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Reflections and Musings on a Life Well Lived!

From: Journal of Haitian Studies
Volume 19, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 168-170 | 10.1353/jhs.2013.0045

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The contributions found herein from diverse scholars on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s life and work are like a variegated bouquet of tropical (non-Western) flowers and fruits left at the feet of a master—I prefer the Haitian expression maître! Rolph’s scholarly production was hefty, done by a man who died too young. But this is just the beginning, as younger scholars still reflect upon, interpret, and reinterpret Trouillot’s oeuvre, his role and his presence in the academic corpus. More emanations of this presence will come later, after time and more maturation, after the dust settles further. Just as it was with those who came before him—C. L. R. James, Eric Williams, Walter Rodney, Oliver Cromwell Cox, and, of course, Jean Price-Mars, a long line of sophisticates whom I described in my own writings as passionate and objective—Rolph dared to reassess the position of a small and ignored but prominent state, Haiti, within prevailing historico-socio-economic constructions of the Western mainstream. His was a cri du coeur, coming as it did from an artist-cum-social scientist. In this respect, he reflected other Haitian writers who had given us trenchant analyses of our realities through the bias of literary production. And these two parts of his personality, fully integrated in his persona, made him an attractive figure and propelled him to prominence. He left us young, but accomplished a lifetime of work!

I met Rolph on a number of occasions, surrounded by the adoring young men and women to whom he gave permission to think other thoughts about the world in which they lived, particularly those of us who, to cite José Martí, lived “in the belly of the monster.” But I envied those who knew him ‘before,’ in the years before he became famous and adulated. I yearned for that youngster the songster who felt everything intensely, the poet, the creole bard who suffered alongside us all. The Rolph that intrigues me thus is the one that existed before ‘the transformation’ into an anthropologist who left his mark beyond anthropology. That’s the Rolph I want, but can’t recover. I suspect that this link would connect me to his antecedents and to his ancestry, to the family—his—I had come to cherish over several decades. I credit his father and his uncle for giving me the sweet bitter taste of my own country’s history, leaving me wanting more. Ernst Trouillot was my history teacher at College Saint-Martial. What an incubation this must have been for Rolph, surrounded by elders and contemporaries in a family that had given and continues to give unstintingly to Haiti as artists, poets, and novelists.

I had a glimpse of that younger man when, over Rhum Barbancourt, he became the storyteller I knew him to be, surrounded by contemporaries—the youngsters having been banished to nearby bars. His lodyans, hilariously funny at times, were always on point, and I felt often that he was voye pwent; his arrows fell where they were intended. On a steamy night in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, he launched into a funny and perspicacious analysis of then-President Aristide that left me wanting more. . . . I was reminded of the lodyans of my childhood, in the humid nights of Port-au-Prince in full black-out mode, that culminated in the retelling of jokes about Tonton Nord Alexis and all others who had quickly climbed the heights of Haitian political power and fallen as abruptly. This funny side of Rolph made perfect sense, but he retained the deft touch of an artist. He was “real.”

I was especially sensitive to the fact that both of us had reached similar conclusions about the stress and the struggle between state and nation. As early as 1970, I had argued that democracy would exist in Haiti only when the structures of the state found concordance with the cultural institutions of the nation. He also reached that conclusion. I was hopeful that he would go further, and follow me in my prescription for resolving the crisis when I wrote that democracy in Haiti would be an Africanizing process. He did not. I could have...

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