tributes to the slain journalist. It includes the voices of journalists, writers, human rights activists, rural farmers, artists, and intellectuals. Jean Dominique, Michèle Montas, Richard Brisson, Madeleine Paillère, J.J. Dominique, Konpè Filo, Jean-Marie Vincent, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, and Myriam Merlet, among others. Each flash drive also contains a PDF containing a full list of the contents, and links to our permanent finding aid, Soundcloud site, Facebook page, and the trilingual pilot website.
Collaborators, friends, and fellow travelers, including the Fondasyon Konesans ak Libète (FOKAL), the MIT-Haiti Initiative, AlterPresse, and Fanm Deside (among others!) are helping distribute the flash drives throughout the country. Our goal is for copies to be available in various schools, universities, community radio and alternative media outlets, community libraries, grassroots organizations, cultural organizations, and women’s organizations from Cité Soleil to Jérémie to Cap Haïtien to Jacmel to Gonaïves to La Gonâve. In 2017, when the Radio Haiti archive is completely digitized and processed, we will give digital copies of the entire archive to the Archives Nationales, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the network of community radio stations SAKS, FOKAL, and other major institutions.
Radio Haiti’s digital archive is not only for scholars writing about Haiti; it isn’t even principally for them. It is for everyone. Radio in Haiti in general, and Radio Haiti in particular, was and is fundamentally democratic. The technology is relatively inexpensive. Even if you don’t have a radio yourself, a relative, a friend, or a neighbor does. Radio doesn’t depend on traditional literacy. And Radio Haiti itself was in Haitian Creole in addition to French, so that everyone could listen, participate, and share ideas. Radio Haiti demonstrated that Creole, the language spoken by all Haitian people, could be used for serious topics and serious analysis.
Radio in Haiti began with Radio HHK, a propaganda tool of the 1915-1934 US Marine occupation. In the 1970s, churches distributed small transistor radios. These radios were locked, to prevent people from listening to things other than church stations. But the listeners managed to unlock them in order to listen to other frequencies, especially Radio Haiti Inter on 1330 am. There is a long history of resourcefulness and innovation in Haiti—a history of degaje.
The Internet still is not as democratic as radio. It is not free. Not everyone has Internet access, and not everyone can buy enough data to livestream the digital archive. Despite that, I remain certain that the Radio Haiti archive will spread. Just as people took a propaganda tool and used it for their own purposes, they’ll find a way. Just as people unlocked the church radios, they’ll find a way. We want and encourage that. We hope that people will copy the content of these flash drives and share it with others, and that those who are able to download the audio will copy it, put it on a flash drive, share it with others.
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The weekend after the conferences, I left Port-au-Prince to travel to the Artibonite to visit Charles Suffrard, one of Jean Dominique’s closest friends and collaborators, a leader of KOZEPEP, an influential peasant rights organizations in Haiti. In a posthumous tribute to Dominique, which is one of the recordings featured on the flash drives, he introduces himself as “a rice farmer, and Jean Dominique’s teacher,” referring to the journalist’s uncommon respect for the expertise and experience of Haiti’s cultivators. We eat lalo and local rice from Charles’s fields. Then he takes me to the dam where they poured Jean Dominique’s ashes, after he was struck down by an assassin in Radio Haiti’s courtyard early in the morning of April 3, 2000. “This is the most important thing for you to see,” Charles says.
It feels like a pilgrimage: if I am to work on this archive, I must also know this place. The water was high and quick-moving, cloudy with sediment. “This is where all the water that irrigates the whole Artibonite Valley comes from,” Charles explained. “This is why we chose to pour Jean’s ashes here, so that he could become fertilizer for the entire Artibonite.”
The river glides apace toward the churning dam, and I imagine Jean Dominique’s dynamism dispersed throughout the water and earth of the Artibonite Valley, and I wonder about things that, through the act of diffusion, grow stronger. Memory should not stay stagnant or contained. Like the river, like sound, memory needs motion in order to be. As for Radio Haiti, it was never really gone. It was never lost or forgotten. It was merely, for a time, at rest. The physical archive is at Duke University now, but Duke is not really its home. The Duke project is a means of setting Radio Haiti in motion again, of creating access for as many people as possible so that Radio Haiti’s home can again be everywhere that people listen, and everywhere that they remember.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
On April 26, 1963, François Duvalier ordered his forces – the army and the Tontons Macoutes – to wreak unprecedented violence throughout the city of Port-au-Prince. It was the perhaps the single moment in which the encompassing brutality of Duvalierist repression was realized in full.
On April 26, 1986, two and a half short months after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, eight civilians were gunned down by the army at a commemoration of the violence that had taken place twenty-three years before. It was one of the first of many events that proved that Duvalierism and Macoutism would outlive the Duvalier regime.
