Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Review of Professor Henry Louis Gates' Film "Black in Latin America"

A Bookmanlit Review by Jerry and Yvrose Gilles/April 18,2011
Permission to repost granted by Yvrose Gilles, Bookmanlit

Professor Gates' documentary will be broadcasted this evening [04/19/11] at 8pm on PBS. I think it's important to view the island as a whole unit which has been besieged by political forces both outside and within that are bent on destroying its African heritage.
    –Yvrose Gilles

Professor Henry Louis Gates film “Black in Latin America” could not have come at a more appropriate time. This year, 2011, has been declared by the United Nations to be the International year for people of African descent. It is welcome news in Haiti where generations have celebrated their African ancestry. In part 1 of the documentary, Professor Gates looks at the lives of African descendants in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. He recounts the history of the island mainly from a Dominican perspective. He refers to the island as “Hispaniola” as named by Christopher Columbus and not as the island of Haiti as it was named by its first inhabitants. The Dominicans prefer the term “Hispaniola”, little Spain, so that they can point to themselves as being of Spanish origin. Professor Gates’ film is important because it opens the gate to an important discussion that is at the root of the island’s division into two countries with differing racial identities. The film itself is groundbreaking in its perspective on the history of the two countries, but it misses important historical details that would have buttressed it further. The objective of this review is to add those details.

The people of Haiti are the descendants of Africans taken to the Americas between 1502 to 1866 when the world’s superpowers derived their workforce from the buying and selling and kidnapping of people. Haiti was the first modern nation to abolish slavery and to assert the sanctity of human life. So successful was Haiti’s Bwa Kayiman Revolt of 1791, that it ignited a 13 year war which eventually led to the withdrawal of all European slave trading powers from the island. Spain was the first European nation forced to abandon the island. It ceded its part of the island (present day Dominican Republic) to France in 1795 in the Treaty of Basel. The Spaniards were in such haste to leave the warn-torn island that they may have erroneously left the remains of Christopher Columbus in an old Cathedral in Santo Domingo. The British left in 1798 after an unsuccessful attempt to gain control of the island. The French were the last to leave in November 1803, after they were defeated at the Battle of Vertierres. Leaders of the Revolution proclaimed the island’s independence from European domination on January 1st, 1804.

Haiti’s history is an incredible David and Goliath tale of an island nation led by people of African descent struggling to survive in a world dominated by European powers bent on subjugating them. Isolated, demonized, and crushed by extortion and embargoes, the new Haitian state was never really given a chance to thrive by the nations that it defeated.

Internal feuds and nature also took their toll on the developing nation. In 1844, less than 2 years after a devastating earthquake paralyzed the central government, leaders of the eastern part of Haiti declared its independence as the Dominican Republic. Remaining colonists on the eastern part of the island seized the opportunity to secede from a country that had neither protected their social privileges nor given them access to international markets. The extent of the territory controlled by this new Dominican government remained unclear and the economies and cultures of the two countries remained integrated until the US invaded the island in 1915.

In 1936, under U.S. influence, Haiti and the Dominican Republic reached an agreement over the borders of the two countries. This treaty, signed in the 20th century and called the Trujillo-Vincent agreement, partitioned the island to largely reflect its borders nearly 150 years earlier when the territory was ruled by France and Spain. It was as if the Haitian Revolution had not occurred. Haiti was forced to abandon the notion of the entire island as one country as defined in its original Constitution.

The creation of the two countries from one island has a clear history but historians have distorted that history to support their political agendas. Dominican historians have presented Haiti as an aggressor nation that invaded the D.R. when in fact Haiti simply exercised its sovereignty over territory that it had won from France ever since the 1804 declaration of the island’s independence. Some Haitian historians support the invasion myth even though there was no Dominican state at the time. These Haitian historians find it easier to imagine Haiti as a conquering power rather than realize that it was a besieged country fighting to hold onto its territory.

Fewer in number and lighter in complexion than the Haitians, the Dominicans became largely a phenotypically mulatto state. Dominican leaders used this skin tone difference to argue that blacks are outsiders and that the people of the Dominican Republic are Indios, the descendants of the native population who were wiped out by the Spaniards by the early 1500s.

In the 1930’s, the Dominican dictator, Trujillo1 took measures to further lighten the skin tone of the Dominican population. Such measures included facilitating the entry into the Dominican Republic of Europeans fleeing Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. At the same time he accused dark skinned people living in the Dominican Republic of being Haitians and slaughtered them. Professor Gates reports that at least 15,000 people were killed. Influenced by Hitler’s arguments about the supremacy of the Arian race, Trujillo commissioned historians to write a history showing that the Dominican Republic was as white a state as possible.

Through schooling and political repression, many Dominicans have learned to reject their African ancestry. Instead they embrace “Hispanicity’’. It is only by speaking Spanish, practicing the Catholic faith, and valuing light skin, do they consider themselves to be truly Dominican.

