Current Affairs

Jamaica’s Relationship with Haiti

Photographer - Opal Palmer Adisa

 

YardEdge welcomes a guest post by writer, Opal Palmer Adisa on Jamaica’s relationship with Haiti.

The distance from Kingston, Jamaica to Carrefour, Haiti is 261 miles and if there were a direct flight, it would only take 35 minutes on a plane. Boukman, the Jamaican, who was sold to a Frenchman and brought to Haiti from Jamaica because of his rebellious spirit, played an instrumental role in the revolution that lead to Haiti being the very first country in the new world, in 1803, to throw off the shackles of slavery, and gain its freedom. More recently, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Catholic priest who served as Haiti’s first democratically elected president was ousted in 2004, P. J. Patterson, the then Prime Minister of Jamaica, supported Aristide. Patterson allowed Aristide to come to Jamaica on March 16, 2004, where he stayed for several weeks visiting with his two daughters, despite criticism from Haiti’s new regime, the US and other governments. As a result of that coup, which caused many people to flee Haiti, Jamaica embraced over 400 refugees from that island.

Yet, many Jamaicans know almost no factual data about Haiti, and the various ways our histories have over-lapped. Ayiti is its original Taino name, meaning land of high mountains. Allegedly this name was changed by the French as they wanted to ensure that the name of the country whose enslaved people defeated them, would not come before theirs in any listing. Yes, we have all heard and been told that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, but what does that mean and why is that so? Having traveled to Haiti in January to see what, if anything, has been done since the earthquake, I will say categorically that what Haiti lacks in material possession it far surpasses in resilience and creativity. No doubt, these two traits, plus dogged determination of the people are what led to such an incredible victory in 1803, and what attributes to the continued survival of that society today.

That spirit of rebellion remains alive in the very character of most Jamaicans. It is what keeps us making amazing strides, but sadly, it also holds us from achieving more. We need to understand the place and role of our leggo characteristic, when to exert it and when to rein it in. Nonetheless, Jamaicans have embraced their neighbor in times of great need so when the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, Jamaica sent 50 Jamaica Defense Force personnel with supplies, include generators, collapsible water containers, mattresses, water purification tablets and general purpose tents. Owing to that catastrophe, we probably now have approximately 600 Haitian refuges who, hopefully, are being integrated into our society.

Although seemingly a cliché, the spirit of Ayiti/Haiti are the indomitable spirit of the people who are true survivors, who are not waiting around for aid, who take tremendous pride in how they look, and who, despite the great need, remain a family and support each other. What one writer, whom I interviewed said, “Things are not that much worse since the earthquake. For too long Ayiti has been having mini earthquakes all along.” Of course, he was speaking to the many embargoes imposed and maintained by France and other European nations, as well as the USA, after the Haitian revolution. But also, more recently, the exploitation of Haiti’s labor force and other hegemonic economic impositions that have served to keep Ayiti at the economic level of poverty that makes it almost impossible for the majority of its people to eke out a modicum existence. About post earthquake conditions, a woman, a mother of eight, alone since her husband has vanished, who lives in the camp opposite the Palace in Port au Prince, her tent a few hundred yards from the statue of Toussaint L’Overture, the man credited for leading Haiti to freedom, said,

“I get by as best as I can, doing what I can each day to keep hunger from my children, but you can see they are hungry.”

Shortly after the earthquake, people from all over the world, as well as Jamaica, rallied in support of their Caribbean neighbors, sending water and other essential supplies. Students and others hosted fundraisers and made plans for more long-term and self-sustaining projects, most of which due to bureaucratic glitches, unfortunately, have not been advanced. There is too much happening in the world. Take Egypt, for example, and much of the middle east; even if we were to just focus on home, here, take the rising crime rate, the performance index of children in our schools, the various shortages, need for jobs, ad nausea. With all these negative statistics, then Ayiti/Haiti might seem far away, but we are all related to one another and our neighbors’ challenges mirror our own.

Perhaps, the best way to get to know anyone is by listening to her/his story and finding a common ground. We are our sisters and brothers keepers. Sometimes we have to be their eyes and their voice so they are not forgotten. And equally important, we have to know how to help them, not just to survive the various tragedies they experience, but how to assist them to stand up and walk again, to dust off the myopia of poverty, and to extend the hand of a vision and a plan to grow/improve their lives.

My hope is that these two pictorial stories, “A Work of Art,” and “Living My Life” will rekindle your connection to our neighbor and sister island. That along with working to make our community safe, and providing education that is not only relevant to our children, but make them understand the importance of having the necessary tools to be a part of the global world community, we will continue to lend a hand to Ayiti. The people of that land, our neighbors, needs us, as much as she did, immediately after the earthquake.

