Forthcoming work on Aimé Césaire, Haiti, and Caribbean Modernity


I thought I would let you know about an exciting project I’m working on . It’s a book on one of the most  influential Francophone poets and intellectuals in the twentieth century. Aimé Fernand David Césaire  , simply known as Aimé Césaire, was born in the island of Martinique on June 26, 1913 and passed away six years ago on April 12, 2008. He studied in Paris in the 30s  along with his friends Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas, the founders of the Negritude movement. Césaire was poet, statesman,  and  intellectual.  André Breton, the father of surrealism dubbed him “Un grand poet noir,” a racialist epithet I dissapprove.  Césaire was a militant  anticolonial writer, an advocate for social justice, social equality, human rights, black humanity and dignity. His two most important works are  his tour-de force- poem (1)  Cahier d’un retour au pays natal ( Paris: Volontés,1939), an epic that gave birth to the Negritude movement. Cesaire coined the word “negritude” as a counter discourse to Western modernity and the West’s idea of ordering of the world, and its assessment of (black) humanity; and (2) his seminal essay  Discours sur le colonialisme ( Paris: Présence Africaine , 1955),  which is arguably one of the most important anticolonial essays written in Western scholarship. Discours is a militant and counter response to European colonialism, imperialistic project, and their deadly mechanisms. 

port au prince haiti by David G-H.

My book tentatively entitled Aimé Césaire, Haiti,  and Caribbean Modernity (2012) will contribute to Césairian discourse of negritude and his vision of a new humanism. The book will give a fresh reading of Cesaire’s poetics, address precisely its indebtedness and relations to Haiti. Cesaire’s poetic discourse including his creative process were influenced by  revolutionary Haiti and the life and deeds of Haiti’s foremost military general and first postcolonial leader, Toussaint Louverture. In Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Cesaire posits  that Haiti is where negritude stood for the first time and believed in its humanity. For Cesaire, Caribbean modernity began with the Haitian Revolution; and that West Indians, borrowing the phrase  from C.L. R. James,  became a people at the event of the Haitian Revolution, a peculiar event  in the historical narrative and genesis of the Caribbean people.  The project will read Cesaire in light of the Haitian Revolution, the cradle of blackness and Caribbean modernity, and argue that  Cesaire’s poetic consciousness as an anticolonial writer owes its expression  to Haiti. The historical achievement of Africans in Saint-Domingue-Haiti, and the fact that Haiti became the first independent state in the New World, was significant to Cesaire’s articulation of his negritude philsophy, his idea of black humanity, and his argument of the responsibility of the black race to universal civilisation. I will contend for a new vision  of Caribbean modernity rooted in a Cesairian ethics and hermeneutics of difference .  Cesaire’s Caribbean modernity was shaped by the discourse of the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian Revolution, Cesaire would argue, was  the “big bang of antillean cosmos.” Finally,  I believe that Cesaire is has a lot to contribute to modern discourse on universalism, ethics, and human rights. His voice still speaks  today, his message for us  in the twenty-first century is simply salvific. Cesaire’s political discourse is nothing less than his relentless activism for social justice and equality, human emancipation and human rights , which many believe the Haitian Revolution inaugurated.

 Your faithful servant,



Petition on Haiti


This petition is addressed to the French Republic and the international community by Haitians around the world on behalf of the Haitian people. So far, friends of Haiti, professors, intellectuals, human rights advocates, as well as numerous individual who are concerned about global justice, have all signed this petition (over 1000 signatures so far). Your signature will demonstrate the solidarity that the global community share with Haitian people in their struggle for a better future.

International petition on the occasion of the visit of Nicolas Sarkozy to Haiti,

President of the French Republic

Since the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010 that killed more than 200, 000 people, Haiti is once again the focus of international attention. Beyond the tremendous compassion showed by the international community, the issue of the reconstruction of Haiti and particularly the question of how to finance this reconstruction remains the main concern.  An early assessment evaluates the launching of the nation’s rebuilding to cost about 10 billion dollars. Where will the impoverished nation raise these funds?

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was visiting Haiti on February 17, 2010. This is the first time a French president has visited Haiti since the independence and the creation of the State of Haiti. In this particular occasion, it is critical for Haiti (as a former French colony and the pride of the French trade power along the 17th and the 18th centuries) and for the sake of human rights and global justice, to address the issue of restitution of the independence debt of the former slaves.