This year 2011, as the world celebrates African ancestry, we know that many Dominicans and Haitians will want to assert their African ancestry. Although Dominican denial of African heritage is widespread, it is not universal. Professor Gates was able to find an organization in the Dominican Republic calling itself the Kongo Brotherhood. Likewise the assertion of African heritage in Haiti, although widespread, is not universal. Like many Dominicans, there are Haitians who deny their African heritage. Hopefully, by opening up the discussion about African heritage, professor Gates will help people everywhere to recognize that we are all members of the human family and we owe it to the memory of those whose genes we carry to be true to ourselves.

Happy International Year for People of African Descent!

_____________________
REFERENCES:
1 Trujillo's grandmother Luisa Ercina Chevalier was Haitian, she was the daughter of Diyetta Chevalier, a Haitian who settled in San Cristobal, Domminican Republic.

BLACK IN LATIN AMERICA | Interview with Henry Louis, Gates, Jr. | PBS Video
BLACK IN LATIN AMERICA | Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided, Black in Latin America, PBS Video

18 comments:

Fitzgerald said...

Fantastic review of a very important PBS program. I especially appreciate your ability to fill in historically significant elements that were curiously glossed over in Gates' PBS piece; specifically the opportunistic "secession" of a non-existent Dominican state declaring itself free from so called Haitian occupation. I would have also liked more program time devoted to the continued occupation of Haiti by external forces disguised as democracy builders. All in all, I am happy about the Gates' piece. It was successful in it's ability to shed light on otherwise ignored Haitian history as a proud nation.

thezenhaitian said...

The review is written by Yvrose and Jerry Gilles of Boukmanlit.

Gate's documentary sheds light on some misunderstood issues about Haiti as you point out. However, some issues need further clarification.

Henri Christophe was a drummer boy when he went to Savanna, Georgia with soldiers sent by Haiti to fight in the American Revolution.

Dessalines declared his intention to distribute the resources of the country equally among the people, so that brought him into conflict with the mulatto Generals Pétion, Gerin and Boyer. They had Dessalines' assassinated.

After the betrayal and traitorous assassination of Dessalines, Henri Christophe ruled only the North from 1807 to 1820, while Pétion ruled Southern Haiti from 1806-1820 and Boyer ruled Haiti from 1820 to 1843.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Haiti's indigenous army fought for equal rights for all, while Alexander Sabes Pétion and Jean-Pierre Boyer fought for special Bourgeoisie interests. These special interest have managed to hold on to control of Haiti and it's resources since with the help of their "international" patrons.

thezenhaitian said...

Also, Bwa Kayiman is a location, but I doubt that it means "alligator woods. The literal meaning is "woods by the Iman's house.

Jessie Thomas said...

What a biased comment and essay, like it was your territory and I like how you deleted the 20 years of high taxes, stopping worship of free religion and omit the oppression of the Haitian invasion , if it wasnt so "bad" then why did the African American colony of Samana side with Dominicans (& they didn't intermarry with Haitians)? they were invited by Boyer to strengthen the island, they couldn't practice their AME religion, therefore sided with Dominicans for freedom. Please dont try to re-write history simply because your Haitian.

thezenhaitian said...

Hi Jessie. Thank you for your comment.

The Dominican Republic was never "invaded" by Haiti. Haiti won the freedom of the entire island from Spain and France.

It's unfortunately that Dominicans and even some Haitians continue to refer to the island as "Hispanoila." How sad for the thousands of Taino and Arawak indians who were slaughtered by the Spanish that their "land of mountains" (Ayiti) is referred to by Westerners as "little spain."

Haitians have inherited a rich legacy of freedom. Haitians should be properly honored as the "avenger of the new world." Haiti has never participated in a war of invasion, though Haiti (Dessalines and Petion respectively) did come to the aid of Miranda and Simon Bolivar of Venezuela by equipping them with arms and men to fight for the independence of South America when they came to Haiti asking for help. Haiti only asked that they also free the slaves as the payment for the aid it provided. President Chavez has often praised Haiti for their historical role in the Bolivarian Revolution.

As a matter of record, Dessalines specified in the Haitian constitution that Haiti would not interfere in the affairs of its neighbors militarily. However, Dessalines did offer a monetary reward for each enslaved African a slave ship brought to Haiti --in order to grant the enslaved freedom.

Taxes on the Catholic church is something that is addressed in the documentary by Gates -- so obviously the DR was practicing its religion.

How sad that the AME religion couldn't practice their faith. How large was their congregation in the 1840s when the DR was still Haiti? I'd love to learn more about this unknown history. The AME religion: it's very popular in the African-American community isn't it? It must be unusual in a "white" country like the DR to have such a religion in its midst -- very tolerant. How did the Haitian government of the 1840s prevent this small group of worshippers from practicing their religion, I wonder?