A Work of Art Living My Life

out of the rubble even before the quake

that has become our lives my life had been shaky

i collect refuse daily i had to brace myself

and yield my mind to keep from falling

to the splendor give up

i project daily giving in

making a thing seeing no way out

that are not the things themselves then i heard a voice

but the hope i know my own inner voice

will never die in us saying you are the way

Opal Palmer Adisa, (opalpalmeradisa), Professor of Creative Writing at UVI, is also the Editor of The Caribbean Writer, whose 25th anniversary will be June 2011, and whose special anniversary issue is dedicated to Haiti and Freedom.

Contact The Caribbean Writer ( www.thecaribbeanwriter.org) to find out how you can support them to grow and continue the important work of promoting literacy and literature in the region.

Photographer - Opal Palmer Adisa

 

 

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26 Comments

  1. Corina
    April 4, 2016 at 2:34 am — Reply

    Well written article. I can’t believe how ignorant Jamaicans and most caribbean people are when it comes to their history. Dutty Bookman who was a very instrumental figure in the Haitian Revolution practiced Voodoo! It saddens me that a lot of Jamaicans don’t even know this because they are fed the lies written by the British in school. If the moors were/ and still are practicing voodoo in Jamaica, you can’t tell me that Voodoo originated from Haiti. Even in Trinidad, Guyana and other countries of the Caribbean, voodoo is practiced. They just refer to it by different names. These other islands are in denial and will refrain from admitting that they practice voodoo as well, but Haitians will not deny it. Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinis, Grenadians and other islanders come from the same area. They are literally brothers and sisters. In addition, when the Haitians were freed for over 200 years, they moved around the caribbean and around the world. Then, Haitians had the educational and economical means to do so. Don’t let the media fool you. So if they were traveling, don’t you think they settled in different islands and assimilated — therefore, there’s a possibility that you can be Trini or Grendian or Jamaican with Haitian roots?!!? Also, many times, it was not on what boat they arrived (British, French, Spanish or Portuguese) because at a point, Ayiti (the original name of the island consisting of Haiti and DR) had more slaves pass and traded through that island than any other country — including America. I am 99.9% certain that relatives were split and ended up in opposite islands. There was no package deal with slavery back then. For years, Haiti promoted freedom for blacks and encouraged slaves to escape their islands and come to Haiti for freedom. The Haitian Revolution sparked slave uprising in other parts of the world …. and as a result, France, America, Britain and other nations blackballed Haiti. They didn’t even acknowledged Haiti as an independent state. America invaded Haiti later and rewrote the Haitian constitution…. how evil is that. They labeled Voodoo as a religion of the Devil and Christianity as the holiest in order to keep slaves enslaved both mentally and physically. Let’s get this straight: voodoo freed the blacks while Christianity kept them slaves. Slave masters even used verses from the bible to convince the slaves that slavery was just in the eyes of their white God. Let’s be clear: We’re from Africa — there was no white God in Africa. If you want to be technical and say you’re of Asian or Indian descent, there was no white God/ Christianity there either. When I hear Jamaicans say Jamaica is not a black nation, I cringe. Most of them will say anything to disassociate themselves with being Black. If a majority of your population is Black, my friend – to the world, you’re considered a black nation. Not even China will look at Jamaica and say, they’re a nation of mixed race. Wake up call — India does not associate with Indian-Jamaicans (they consider you all as Black) China do not affiliate with Chinese-Jamaican (China considers them black hence the word Black Chiney). Saying that is like saying toning is not bleaching. Fast forward to 2016 and Jamaicans explain their problematic bleaching culture as fashion. Ignorance is rampant amongst these people. I urge Jamaicans to incorporate black love, self love and caribbean history (not this bullshit that was fed to you by the British but the actual history) into your school curriculum. To hate a nation due to ignorance and fear is unbelievable…. yet you call yourselves a “Christian” nation. Hypocrites! Love your neighbors as though they were your brothers and sisters because they just might be that, and educate and love yourselves while you’re at it!

  2. john brown
    January 17, 2016 at 7:26 am — Reply

    1dont know why people think jamaica is a african country it is mix with many races chinese, indian, white, arab, african so get that strait, jamaica should not accept any haitian, let them stay in their country and fix it.

    • Corina
      April 4, 2016 at 2:46 am — Reply

      Ignorance is no longer your excuse. Look this up….. information is at your fingertips. Stop saying dottish you fool!!!

