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#2077: AYITI TOMA (fwd)

From: Declama <Declama@email.msn.com>

Jan / Feb / Mar 2000 Créole Connection
 © Copyright 2000 (Max G. Beauvoir / The Créole Connection)

AYITI TOMA or the name of The Republic of Haiti

by Ati Max-G. Beauvoir - Houngan

I - Significance and Distinction

While carrying on a conversation with a few specialists in linguistic
regarding names, I gathered that a nameless individual was not only an
obscure or anonymous person, animal or thing, but it was also at the same
time, unfit to mention. As to the formation of names or the giving of a name
to a place, they unanimously acknowledged that names are words or group of
words by which a thing such as a river, a mountain, a lake, or an animal, a
person, a family, a country, a continent is distinctly known, called, spoken
of, or simply referred to.

These straightforward answers led me to believe that the giving of a name to
a place should never be regarded as if it had been a simple and a
spontaneous exercise. For its realization, it required at least two
fundamental conditions: First, a sense that such a place must be a useful
one, therefore worth naming, and secondly, that the place itself is an
entity which possesses an individuality which differentiates it from all
other places in the world; that, to me, made indisputable sense. This is not
sufficient, the scientists added with authority. In the view of logic, as a
science, they say, a name becomes truly a name only, and whenever, it has no
other connotation, no other meaning. A word starts to become a name only
when it possesses such a meaning that can be explained only by saying that
in a sentence, whenever that name is used, it is about something which only
that name indicates. It then becomes a proper name only when it has a
denotation and no other connotation. Proper names are singular names, they
are singular in view of other meanings.

To illustrate better what is meant, they offered the following example: Let
us assume a case where two English-speaking persons were wrecked on an
island with several other persons of whose language and individual names
they were totally ignorant of. At first, they were also ignorant of any
individual qualities of the other except for gross external ones, and so
they will be likely to speak in such terms as "that fellow with the limp."
This, of course, may be called a description or a connotation which serves
to distinguish an individual by means of a special quality. But this is not
yet a name.

In a few days, however, the two will be undoubtedly referring to this same
person by some handier expression, such as "Limpy", and such a word will at
the same time have picked up individuality, bringing to mind many physical
and mental characteristics of that whole person. It continues to indicate a
special quality, but does not essentially do so since it calls to mind the
complete individual, and has in fact come to be a handy formula for that
very purpose.

After a while Limpy's foot may heal so that he walks perfectly. His name,
however, can remain unchanged, since it has ceased to be primarily a
description and refers to him as a whole. That name, Limpy, then becomes a
name, a proper name when it has only a denotation, and no other connotation.
It becomes a singular name in view of other meanings.

Such a scientific way to reason brings out the intricacies that may exist
when one tries to explain the formation of certain important names in our
country, Haiti, for example, and would like to draw historical lessons from
them. One should never reflect upon such names as the Massacre River or
"Riviere du Massacre" which lays at the border of Haiti and the Dominican
Republic, certainly the name of a place where some very important massacres
took place once upon a time, nor should one want to remember what kind of
massacre took place there and when. Attempting to do so is looking for
connotations. Likewise, would it be necessary to remember the reason, or
reasons, behind the choice of the name of such an important historical site
where the whole concept of Independence was born on the night of August
14th, 1791, the Bwa Kayiman? It should be indifferent to anyone that any
cold blooded animals such as Caimans ever existed in those semi-desertic and
arid places of the hinterland.

One may agree or disagree, after some hesitations, with the beautifully
expressed theories of science and accept the fact that the name of that
place should be of no indication that crocodile-like beasts were numerous
there, nor that a single animal could have impressed himself upon the Vodou
worshipers in that night of August 1791. But if the name "Bwa Kayiman"
implies that the participants to that ceremony were all wearing a type of
hat shaped like the snout of the caiman, such as the Mandingo people of
West-Africa ordinarily wore after they had reached the age of sixty as a
sign of wisdom, anyone like me will quickly prefer to accept the fact that
the making of that name is probably still incomplete and that time will do
the rest. As in the second case of Limpy, I will say that the name of that
place still carries very valuable information or connotation for posterity,
though it might still be somewhat descriptive and connotative.