Just as an aside, in my opinion, there's probably a lot of practicality to religions/churches paying some taxes. The Catholic church in particular is a very rich religious order and abuse of power, sexual deviancy and hypocrisy seem to be endemic to that religion. The Catholic church and a myriad of other faiths in Haiti probably own more property in Haiti than any other private land owner and pay absolutely no taxes.

thezenhaitian said...

Here is the statement in the constitution about military invasion:

Haitian Constitution of 1805 -- Article 36
36. The Emperor shall never form any enterprize (sic) with the views of making conquests, nor to disturb the peace and interior administration of foreign colonies.

http://thelouvertureproject.org/index.php?title=Haitian_Constitution_of_1805

40554992-c39d-11e0-9e4b-000bcdca4d7a said...

A couple of things...
Haiti’s Bwa Kayiman Revolt of 1791, did not lead to the 1795 Treaty of Basel. This peace treaty was between France and Spain. Moreover, by 1802 the eastern side of the island was firmly in control of the French. Still, in 01/01/1804, France still had total control of what is now known as Dominican Republic. In 07/11/1808, at the Battle of "Palo Hincado", in el Seybo, Dominican-Spanish troops fought against the French Army and returned control to Spain. In 30/11/1821 José Núñez de Cáceres proclaimed independence from Spain. In 2/9/1822, Haiti occupies Santo Domingo.

On the twenty-two year occupation, Dominicans saw their lands forcibly confiscated, the closing of the university, travel restrictions, clergy deported, heavy taxes to pay the enormous indemnity to French colonist that Haiti has agreed, and much, much, more! In short a nightmare.

thezenhaitian said...

Thank you for your comment...

Spaniards crossing the border to re-enslave Haitians and threatening to mount an expedition from Spanish Santo Domingo to re-establish slavery; in short, a nightmare.

"Inspired by events taking place in France during the French Revolution and by disputes between whites and mulattos in Saint Domingue, a slave revolt broke out in the French colony in 1791, and was eventually led by a French Black man by the name of Toussaint L'ouverture. Since Spain had ceded the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo to France in 1795, in the Treaty of Basilea, Toussaint L'Ouverture and his followers claimed the entire island.

Although L'Ouverture and his successor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, succeeded in re-establishing order and renewing the economy of Saint Domingue, which had been badly devastated, the new leader in France, Napoleon Bonaparte, could not accept having France's richest colony governed by a Black man. Succumbing to the complaints of former colonists who had lost their plantations in the colony, a large expedition was mounted to conquer the Blacks and re-establish slavery. Led by Napoleon's brother-in-law, General Leclerc, the expedition turned into a disaster. The Black army definitively defeated the French, and the Blacks declared their independence, establishing the Republic of Haiti on the western third of the island of Hispaniola.

The French retained control of the eastern side of the island, however, and then in 1809 returned this portion to Royal Spanish rule. The Spaniards not only re-established slavery in Santo Domingo, but many of them also mounted raiding expeditions into Haiti to capture Blacks and enslave them as well. Due to the neglect of the Spanish authorities, the colonists of Santo Domingo, under the leadership of José Núñez de Cáceres, proclaimed what came to be called the Ephemeral Independence. In 1822, fearful the French would mount another expedition from Spanish Santo Domingo to re-establish slavery, as they had threatened to do, Haiti's president Jean-Pierre Boyer sent an army that invaded and took over the eastern portion of Hispaniola. Haiti once again abolished slavery and incorporated Santo Domingo into the Republic of Haiti."

From "History of the Dominican Republic"
http://www.hispaniola.com/dominican_republic/info/history.php

thezenhaitian said...

Correction: "...the FRENCH threatening to mount an expedition from Santo Domingo..."

40554992-c39d-11e0-9e4b-000bcdca4d7a said...

A little more...
After the Dominican independence, 27 Feb 1844, several attempts were made by Haiti, to conquer/invade the
new nation. This was not a myth, it happened.

Battle of “Fuente del Rodeo” - 13 March 1844
Battle of “Cabeza de Las Marías” - 18 March 1844
Battle of “19 de marzo” - 19 March 1844
Battle of “30 de marzo” - 30 March 1844
Battle of “El Memiso” - 13 April 1844
Battle of “Tortuguero” - 15 April 1844
Battle of “Cachimán” - 17 June 1845
Battle of “La Estrelleta” - 17 September 1845
Battle of “Beller” - 27 October 1845
Battle of “El Número” - 17 April 1849
Battle of “Las Carreras” - 21 April 1849
Battle of “Santomé” - 22 December 1855
Battle of “Cambronal” - 22 December 1855
Battle of "Sabana Larga" - 24 January 1856

thezenhaitian said...