      Jamaica Demographics Profile 2014
      Population 2,930,050 (July 2014 est.)
      Nationality noun: Jamaican(s) adjective: Jamaican
      Ethnic groups black 92.1%, mixed 6.1%, East Indian 0.8%, other 0.4%, unspecified 0.7% (2011 est.)

  3. kenrick
    December 30, 2015 at 6:33 pm — Reply

    I think jamaicans feared haiti because of ignorance,when I first learnt about haiti I was fearful of voodu,we learnt that they are evil people but I went to a school in guyana and met 6 haitians. They are so beautiful n loving,even more loving than my jamaican colleagues,I wish I could go to Haiti now

  4. Jiorphia Damier
    July 6, 2015 at 2:02 am — Reply

    I find it very disturbing that Haitians and Jamaicans are actually embracing their slavemasters god and disrespecting their ancestors who were NOT Christians nor ever prayed or heard of the name Jesus. The letter J was the last letter in the English alphabet. If you purchased a Bible prior to the year 1611, you would NOT see the name Jesus in there. The Haitians successfully revolted against their slavesmasters through Vodou, which they brought with them from Africa! The leader of the Haitian Revolution, was Dutty Boukman, a JAMAICAN who got traded to Haiti, because he learned how to read and write. He was also a VODOU PRIEST! Open your eyes. The countryside of Jamaica is FULL of people who adhere to Obeah, Myal, and Kumina. Those are ALL creolized versions of West African spirituality. How can the White man who hates you on Earth love you enough to give you the “right religion” for you to enter heaven? LMAO! Foolish much? Even Nanny the Maroon, one of Jamaica’s national heroes was an Obeah woman! You guys are so lost, then you wonder why these countries are impoverished. Haiti needs to ban Christianity and all White Supremacy mentality and Jamaica on the other hand needs to stop FAKING like they don’t adhere to it as well. Same concept, different name. Please find several seats and let White Jesus GO!

    • Mika
      August 16, 2015 at 8:21 pm — Reply

      Very well said JIORPHIA DAMIER!!!!!!!!!

    • kenrick
      December 30, 2015 at 6:38 pm — Reply

      I love the way you talk,I agree with you,I am jamaican and I hate the war among jamaicans,hatians and trinidadians..the white man separayed us and we are using ignorance and stupidity to strengthen divsion

    • January 31, 2016 at 3:53 am — Reply

      Are you okay? Was something shoved up your ass? Perhaps a voodoo stick???

  5. January 18, 2015 at 7:30 am — Reply

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  6. Benjamin
    December 3, 2014 at 11:34 pm — Reply

    Im both jamaican & haitian . Just been reading sone if the past posts & everyone seems to have some truth . Growing up mostly with my jamaican side yea one & two yardies nuh like hatian! Like somebody commented , but its a lack of education & the wille lynch sydrome still in effect. But i must say being from both ethnicities , i realize both haitain & jamaican are very spritual i mean more than a lot of cultures . Especially in the seventh day adventist church. Both haitian & jamaican work like slave in america . They not lazy they some hustlers . Jamaica was colonized by Britain so they have like a different swag. Haiti by french so thats where they clash. But recently more haitian & jamaican getting together so that chain ah bussup right now! & most importantly in 1966 Haile Selassie I visted 3 islands in the carribean . The most significant islands Jamaica, Haiti & Trinidad. His majesty already knew these people were brothers by blood. & the stronghold of blacks taken to the Americas was sent to those islands.

  7. September 20, 2014 at 12:45 am — Reply

    Very nice blog post. I absolutely love this site. Keep writing!

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  9. May 8, 2014 at 2:25 pm — Reply

    Haiti can move further if we haitian stop all crimes and the voodoo thing and start serving GOd …Haitian-pride “L’union fait la force” (Unity is strenght) I believe if we haitian follow our ancestor foot path I think we would make it as if we united… And also whoever said Haiti is a poor country you are extremely wrong Because Haiti still haven’t find the boats with the golds . In addition ,France still owed Haiti tons of Francs-money. And also Haiti has tons of oils that are wasted in the ground which we haitian do not realize. In addition , we are Haitian we are talented as you can see above from one of a talented Haitian Man with his pride, We are extremely interligente ,and we also learn fast..

  10. May 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm — Reply

    the reason why haiti isn’t moving further is because of us , haitian we do not cooperate on anything,we let the money guide us. Also when someone try to help the country to move forward we destroy them instead of assist them. However , when it comes to appreciation haitian are the best.For example , we haitian know to greet guest when they come to our home. So get your thing straight when you are talking about haitian.