The name of Haiti: "High Lands, Mountainous Lands?"

All such hesitations crumble when it comes to deciphering the puzzle that
the name of our Country itself, Haiti, constitutes. As prescribed by the
Constitution, it is not even an option to accept or to reject the fact that
this name was officially given to the entire Island of Hispaniola on January
1, 1804 when Independence was proclaimed, and that the Indian name of Haiti
was taken to the State. That was a decision promulgated by those who had the
political power and authority to do so. In 1843, a revolution drove out the
Haitian troops from the eastern part of the island, and in 1844, Santo
Domingo or The Dominican Republic was founded. There have since been two
nations on the island, Haiti occupying the western third.

But, why did African heroes, ex-slaves of a foreign and brutal aggression,
who struggle so fiercely and desperately for thirteen long years to acquire
the Independence of their Country, show as little imagination as finally to
pick an Indian name, in a language they did not speak nor understand, to
give to the nascent State? According to the best historians of the region,
those Africans never had the opportunity of meeting any original inhabitant
of the island, much less to speak with any of them. Tying in with this
remark, the Indians or Native Haitians had completely disappeared from the
island for almost three centuries, so they say, around the year 1530.

Very distinguished historians from Baron Emile Nau to Jean Fouchard and so
many others claimed that the name Haiti, in the Indian language of the
Arawak or Taino Indians meant "High land, Mountainous land," but where are
the supportive documents for such an assertion? They add with precision that
the island at the time of the Indians bore three names: Ayiti, Kiskeya and
Bohio. Why then did they select Ayiti among those three possibilities? When
was the first official way to write the name Hayti changed to Haiti?

These very confusing questions are that much more baffling when one reads in
the Constitution of 1805 for instance: "... all notions of color among the
children of a same family whose the Head of State is the father must cease
immediately, the Haitian people from now on will all be known under the same
generic denomination of Blacks?" and, a few paragraph later they add that
"... Blacks and Yellows, in the most perfect communion of sentiments, will
be able to work to the evolution of their Homeland." Did they actually mean
that there was still existing Indians on the island and that they were
referring to them as being Yellows rather than Reds?

These are just a few questions that need to be considered before it may be
said that the name of Haiti is mature in the scientific sense of the
linguist. Though official a name, it may not have acquired yet the level of
being the proper name that one would have wished it to be, that is with a
single denotation, singular in view of meaning, and without any other

Not having found much clarification to any of these questions, I turned to
some descendants of the Taino-Arawak people who were of Cuban origin. I
believe this process is quite legitimate, thinking of the story of Hatuey, a
Haitian cacique who went to Cuba around the year 1500, at the time of the
Spanish settlement. He led the wars there against the early Spanish conquest
and History reports that he was killed during that time of the Cuban
resistance. Before being burnt at the stake, a Spanish friar, wanting to
baptize him, informed him that if baptized as a Christian, he would go to
heaven, Hatuey, who furiously despised the Spaniards, replied that he
refused such a concession for he preferred to go to hell than to go where
the Spaniards went.

Bohio : "Home or Nan Lakou La kay"

So, from the conversation I had with the Taino-Arawak descendants, I
gathered that Bohio was indeed a bona fide Taino-Arawak word which in their
language meant something similar to what is called in the English language,
"Home", and in the Creole language "La Kay", Creole being the language
spoken by all the Haitian people of today. It does not seem to me
unthinkable that, by extension, that word Bohio became a name given to the
entire island of Hispaniola as "Nan Lakou Lakay", though, literally
translated, it only meant "a thatch-roof house".

