2 Their Bones Would Reject Yours
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2 Their Bones Would Reject Yours Native citizens, men, women, girls, and children, let your gaze extend on all parts of this island: . . . Look there for your children, your suckling infants, what have they become? . . . I shudder to say it . . . the prey of these vultures. Instead of these dear victims, your alarmed gaze will see only their assassins, these tigers still dripping with their blood, whose terrible presence indicts your lack of feeling and your guilty slowness in avenging them. What are you waiting for before appeasing their spirits? Remember that you had wanted your remains to rest next to those of your fathers, after you defeated tyranny; will you descend into their tombs without having avenged them? No! Their bones would reject yours. —Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haitian Declaration of Independence Haiti and its revolution have become for the world a site of—to borrow the words of a Wilson Harris title—“infinite rehearsal.” Haiti’s act of independence, signed on January 1, 1804, begins with liberty—or death—but continues with General Jean-Jacques Dessalines’s exhortation to newly independent Haitians to neither forget nor forgive French treachery. In fact, in the declaration, Dessalines persuades his generals (and, by extension, the nation) that not to avenge the national family is a cosmic act of betrayal. He asks, “What are you waiting for before appeasing their spirits?” And, like the Taino and Africans before him (who believed that bones themselves are animate),1 Dessalines offers a most dire punishment—those who profane and squander ancestral sacrifice, those who fail to avenge Haiti, will be condemned to eternal unrest, their bones will be rejected: “Remember that you had wanted your remains to rest next to those of your fathers, after you defeated tyranny; will you descend into their tombs without having avenged them? No! Their bones would reject yours.”2 Ancestral bones, particularly the bones of the father, are the terra firma of belonging, from the Taino to slain Haitians, and are invoked here by Dessalines to inspire and cement all Haitians—men, women, boys, and girls—to their newly liberated land. His invocation of restless bones and ancestral rejection asserts that the task of Caribbean (or, more specifically, Haitian) citizens is to defend liberty forever. Rejection 53  Their Bones Would Reject Yours by the enslaved and founding ancestors whose blood and toil covered every corner of Hispaniola is the greatest castigation Dessalines can imagine. And indeed, actively remembering and revising the freedoms these bodies and bones fought for is an important aspect of democracy projects. While the previous chapter deals in the main with Middle Passage rehearsals and more contemporary ways in which black agency is still curtailed, this chapter focuses on revolution and freedom. Although this reckoning with ancestors was initially about punishing Europeans, today Haiti reckons with its “native-born citizens,” particularly men, who have brutalized liberty and traumatized generations of Haitians. Haiti’s incomplete, unfinished process has mirrored the extremes of regional development and has maintained those extremes, even as it celebrated its bicentennial in the midst of its thirtythird coup. Nonetheless, the Revolution exists as a monument of black agency and continues to inspire new understandings of the discourses of power in the quest for Atlantic freedom. The leaders of this revolution were leaders with whom Caribbean countries have rehearsed: the rational, noble, and paternalistic men similar to Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture and Eric Williams of Trinidad; the dictators and kings, such as King Henri Christophe and Forbes Burnham of Guyana ; and the hard-to-recover leaders reminiscent of Dessalines—most well meaning, but all seen in some capacity before—such as Emperor Faustin I of Haiti. And though these men are familiar, more constant are the external forces arising from governments and multinational companies seeking to contain Haitian possibility. Internally, Haiti’s fight for freedom and power has produced contradictions, regressions , and frustrations that have been internalized by other Caribbean citizenries. Despite this, the Haitian Revolution remains a beacon of freedom in the Atlantic world, particularly in the Caribbean, where its audacity remains something to emulate. The writers highlighted in this study reclaimed a specific history of the black male hero and, at the same time, wrote themselves into it as legitimate patriarchs. Because of this preoccupation with proving black worth, the Haitian Revolution becomes an ideal vehicle for romanticizing and rehearsing history in literature. Indeed, it is remembered as a time when strong, capable men took a stand for black people and changed...


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Subject Headings

  • Caribbean literature -- History and criticism.
  • Feminist literature -- Caribbean area.
  • National characteristics, Caribbean, in literature.
  • Feminism in literature.
  • Gender identity in literature.
  • Caribbean Area -- In literature.
  • Caribbean Area -- In art.
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