  11. May 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm — Reply

    @todd Peterson ,What’s wrong with being Haitian as a matter of fact Haitian and jamaican culture
    is almost like the same excerpt the voodoo part.In adition to that look at the way the jamaican people are living and the way their homes are built compare to the way haitians people are living and their houses are built then tell me if you discover any differences.

  12. December 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm — Reply

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  13. Jean
    May 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm — Reply

    Haitian and Jamaican are African Blood Brotherhood

  14. March 28, 2013 at 1:33 am — Reply

    Get this straight Haitians and Jamaicans are sworn enemies of corse you’ll have the Haitian who’s friends with a Jamaican and vise versa but these two tribes when it really comes down to it are not sister nations like you claim nether of the two claim each other you call a Haitian jamican it’s they lovin it you call a Jamaican Haitian your disrespecting their life and i can go for days people i can’t wait to see how many jamicans hop on this and gang like they do and comment

  15. Laventure Alix
    December 14, 2012 at 11:34 am — Reply

    I think that the Haitian Embassy in Jamaica should be reopened to build more trading goods legally to both sister nations for all time.

    Jamaica and Haiti are more than sister nations, they are families members from the Caribbean.

  16. August 13, 2012 at 9:11 pm — Reply

    i am haitian and i am a jamaican i grow up in montreal canada with the jamaican culture in the the twelve tribes of israel organisation of rastafari and i am prouc to be a haitian jamaican rastaman for life rastafari

  17. Karin
    July 15, 2011 at 9:04 am — Reply

    Thx. Yev, totally agree – we could all be from the same family/tribe and don’t know it…

  18. Yev
    July 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm — Reply

    Hey, being a Haitian myself, matter fact that’s dating a Jamaican and that’s Christian, I wanted to put my two cents in. I know and realize the great potential bond that Haiti and Jamaica (as a matter of fact, all countries affected by slavery) could share if both sides would just know the bonds, as the author hinted in the article, that we have shared. Ignorance is a deadly tool and as the Bible say, my people suffer for lack of knowledge. Haitians and Jamaicans are closer than we all realize. Think about it, our ancestors were all slaves taken from West Africa mostly and then taken over seas. What people don’t realize is, some depending on who took you, you went somewhere else. France dropped them off in Haiti, Spain dropped some off in Dominican Republic, Britain dropped some off in Jamaica, Portugal in Brazil, and Europe in America…thus we could all be part of the same tribe and never know it…but how silly is it that we think we’re better than the other, it is sad.

  19. May 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm — Reply

    I hear you KNS. My grandmother is like that. Jamaica is mainly a Christian country, so anything that doesn’t have to do with JC is some sort of wickedness or foolery. It’s a shame because many Haitians are Christians, whether they decide to incorporate Voodoo in their practice or not.

  20. KNS
    April 29, 2011 at 9:30 am — Reply

    It’s not that we cant help Haiti. Many Jamaicans are just terrified of them why. Voodoo. It may sound crazy but you would be amazed of the amount of Jamaicans who swear they want nothing to do with the because “dem wuk obeah and dem wicked”. I remember a relative wanting to adopt a child from there and her spouse was not having it at all because “dem people deh a wicked people”. Quite sad.

  21. Karin
    April 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm — Reply

    Thanks for the comment Alice…I agree our relationship with Haiti is quite complicated, and often we’re not as charitable as we could be.I guess many Jamaicans think we’re so in need of help ourself we can’t afford to help others. Not sure this line of reasoning is productive though…

  22. April 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm — Reply

    I appreciate this article about Haiti-Jamaica relations. It is positive and well-meaning. Yet I can’t help but think about instances in recent Jamaican history where Jamaicans treated Haitians most uncharitably, and I think unfairly. Most recent is the incident with Haiti’s U-17 footballers but I also recall the ignorance I saw from some after the January 2010 EQ — “why we sending tings over dere?” and the like. And I remember when those 400 refugees arrived I had a spirited argument with a GOJ lawyer about why the refugees should be given asylum…her arguments were not grounded in policy or legal principles or even economics (i.e. Ja cannot afford to grant asylum) but were instead, it seemed to me, grounded in fear of those Haitian refugees — a kind of “no no no cannot let those people live here!”. Perhaps all of this linked to ignorance, which I think you’ve hinted at in your piece. Whatever the cause I sincerely hope that Jamaicans will discover more about Haiti but not only our shared history but also learn lessons from them about the (ongoing) effects of hegemony, colonialism, and neo-colonialism…

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