Kiskeya : "The Mother of all Lands"

Reading the magazine published by The Association for Haitian - American
Development, Inc (AHAD), on their website www.ahad-kreyol.org/number17.htm I
came across an article written by Prof. Alan Belen Cambeira, Historical and
Cultural Connections: La République d'Haiti and La Republica Dominicana. In
this wonderful article, Prof Cambeira states very clearly that, way before
the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492: "The Taino people called their island
Quisqueya..." and according to him that word meant "The Mother of all
Lands". Considering the credentials of Prof. Cambeira, I have no difficulty
either to accept that affirmation in as much that one talks about the second
largest island (after Cuba) of all the Caribbean and that Haiti, during the
time of colonization, reached the unrivaled position of being crowned not
just the richest colony in the Caribbean region, but the World's richest

But, with regard to the term Haiti itself, the descendants of the
Taino-Arawak people affirm that their forefathers called:

Hispaniola - ATAITIJ

Ataitij..? Four letters out of seven may not be so bad an index to give a
fingerprint of the word Haiti, but are they sufficient to lead one to a
valid conclusion to the point that one should put an end to all such

The word "Ataitij" may sound closely enough to the one of "Haiti" or
"Hayti", but wouldn't it be wise to interrogate as well the descendants of
the African people who speak today the same language as did our Ancestors
and who probably share a same state of mind? I mean, shouldn't someone
interrogate The Fon, the Gu or the Ewe people of Danhonmen, a country which
is known today as The Republic of Benin, and shouldn't one speak also to the
Nago people of Nigeria, the most populous nations of West Africa?

AYITI - "Our Country, Our Land, the Land that from now on belongs to us."

Following this idea, the Fon people of the Traditional Religion, Vodou, came
up surprisingly with a complete text, a song, which they thought was century
old and that was extremely well preserved by the Oral Tradition. In it, the
word Haiti or Ayiti is used a dozen times. It reports the story of a
trans-Atlantic journey of slaves on a slave ship and their arrival in Haiti,
"a land which is ours." But first of all, allow me to present here my
apologies to those who may feel offended because the transcription of this
text does not follow the recommended way to write as prescribed by
linguists. But, since the History that I had learned at school did not
bother to relate a single word which came from the mouth of slaves to
express their thoughts, their feelings and their anguish, I feel privileged
to be able to offer to the public such a unique document.

According to those Africans, the title of the text itself "Houenouho", just
like the word "Heho", means an "Historical Transmission", "a Very Serious
Narrative". The Houenouho are reported only by, and to, older persons who
are initiated and they treat of subjects that are sensitive because of their
religious and historic nature. Let us hear it:


Houénouho Mèhouèdo Gba Isé
Houénouho Mèhouèdo
Houènou Gadja Karo
Hounènouho Mèhouèdo Gba Isé
Hounènouho Mèhouèdo Gba Isé

Houèné Lomé Kabahoua Djénou dodo Houémé
O'Dan é houaso houasovi Gbodjé Godomen
Houègbongbo Ghédé Houahou Zagbomen énen
Houénouho mè Houèdo Gba Isé

Hounénou vèvè
AYITI* Djèman Djidjo Koutonou
So konoulè
Noulè houènou pran Tado
Nou Houa Tomè* AYITI* Mèhouè Tomè*
Nou Houa Tomè* AYITI* nou houè
Ilé kannou Dankmé émen.

O Danwomen to
Alladalè nou Houadjé AYITI*
AYITI* noulè nikara tshi Djangòdò
Sé dou doumen
Houénouho mè houèdo gba Isé.

E Houénouho mè Houèdo Gba Isé
Houénouho mè Houèdo
Houéna Gadja Karo
Houènénouho mè houèdo Gba Isé

Houénouho Mè Houèdo Gba Isé
AYITI* noulè yé oulè Ti Jang Ifi
Houadlo do miton mènouhé
Houadlo métshé Lègbi
Houadlo houèdo AYITI*
AYITI* Tomè* Houèmi
AYITI* To Adji'Djo
AYITI* Houamé Gabé

E Houénouho mè Houèdo Gba Isé
Houénouho mè Houèdo
AYITI* mè Houèdo
AYITI* Houlè nousé houélénou Ho Gba Isé.