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The morning of April 26, 1963, the presidential car bringing François Duvalier’s children Jean-Claude and Simone to school was attacked by four armed men; the Duvalier children’s chauffeur and two bodyguards were killed. Duvalier père responded by issuing a call to arms on the national radio, commanding and authorizing the Macoutes and other Duvalier partisans to hunt down and kill the perpetrators, or ostensible perpetrators, of the attempted kidnapping.
François Duvalier believed that a group of military officers were plotting against him, in particular Lieutenant François Benoît, whom Duvalier accused of having masterminded the kidnapping attempt. (It was later discovered that the attack had been engineered by Clément Barbot, the former chief of the Tontons Macoutes who had once been one of Papa Doc’s closest confidants.) That day, Duvalierist forces hunted down and tried to exterminate the entire Benoît and Edeline families (the family of François Benoît’s wife). The Benoît home was burned down, and Lieutenant Benoît’s mother, father, toddler son, the baby’s nanny and another household worker were killed. At least seventy-four people were killed or disappeared that day. Many were military officers; many others were relatives of military officers (including small children), household workers employed by targeted families, or people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. An elderly lawyer named Benoît Armand was murdered merely because his first name was Benoît. Since Duvalier had his supporters given carte blanche to carry out these killings, the rampage was both opportunistic and indiscriminate.
That arbitrariness was not incidental. On the contrary: it was a fundamental part of the Duvalierist machine, essential to creating a climate of fear and exerting political and social control. In 1991, Jean Dominique spoke with members the Komite Pa Bliye (the Do Not Forget Committee), a sometimes-uneasy alliance of survivors and relatives of the victims of Duvalierist violence (including Guylène Bouchereau, whose father, Captain Jean Bouchereau, was among the officers who disappeared on April 26, 1963). Jean Dominique summarizes the ruthless logic of the regime’s terror: “If an individual man decided to fight against Duvalier, Duvalier would say, ‘if you fight against me, your entire bloodline will disappear.’ So, in addition to the destruction that the dictatorship carried out, it established a rule of terrorism, a domino effect that would exterminate entire families, entire bloodlines.”
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Jean-Claude Duvalier’s fall and hasty departure from Haiti on February 7, 1986 was followed by an initial swell of hope that the democratic project could at last begin. Devoir de mémoire (the duty of remembrance) was part of that process: commemorating the tragedies and atrocities of the past so that they would not happen again. But the democratic dream stalled almost as soon as it took off; neither the authoritarian structures the regime had created nor the sense of terror that the regime had inculcated could be removed as easily as the dictator himself.
On April 26, 1986, a group of people, among them several surviving members of the Benoît and Edeline families, commemorated the massacres of April 26, 1963 by organizing a mass at Sacre Coeur church followed by a march to Fort Dimanche, the notorious prison where untold opponents of the Duvalier regime were tortured and killed. Many young people, excited at the possibility of social and political change, participated in the demonstration. Jackson Row, twenty-six years old, worked as a typist at the Nouvelliste. He would have been a small child, unaware, when the 1963 violence took place. High school students Wilson Auguste and Wilson Nicaisse, aged eighteen and sixteen, had not yet been born in 1963. They were too young, all of them, to really remember the bloodiest years of the Duvalier regime. Nevertheless they went out that day to commemorate the injustices of the past. The mothers of both Wilson Auguste and Jackson Row would later speak of how their sons had never even seen Fort Dimanche before that day.
Gary Desenclos, a human rights observer at the march, watched the events unfold from a point between the crowd assembled in front of Fort Dimanche and the soldiers standing guard. As Desenclos explains on Radio Haiti, the commander instructed the other soldiers that if there was any “provocation” from the demonstrators, they should respond to the provocation. “That was the first warning, for me,” Desenclos reflects. “Because, I don’t know – those people didn’t have any kind of defensive weapons, tear gas, anything like that. So when you say ‘respond to provocation’ and you’ve got a rifle in your hands, I don’t know what that could mean.” The protestors were peaceful. At times they became impassioned, shouting and chanting, but they were unarmed, and, according to Desenclos, François Benoît managed to calm the crowd. And then, suddenly (“this was, for me, the most incomprehensible thing,” Desenclos recalls), the soldiers stepped back. The crowd advanced. And then, from somewhere, a shot rang out, the sound of a projectile, likely a tear gas canister, being launched.
After the fact, some people would argue that the shot could have come from within the crowd. But, as Desenclos observed, the only person with a projectile launcher was that same commanding officer. Desenclos heard the shot. “And it came from my far left. There was no crowd at my far left…. The shot didn’t come from the crowd. It came from the soldiers.”
The soldiers opened fire, the massacre began. They shot blanks into the air and bullets into the crowd. The measured, neutral testimony the human rights observer becomes more fragmented as he recalls the massacre. “I can tell you something, because I work for a human rights mission: I find this completely against all principles of human rights. At a certain point, several people in the crowd tried to save a young man, they tried to carry him away. And I saw two or three soldiers point their rifles at them and said, ‘Lage l atè. Lage l atè. Lage l atè. Drop him. Drop him. Drop him.’” At one point, Desenclos saw a man ripped apart by bullets. “He told me his name in that moment, but I’ve forgotten his name. There was no one there to help him, and I went to him, and he said, Pa bliye di ki m rele entèl. Don’t forget to tell them my name was so-and-so.”
