Between Two Worlds: Jean Price-Mars, Haiti, and Africa ed. by Celucien L. Joseph, Jean Eddy Saint Paul, and Glodel Mezilas
Jean Price-Mars was Haiti's foremost intellectual in the twentieth century and is best known for his contributions to the Negritude Movement. It is his commitment to decoloniality and indigeneity that secures his relevance today. His major work Ainsi Parla L'Oncle (1928), translated by Magdaline Shannon as So Spoke the Uncle (1983), challenged the Haitian elite for viewing all things "authentically indigenous" about Haiti as suspicious (1983, 8). He also used the book to generate national opposition to foreign influence by crafting a complex understanding of Haitian identity with its roots in Africa, not France. His central chapters focused on tracing African history, particularly looking at African civilizations like the Dahomean region (present day Benin) in order to better understand the origins of the syncretic nature of Haitian Vodou.
To restore Price-Mars to his rightful place in the history of philosophy, the editors of Between Two Worlds have divided their collection of eleven essays into three major sections. Part 1 features four essays centered on Price-Mars's involvement in the Haitian Renaissance, his Haitian government service, his resistance of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, and his work to preserve Vodou as an ethical system. There Patrick Delices, the author [End Page 308] of three of the eleven essays, uses Price-Mars's anti-imperialist writings to explore the negative effects of the U.S. occupation of Haiti on its economic, political, and cultural life. In "The Vocation of the Elite" (1919) Price-Mars was critical not just of the foreign presence but also of the Haitian government. He partially blamed foreign occupation on the "fragmented and divided elite" that "turned against itself" and failed to build any "legal" or "moral resistance to the invader" (69). When in 1918, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt demonstrated an ultimate display of power by re-writing Haiti's constitution, most notably redacting Haiti's clause that denied foreign ownership of land, Price-Mars reacted enigmatically to this injustice by stating that "the most insignificant action on our part will raise our ancestors, not from the tombs where they do not stir, but from the bottom of our souls where they live forever" (70).
Part 2 of Between Two Worlds, features three essays on Price-Mars's contributions to Francophone Black Atlantic culture, Pan-Africanism, the Negritude Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, and Brazil's Indigeneity movement. Addressing the last of these, Myriam Mompoint demonstrates that Price-Mars and Arthur Ramos should be recognized as major pioneers in Pan-African studies, ethnology, and ethnography. She introduces the first letter Price-Mars wrote to Ramos in 1936, congratulating him on his latest publication O Negro Brasileiro (1935). Price-Mars informed Ramos that he was tracing African survivals in his research on rural traditions and syncretic religion in Haiti, as Ramos was doing in Brazil. Establishing this common ground, Mompoint devotes the rest of the essay to the nature of their professional relationship. A prime example that Mompoint provides is Ramos's limited exposure to texts on Haitian Vodou, despite his familiarity with the Afro-Brazilian syncretic religion, Candomblé. She shows that it was their position as both observers and informants that put them at a particular advantage.
Part 3 features four essays on Price-Mars's exposition of Africa's role in Haitian history and its impact on Haitian intellectual history, Haitian collective identity, Caribbean Francophone writings, and understandings of African traditional religions. Moussa Traore's chapter arguing that discourse among the Antillanité and Créolité movements should be understood as a modernization of the Pan-Africanism left by Price-Mars is of particular interest. In the first section of the chapter, Traore discusses the impact Haitian anthropologist Anténor Firmin (1850–1911) had on Price-Mars scholarship. In the second part, Traore compares Price-Mars's [End Page 309] judgment on the relationship between Africa and the Caribbean with what Traore describes as a Deleuzian view of Pan-Africanism among subsequent Caribbean thinkers. Traore begins this section by highlighting how Price-Mars's Ainsi Parla L'Oncle demonstrated a connection between Haiti and continental Africa in both Haitian folklore and Haitian Vodou. By examining the work of Édouard Glissant as well as the essay "In Praise of Creoleness" (1990), written by leaders of the Creolité movement Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant, Traore shows the debt these Caribbean scholars with their differential notions of diaspora owed to Price-Mars.
This volume is only the fourth book published in the United States about Jean Price-Mars. Two of those four, in addition to Magdaline Shannon's translation So Spoke the Uncle, are currently out of print. Perhaps the lack of engagement with Price-Mars's work is due to scholars' limited access to both original editions and translations, but Shannon suspects something far more sinister. She argues that the neglect of Price-Mars is part of a larger history of anti-Haitian sentiment in the United States, and around the world (1983, ix). This is a plausible concern given that Price-Mars not only wrote Ainsi Parla L'Oncle to ignite national consciousness against foreign influences like the United States, but also because he chose to champion the history of a country that struck a blow against transatlantic slavery in the early nineteenth century. Between Two Worlds provides a valuable introduction to Price-Mars's contributions to decoloniality and indigeneity and will likely inspire English-language readers to investigate his works further, but it is to be regretted that, beyond a few comments by William H. Alexander in chapter 5, little is done to address the question posed in the introduction: "What did Price-Mars say about feminism and the role of women in general in the evolution of culture and universal civilization?" Price-Mars's positive comments about women's education in "The Vocation of the Elite" could have been juxtaposed with the central role of women in Vodou as well as the cultural understanding of Haitian women as "Poto Mitan" explored by Renée Bergan in her production Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2015). [End Page 310]
ashley lamarre is a PhD student at The Pennsylvania State University. Her areas of interest include Africana Philosophy, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Aesthetics. She previously received her B.A. in Philosophy and African American Studies at Lake Forest College.