As the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States, Haiti is the poorest nation while the United States is the most powerful. Systematically and as an anthem, western Media reinforces this thinking. However, the critical question of how the wealthiest former French colony, the first black Republic in the world, became the hemisphere’s poorest country is missing from the discourse.

The dramatic situation of Haiti after two centuries of independence is not the result of any fate or curse. Haiti’s backwardness is, on the one hand, the result of the horrors of enslavement and colonization from 1492 to 1803. In addition, after its independence, Haiti was forced to pay a horrific tribute in order to be recognized as a free nation by the great powers of the colonialist and slavery period.

This tribute, set initially at 150 000 000 gold Francs, was finally reduced to 90, 000, 000 and was paid until the last cent by the first black post-slave Republic to the “homeland” of human rights. This huge and indecent tribute paid to France, has stunted the young free nation commercially and economically, and destroyed it ecologically and socially. Many historians have demonstrated that this ransom imposed by the strong on the weak compromised the future the weak. Then, imperialism and racism turned the first major fight for freedom in the new world into the most abject misery.

As Louis-Philippe Dalambert (2004), a major Haitian author stressed, France does not have any glory to have imposed such an immoral and unjust debt to Haiti. In this respect, it is of the upmost importance that France returns to the suffering nation the money it took unjustly from the former slaves. While Haiti is facing the most critical moment for its national reconstruction, the restitution of the independence debt is the most legitimate request that Haiti can formulate.

Thus, instead of banking on the hypothetical foreign investments in Haiti or waiting for the loans from the IMF and the World Bank or again, betting on the mercantile rationale for the reconstruction of the country, We, the Haitian people, request solemnly from France the reimbursement of 21 billion (estimated in 2004 USD) as equivalent to the ransom given to France from 1825 to 1946.

The restitution of this money is considered for the Haitian people as a corner stone for any policy of development and reconstruction. With these funds, we will be able to build schools, hospitals, homes, universities; all in regards to the anti-seismic norms of construction.  Also, we will be able to build road infrastructures, bridges, canals for irrigation, and electric centrals with renewable energy; rebuild the national economy, invest in rural development and agro-industry in order to assure definitely food security in Haiti.

For all these reasons, we, the Haitian people, request from France the restitution of the money owed to Haiti. This money shall be return by the Republic of France that cashed the money from 1825 to 1946, to the Republic of Haiti that paid the money for the period mentioned. The two republics will discuss of the terms of the reimbursement.

During the revolutionary period of the history of modernity (18th and 19th centuries), France always positioned itself as avant-garde of the modern consciousness. The tragic situation of Haiti and the solemnest request of the Haitian people to repay the money owed to the poor republic, offers to the French republic a great opportunity to repair its historic involvement in what is “a crime against humanity.”

Towards this gesture of reimbursement to Haiti, France will not only redeem itself from its participation in the crime against humanity, but also will have the opportunity to really demonstrate the friendship it claims to have for the suffering nation of former slaves who invented freedom for the entire humanity beyond the considerations of race.

If you want to sign this petition please send your name and country to Winsome Chunnu, or

Égalité for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

Joseph Ademola Adeyemo – The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture – Scene

Studies on the Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution occurred between 1791-1804, lead by Haiti’s foremost general, Toussaint Louverture. On January 1, 1804, Haiti’s chief general, Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the independence of Haiti, thus indicating the genesis of the first black independent state in the history of Western Hemisphere by virtue of its only successful slave revolution. The Haitian Revolution of 1804 was undoubtedly the only triumphant slave revolution in the world, and has become a symbol of anticolonial revolt and universal emancipation. For notable and historical works on the Haitian Revolution I list the following studies:

 C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the Santo Domingo Revolution. New York: Random House, 1938, 1963, 1989.

 Michel Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995 .

 Thomas Ott, The Haitian Revolution, 1789-1804.  Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1973 .

Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.  

Sibylle Fischer, Modernity Disavodwed Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. Durham: Duke UP, 2004.  

Carolyn Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Haitian Revolution from Below. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

David Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies.Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002. 

Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004.

Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804:A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.;

 Jeremy D. Popkin, Facing Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.

 Nick Nesbitt, Universal Emanticipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2008.;

Doris L. Garraway (ed), Tree of Liberty: Cultural Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2008.

For the impact of the Haitian Revolution, see the following studies:

 David Geggus, The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. London: Verso, 1988.

