by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Interesting take on the Duvaliers’ reign over Haiti –> (Afrocentricity International) and a take with which I differ – Of course mine is not from the standpoint of being a Haitian – but from the standpoint of a militant/activist/artist/entertainer who had the privilege of touring Haiti during the time that Papa Doc Duvalier was still living and running the country. I went to Haiti Cheri in December 1968 and stayed til June 1969 – and I had such a wonderful experience, I actually considered expatriating there.
I also took my daughter, who was 2 years old at the time. I was touring with a African/cultural dance troupe. We met the great Katherine Dunham, who had been living there for quite some time. She introduced us to Papa Doc Duvalier. He knew more about Black history than most Black historians did – and was quite versed in the international impact of the transAtlantic slave trade.
He was also very protective of Haiti’s borders – and would not allow whites to come in and set up businesses unless they could be headed up, run and staffed by Haitians – a factor that did not set well with the French or the US. He was fiercely proud of the fact that Haiti was self liberated and, while poor in economics – as a result of French and American embargoes; they were rich in cultural heritage.
His wife was very sweet – met his daughter; also met Jean-Claude. It was clear to see that Jean-Claude was what one in America would have considered a special needs or special ed child. In fact, Papa Doc stated that he had been deprived of oxygen at birth.
Now as to the reign of terror – alleged reign of terror – I was there for 6 months – not an entire life time, but enough to observe whether that was actually happening during his administration. I went to the Mahogany Mart; I watched the drummer Ti RoRo in the park. I participated with the RaRa band; I walked through fire during the Dumbalawado initiation. I rode side saddle on a donkey from Kentscoff to the mart. I rode up to the Citadel in a rickety Peugeot. And the only time I encountered the TonTon Macoute was when they shut down the borders because of a threatened invasion ; and when a white woman tried to sneak Haitian treasures out of the country without paying the appropriate duty.
I stayed in Petionville – in a small house we rented while we were there – the electricity would go on and off depending on what was happening with the generator. We cooked over coals in the kitchen; bought food in the market – and ate everything natural, the way it grew from the ground or the trees. I even tried my hand at washing clothes on the rocks, the way the Haitian ladies did. They got a big kick out of me trying this – I was the community joke! But it was all in fun. I spoke just enough French to learn and understand Creole. And was able to carry on a pretty decent conversation.
While that does not equate to an entire lifetime, it does equate to a great experience in Haiti. In fact, it was not until Papa Doc died, and Baby Doc was allowed to take over that you really saw any problems. His dad never intended for him to run the country. But the daughter had married someone the father did not approve of, so without a real succession plan in place; and following an antiquated right of succession protocol, Haiti ended up with a President who was mentally retarded. The wedding that took place was more a matter of manipulation to get their hands on the country’s money than any thing else. Also note, it was the first time you ever heard of Haitians leaving Haiti en masse – after Baby Doc and the light bright wife he married so her family can rob the country blind. His “escape” to france and living in luxury belies the fact that there were photos of him doing work as a gardener.
The country has tried to make a scape goat out of a diminished capacity person who was not fit to serve as a leader.
As far as Martelly is concerned – Haiti had the opportunity to elect Wyclef Jean – they blew it because of some bogus rule – He would have done far better for the country.
Haiti has always had the capacity to reinvent herself – I just hope that she has not forgotten how to do so. I also hope that this kind of mis information does not continue to be passed on. There is a decided difference between the two Duvaliers. And only someone who was in support of Haiti being overrun by white missionaries would see Papa Doc as being a terrorist against his own people. I saw too many times when he and the people mixed in a positive manner to allow this kind of irresponsible reportage to go unchallenged –
Again, I’m saying this is from the period of time I spent there. But 6 months is a pretty good window for observation. I have the utmost respect for the fact that Papa Doc was more than aware of what whites could do to ruin his country – he had already seen it in the Virgin Islands and other surrounding countries. He was also well aware that the US and France hated Haiti because they had liberated themselves. There were quizzlings among his people who would have sold him out for a nickel in order to get their hands on the money those governments were offering for his assassination – which is why his own police/army TonTon were so hated among the whites – they were as precise and accurate as Desselines and L’Overture! Make no mistake about it.
As a result of my experiences in Haiti, several of my friends decided to go vacation there as opposed to the usual Caribbean spots, and were pleasantly surprised. In fact, until Papa Doc’s death, several of us went back and forth. It was after Baby Doc really lost it that they had to forcibly remove Katherine Dunham from Haiti – she did not want to leave. But by that time things had gotten out of control.
In fact, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Dunham after she returned to the US. She was saddened by the fact that they were not able to rise above tradition and elect a president who would have either followed in Papa Doc’s footsteps, or taken the country in another direction. We both knew that the country under Baby Doc was doomed. She never returned, but she always loved Haiti.
Stay Blessed &
bullet Columnist Gloria Dulan-Wilson Is a veteran New York City Journalist. Her experiences, perspective & sense of history are an invaluable combination. “check out my blog:” www.gloria-dulan-wilson.blogspot.com