Among those killed that day were Jackson Row, Wilson Auguste, and Wilson Nicaisse.
The relatives of the three young men wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice. It begins:
“We are: Mezilia Solivert, mother of Jackson Row; Vernilia Vernet, mother of Wilson Auguste; Matania Nicaisse, sister of Wilson Nicaisse. Our children and brother left their homes to fulfill a duty in alongside others who had lost their loved ones: mothers who lost their children, children who never knew their fathers, those who lost sisters, and all those who have suffered down to their core. It was the first time in twenty-nine years that such people could cry for what they had lost. It was the first time they could discover where their relatives’ bones were buried. It was the first time that they would light a candle and bring flowers to the dead. Our children and brother never came home. They fell before Fort Dimanche, the same place where Duvalier’s criminals and evildoers carried out their murders.
“Our children and brother went to a peaceful demonstration. They had no guns, they had no machetes, they had no knives in their hands. They died just as those who died under Duvalier. And just the same, to this day we don’t know how this happened, nor who is responsible. Democratic organizations, newspapers, radio, everyone has cried out… but nothing has come of it. It’s as though it were nothing at all. Minister, sir, we raised our children, we turned them into brave men, and all we have reaped is pain. They took them from us.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
On the one-year anniversary of the 1986 massacre, the mothers and sister of the slain young men demand justice on the airwaves of Radio Haiti. Their grief is still fresh. Their testimonies are raw, choked and painful. They are working-class women, supporting their families as small-scale vendors (ti machann) in downtown Port-au-Prince. Unlike, for example, François Benoît and the members of the Komite Pa Bliye (relatively affluent and educated people who chose to participate in devoir de mémoire because of the violence and loss they had endured in their families), these three women are almost certainly unaccustomed to making public claims for justice. As they speak, the lives and personalities of the young victims emerge in touchingly real terms.
Her voice hoarse, Mezilia Solivert describes her son, Jackson Row. “Jackson was someone, a young man, who never had a problem with anybody. Everyone liked him, he liked everyone. Old and young, he respected everyone.” He saw the procession from Sacre Coeur to the prison, and decided to join. “He helped the people carry flowers and everything,” his mother recalled. “He came back to my home, changed his clothes, and he told me he’d never seen Fort Dimanche, this was the first time he was going to Fort Dimanche. And he left, and he never returned.” Jackson Row’s friends couldn’t bring themselves to tell his mother that he had died. They brought her his small radio and his wallet, and told her that he’d been tear gassed and taken to the hospital, but that he wasn’t dead. “And then I got to the hospital and saw him lying among the dead, with a bullet in his head.”
Vernilia Vernet, mother of Wilson Auguste, an eighteen-year-old high school student, remembers her son in poignant, sweet detail. She is on the verge of tears the entire time she speaks. “I worked hard to raise that child right. He was a child who never went out. When he wanted to go [to the demonstration], he said, Mama, I’m going downtown and then he said, ‘If I had the money, I’ve never been to Fort Dimanche, I’d like to see Fort Dimanche.’ So he heard the mass on the radio, and he said, ‘That mass, that’s something I’d like to be part of.’ So he got himself cleaned up, he put on his clothes, and he went to the mass… When I came home from working downtown, I asked, ‘Oh, where’s Wilson? He hasn’t eaten the food I left for him? Where’s Wilson?’ And my youngest said, ‘Mama, I was going to tell you. He’s been out since this morning to go to the mass, he was so excited about it, he went to it, and he still hasn’t come back.’ And I said, ‘Well, pitit mwen, he must be dead.’ He was a child – he was never looking for trouble. He never went out. The latest he ever came home was 8 pm when school gets out, other than that he didn’t go out at all. And that child was dear to me. Ever since he died…! I’m barely alive at all. That child spoiled me so. If I got home later than usual from downtown, he would say, ‘Oh! Makomè! What were you doing out so late? You know I miss you when I haven’t seen you all day. You need to hurry home.’ When I get home, he even washes my clothes for me. That child did laundry for me. Sometimes I’d come home to find my clothes, even my underwear, washed – he’s the one who washed them for me. I never had to lift a finger at home. Since that child died, I’ve wasted away.”
“Justice, to me, is for these things to stop happening in the country of Haiti. Shooting people for no reason,” continues Mezilia Solivert. Her words unconsciously recall Jean Dominique’s analysis of the lethal logic of Duvalierism, refracted through her own experience, demonstrating again that though the Duvaliers were gone, Duvalierism and Macoutism remained. “When they kill someone’s relative, it’s the whole family they’re killing. They don’t realize that. But that’s it. When you kill one person, you’re destroying the entire family. Because when you kill one person, that was the one who helped the whole family. So you’ve destroyed the entire family.”
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University