Eugene D. Genovese, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.

David Patrick Geggus & Norman Fiering (eds), The World of the Haitian Revolution. Bloomington and Indianpolis: Indiana UP, 2009.

For key studies written in French, consult the following:

 Yves Benot, La Révolution française et la fin des colonies 1789-1794. Paris: La Découverte, 1992.

Yves Bénot and Marcel Dorigny (eds). Rétablissement de l’esclavage dans les colonies françaises. Aux origines d’Haïti. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2003 .

 Marcel Dorigny, “Aux origines: l’independence d’Haïti et son occultation,” in La Fracture coloniale : La société française au prisme de l’héritage colonial edited  by Nicolas BancelPascal Blanchard , and Sandrine Lemaire. Paris : La Découverte, 2005.

Aime Césaire, Toussaint Louverture : La Révolution française et le problème colonial. Paris : Présence Africaine, 1981;   Pierre Pluchon, Toussaint Louverture: De L’esclavage au pouvoir. Paris : Editions de l’Ecole, 1979. 

Pierre Pluchon, Toussaint Louverture : Un révolutionnaire noir d’Ancien régime. Paris: Fayard, 1989.

Colin Dayan says the best aid for the earthquake-ravaged nation is to empower its people

Source: Vanderbilt View:

Colin Dayan says the best aid for the earthquake-ravaged nation is to empower its people

by Jim Patterson

An earthquake kills more than 150,000 people in Haiti. President Obama promises to help and the military mobilizes. There’s a televised concert to raise money, and people can text $10 donations though their cell phones.

The wheels are in motion. Aid is on the way. Cleanup will begin soon. We’ve done what we can for those poor people. On to the next story.

But wait – with the help of Vanderbilt’s Colin Dayan, let’s take a closer look. Why did this happen, and how should we react? Dayan says the destruction wrought by the 7.0 earthquake that struck on Jan. 12 was, in part, “man-made.”

Consider this: Until the 1980s, the population of Port-au-Prince was much lower than the 2 million who were affected by the earthquake. Before that, many Haitians lived in the countryside as farmers of rice and pigs.

“In the 1980s, there was a big move, mostly by the United States Agency for International Development, to get Haitians out of the countryside and into the cities for multinational assembly industries,” said Dayan, author of Haiti, History and the Gods. “The promise was to put Haitians to work in industry. Some called it the Taiwanization of Haiti.”

To push along the move, rice was imported from Miami at prices Haitian farmers couldn’t match. A swine flu scare led to the killing of all the pigs in the country, which were replaced by less hardy pigs from Iowa – called “cochons blancs” by Haitians – that were only given to peasants who converted to Christianity. Because they couldn’t survive in the countryside, the new pigs had to be housed at the Christian missions. Haitians actually traveled to visit their pigs.

As a result, Haitians moved en masse to the cities from the countryside. Instead of growing their own food on plots of land given to their families following independence in 1804, many Haitians were working and living in the cities and more vulnerable when the earthquake struck.

“Haitians don’t need our compassion, which too often translates into ‘taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves,’” said Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren Professor of the Humanities and professor of English.

What Haitians yearn for is to be respected for the proud and resilient people they’ve proven themselves to be, Dayan said. They could help themselves if business interests and the Haitian elite would stop looking to poor Haitians as a cheap labor force, and if unfair debt dating back 200 years were wiped out.

“You get this representation of Haiti as utterly helpless and retrograde every time there’s a crisis there,” Dayan said. “You’ve got reporters saying, ‘We’ve got to change the culture. We’ve got to be tough on them. We’ve got to impose middle class values of achievement, and we’ve got to get rid of the cultural backwardness in that country – voodoo.’”

Long before the earthquake, Haiti was repeatedly a victim of Western exploitation, including a brutal occupation from 1915 to 1934 by the United States, Dayan said.

“Citibank pushed for that invasion,” she said. “It was a disaster. There was some progress in terms of building roads, but that was accomplished by using Haitians doing forced labor.”

Additionally, the Haitian Constitution was rewritten during the U.S. occupation. One change eliminated a provision that prevented foreign whites from being proprietors in Haiti.

“After that, foreign proprietors were everywhere in Haiti,” Dayan said.

Much media commentary continues to contribute to the perception of Haiti as a backward nation in need of Western reform. A television evangelist declared that the earthquake was the fruit of a deal with the devil by the people of Haiti. More shocking to Dayan, a New York Times columnist advised that sweat shops are needed to build the country’s economy.