Do you have a source for all this information you've provide here in regards to Dominican vs Haiti "battles?" Unfortunately, those are just some random dates unless they are documented somewhere by a credible authority.

thezenhaitian said...

It's a false argument to say that Haiti invaded the DR, since Haiti/Ayiti is the entire island as declared by Dessalines and his generals when they defeated the French, Spanish and English for control of the island.

thezenhaitian said...

By the way, I would endorse another "invasion" to rescue all the Haitians held in virtual slavery in the DR in "bateys".... kidnapped or lured from their communities by unscrupulous "enslavers" who want to capitalize on the havoc caused on the Haitian socio-economic status by coups and such insurgencies as subsidized Arkansas rice. Coups sponsored from and with the support of the DR government. The DR hosted the so-called "rebels' like Guy Philippe, Louis Chamblain, their co-ordinator Stanley Lucas in the last coup, which removed Haiti's first democratically elected government. Haitians need to find a way to secure their border from more DR/US sponsored insurgencies into Haitian territory once we get our country back from the current proxy UN occupiers.

40554992-c39d-11e0-9e4b-000bcdca4d7a said...

Here are a couple of references. Frank Moya Pons is the historian that was interviewed by Dr. Gates in the documentary.

"Batalla del 19 de marzo"
(19 March 1844)
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batalla_del_19_de_marzo
Moya Pons, Frank (1992). Caribbean Publishers. ed (en Español). Manual de historia dominicana (9 edición). Universidad de Míchigan. pp. 723. ISBN 9788439976813.


"Batalla Cabeza de Las Marías"
(18 March 1844)
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batalla_Cabeza_de_Las_Mar%C3%ADas
Lora H., Quisqueya; Aybar Acosta, Ignacio (2002). Editorial Santillana. ed (en Español). Atlas histórico de la República Dominicana. pp. 127. ISBN 9993487406.


"Batalla de El Memiso"
(13 April 1844)
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batalla_de_El_Memiso
Moya Pons, Frank (1992). Caribbean Publishers. ed (en Español). Manual de historia dominicana (9 edición). Universidad de Míchigan. pp. 723. ISBN 9788439976813.


"Batalla de Sabana Larga"
(24 January 1856)
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batalla_de_Sabana_Larga
Lora H., Quisqueya; Aybar Acosta, Ignacio (2002). Editorial Santillana. ed (en Español). Atlas histórico de la República Dominicana. pp. 127. ISBN 9993487406.

thezenhaitian said...

It's a false argument to say that Haiti invaded the DR, since Haiti/Ayiti is the entire island as declared by Dessalines and his generals when they defeated the French, Spanish and English for control of the island.

By the way, I would endorse another "invasion" to rescue all the Haitians held in virtual slavery in the DR in "bateys".... kidnapped or lured from their communities by unscrupulous "enslavers" who want to capitalize on the havoc caused on the Haitian socio-economic status by coups and such insurgencies as subsidized Arkansas rice. Coups sponsored from and with the support of the DR government. The DR hosted the so-called "rebels' like Guy Philippe, Louis Chamblain, their co-ordinator Stanley Lucas in the last coup, which removed Haiti's first democratically elected government. Haitians need to find a way to secure their border from more DR/US sponsored insurgencies into Haitian territory once we get our country back from the current proxy UN occupiers.

thezenhaitian said...

Just for the record:

Dominicans have asserted that Haiti was a belligerent nation that occupied them from 1822 to 1844. That simply isn't true even though it is taught to both Haitians and Dominicans in schools. Spain abandoned its claim on "Hispaniola" (little Spain) in 1795 and gave the entire island to France in the Treaty of Basel. The leaders of the Haitian Revolution defeated France and claimed the independence of the entire island from European colonial rule in 1804. The truth of the matter is that Haiti has been a besieged nation since birth struggling to retain its territorial integrity against the superpowers it defeated.

40554992-c39d-11e0-9e4b-000bcdca4d7a said...

I agree with you that the leaders of the Haitian Revolution defeated the French and declared independence from France. However, they were only successful in controlling the western side of the island. You even quoted this fact on an earlier post. "The French retained control of the eastern side of the island...." So, the obvious question is how can claims be made on the whole island, when only one part was controlled?

Moreover, in November 7, 1808, on the battle of "Palo Hincado", the remaining French troops were defeated by the "Criollos" and Spaniards. The eastern part of the island returned to Spain. This battle is what your previous quote refers to
"...however, and then in 1809 returned this portion to Royal Spanish rule."

thezenhaitian said...

"Since Spain had ceded the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo to France in 1795, in the Treaty of Basilea, Toussaint L'Ouverture and his followers claimed the entire island."

From "History of the Dominican Republic" - Edited by Dr. Lynne Guitar, one of the foremost historians of the Dominican Republic.
http://www.hispaniola.com/dominican_republic/info/history.php

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