Ayiti Toma :

"Our Country, Our Land, the Land that from now on belongs to us,
(Every piece of land which lays)
in the interior of the boundary lines of that Country."

The word Ayiti appears a dozen times in this text. I took the liberty to
write it each time in capital letters and to put an asterisk after it, so
that it can be spotted more easily by the reader. It is also worth noting
that often it is accompanied by the expression "Tome" which comes here also
as a happy surprise. It is a common joke in Haiti to say that Haitians are
peculiar in their habits of giving names. They give their country a first
name which is the official one: Haiti, and they also give it a family or
last name which is Toma. The reason has never been really well understood.
The translation of this text is as follows:

Houenouho or An Historical Narrative

Let me tell the story of the black race in a single song. I did not
personally invent it, it was only reported to me by people who were very
old. Listen. A long time ago, the black folks were quietly sitting in their
home in Africa when one day, it was in the morning, a boat arrived along the
coast. It was spitting fire.

The color of the skin of the people who came down from that boat was white
and they started to run behind us. It became a real hunt. So, we ran away.
We went hiding into the forest. They succeeded to catch many, many of us and
to put us in chains. They tied us up in their boat.

And the boat was rolling from side to side, left and right, and our bellies
were going up and down. Starting from our sexual organs, it was going up to
our mouth. No water stayed in our bodies, we vomited and urinated, we
thought we were going to die. Some of us indeed died in fact. They just took
them and threw them away in the sea. Thus ended in the sea the bodies of
those who died in that journey.

Finally, we disembarked. We landed in a place where there was sunshine just
like home. There was the Ocean that resembled very much like the sea back
home and there was also the land that looked just like home. There was
everything, just like back home. It might still have been home, in reality,
"Our Land" (Ayiti) ... it was still "Our Land" (Ayiti). Have we just been
turning round and round on that Ocean? How did we managed to come back here
again on "Our Land" (Ayiti)? Have we arrived here the two feet first
(meaning dead)? Are we still alive? I wonder.

Everything seems somewhat destroyed, but it is still on "Our Land" that we
are. We thank the God of the Sea, Agweta Oyo, to have preserved us and not
to have allowed these people to lose us along the way. We thank again God
who made these people bring us back on what is still "Our Land" (Ayiti)

We are finally back home (Ayiti Tome), we are finally home again (Ayiti
Tome). Everything seems a bit broken down, destroyed. But this Country is
Home(Ayiti Tome), this Country is really, really Home (Ayiti Tome),
everything which is in the interior of the boundary lines of our Country
(Ayiti Tome).

In conclusion, and in the most unpretentious manner, I believe the word
Ayiti found here must agree more with what might have been meant by our
founding Fathers:

"Our Country, Our Land, the Land that from now on belongs to us"

and the meaning of the word Tome or Toma also must be more conform to their

"(Every peace of Land which lays ) in the interior of the boundary lines of
our Country."

Personally, I can only hear a slight difference of pronunciation between the
words Tomè and Toma but, this may be totally understandable since there
exist upon them the effect of centuries and many, many thousand miles z

 © Copyright 2000 (Max G. Beauvoir / The Créole Connection)

Ati Max-G. Beauvoir - Houngan
Directeur du Groupe d'Etudes et de Recherches Traditionnelles (G.E.R.T.) The
Temple of Yehwe Washington Oct 7th, 1999

He is involved in the practice of religious rituals, Counseling, Traditional
Medicine, etc. He is the founder of the Temple called Le Péristyle de
Mariani in Mariani, Haiti, dedicated to the promotion and understanding of
Vodoun. He is the founder of an Association of Vodoun Practitioners named
Bodé Nasyonal. He is the founder of The Temple of Yehwé in Washington D.C.
He is the president of Congress of Santa Barbara.

Mr. Beauvoir sends his regrets for not being able to participate during the
November HSA/AHAD conference in Atlanta.