“It seems like people think that the only way to help is to re-enslave Haitians as a captive labor force,” Dayan said.

As the first black republic in the New World and the second independent nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is still a beacon to many developing nations. Cuba and Venezuela were the first to send aid after the earthquake.

“Haiti was once considered Paris in the Caribbean,” said Jane G. Landers, associate professor of history and author of Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions. “There were huge cathedrals, libraries and artwork. The French made it the most profitable colony, based on sugar, which depended on slave labor.”

Landers said the successful Haitian slave revolt from 1791 to 1803 led to fear that the urge for freedom would spread.

“The papers were so fearful that they equated freedom for slaves as a plague or disease,” said Landers, who grew up in the Dominican Republic. Those attitudes continue to this day, she said, with press accounts of Haiti focusing on “poverty and tires burning around people’s necks.”

Haiti paid a huge price for its independence from France: 150 million francs to compensate the French for lost property – slaves. The country has been saddled by debt ever since. Debt forgiveness could make a massive difference, Dayan said.

The impulse to provide aid after a natural disaster is heartening, but it would help if as much of it as possible were provided through Haitian organizations instead of the U.S. military.

“I think the really important thing is to look at how we may be able to help Haitian organizations, which exist and are very important,” Dayan said. “They have tremendous expertise, and they’re already on the ground helping.”

In the longer term, Dayan hopes that calls for sweat shops and other uses of Haitians for cheap labor will fail. Haitians could industrialize or not at their own pace, hopefully with local ownership. And the voodoo traditions that are so feared and maligned by Westerners and the media should continue to be a source of hope and strength to many Haitians. Stigmatizing voodoo as a backward “zombie religion” is incorrect and harmful, Dayan said.

“To this day, many of the strongest Haitian communities are those that practice voodoo,” Dayan said.

“Voodoo is a fascinating religious practice,” she said. “It’s a way of reinterpreting history, a thinking-through of the history of Haiti that springs from the people rather than from enslavers or occupiers like the French or the Americans. The only thing that can destroy voodoo is Protestantism, because if you don’t have rum and you can’t dance, the gods are not going to come.”

Haiti: the Land of bitter tears!

Haiti: the Land of bitter tears!

By Celucien L. Joseph (January 14, 2010)


Oh the most merciful and gracious God, why Haiti again?

Have we not had enough?

Is this what you call love?

This justice is bitter

We who are left, how shall we look up?


God of our bitter tears,

Where’s grace when it’s most needed?

Where’s hope for our wretched souls?

Where’s love when hate abounds?

Kindness has left us

Joy is no more

Peace has renounced us


God of our endless wounds,

Has the land of freedom black become a graveyard, and a jungle-folk?

Mourning their tragic loss…

A hundred drop of tears

In Children face they come…


God of our weary years,

Long ago Négrier betrayed us

300 years of bitter herbs…

Of poignant and despairing spirituals, we shall sing no more

Trampled under the strength of the mighty ones…

200 years of failed justice and false hopes

 Of foreign uses and abuses of Ayiti Cherie

What will happen next…?

In peaceful solitude of death we will be remembered.


God of our silent nights,

Have not our weary feet stumbled?

Who will write our story?

Who will write you songs of praise…?

Sing joy in the realm of the loss…?

How about morning melody?

Have we all been together erased and excommunicated?


God of our heavy sorrows,

If we must die, let it not be like orphans or dogs,

Nor those without hope

May we forever forget…?

May we evermore trod…?

It’s a long road to Guinea, of eternal dark days ahead

No sun will shine for us, in our dark land

We know all the roads of the world

Since we were sold in slavery, long ago…


God of our darkened days,

Will the moon guide our sleepy paths?

Will we sing the spirituals of the age-old Nile, in the new land?

Silence, separation, tears, lynching, all we know

We are fragmented and split between…

We also know hope and hope still…

Will another song spring forth from our voice to the sky?

Will we count still…?


God of our forgotten trials,

On your unqualified loving-kindness, 

Unconditional mercy and unreserved love

We shall stand and fall…

Upon the Lord above, in hope our soul shall rest

Standing tall at thy summit…

Lest we forget Thee…

Lead us into thy Light…

Toward freedom we shall march…

Oh God of our weary years