By Roger Riou. Delacorte Press, New York, 1975.

Bob Corbett

Roger Rious was born in 1909 of a hard drinking wife-beating sailor and Rosalie-Alexandrine Guilloux. They lived in Le Harve, France. The father was gone much of the time to sea. She worked as a maid and during WWI did well with a crepe stand.

Riou pimped for his step-sister, aged 13, and got involved in various parts of petty crime. Eventually arrested for stealing and put into a juvenile detention center.

Later he was released to a foster family and eventually went to the seminary and became a Montfort Roman Catholic priest and missionary.

He was ordained and sent to Haiti in 1938. First he was assigned to Monseignor Guiot in Port-de-Paix.

Riou's descriptions of Haiti are astonishing. They are consistent through out, being a contradictory combination of exceptional anti-Haitian comments and a life of 30 years dedicated to serving Haitians in the harshest of conditions.

Some examples of things he says, and never backs away from:

p. 126: "right behind the diiocese we entered a shantytown. Sick at heart, I saw the miserable cailles that made the shanties of my childhood in Le Havre seem like palaces. The odor of filth, ordure and poverty that I'd already smelled on the wharf had been somewhat dissipated there, weakened by the wind. But here the stench was merciless. No running water, no latrines, no kitchens, and the thatch-roofed huts were one-room affairs where an average of sixteen or seventeen people lived on top of one another. Worst of all were the children with their spindly legs and enormous bellies. They crowded around us, pointing to their stomachs to tell us they were hungry."
'"We do what we can,' said the bishop. 'Infirmaries, schools -- but they keep on having kids. What do you expect us to do? We tream them, we keep them from dying, so we're responsible for the overpopulation. And then it starts all over again -- a vicious circle."

p. 183. "Since virility was the Haitian's one and only pride, the first thing the men did after we'd given them their injections [of penicillin, which many thought was to cause impotence] was to visit their wives to make sure everything worked."

Riou simply detested Voodoo. He cites with delight what an old priest told him:

"But bear one fact in mind -- no white man has ever attended a voodoo ceremony, one of those ceremonies that you hear going on for the entire night, when the throbbing drums beat endlessly. Oh, yes, some whites have been fooled by preparatory rites, but any white that ever stumbled across the secrets of a sacrifice deep in the jungle wouldn't live to tell the tale." p. 142.
p. 145. "I enthusiastically welcomed the announcement of an antivoodoo campaign begun in 1945 [his dates are wrong here, it began in 1941.] by the clergy of Haiti."
p. 147 "Human sacrifices are rare, but they do happen." Later he tells of Papa Doc being "said" to conduct sacrifices of children in the national palace. (p. 260)
p. 147-148 "I've seen people possessed, and have observed them doing impossible feats without being able to explain it. But, I've never seen real voodoo -- I mean, voodoo that wasn't faked for a white audience. I still maintain that no white can be allowed to know the mystery of voodoo. When I got to Haiti, the missionaries knew nothing about voodoo. For instance, they say that the Haitians don't eat the dead as they do in Africa. But the missionaries still know nothing about it. 'They say' that Duvlier was behind the death of Jumelle, his former rival for the presidency; that he ate his brains and heart."

P. 149 ff. Chilling portraits of the processions of destruction which he led.


p. 154 "The affair made a lot of commotion. President Lescot stepped in and sent the police. The Papal Nuncio, who supported the campaign, was driven out of Haiti...."

After the campaign is over he claims there were attempted poisoning of him, but eventually he just got sick. He says:

"I couldn't take any more after that campaign. I was spitting up blood. I felt that I had done useful work, with all due respects to the drawing-room ethnographers." p. 155.

Later on some physicians bring penicillin to his clinic and it begins to clear up yaws. He says: "Penicillin turned out to be more effective than all our antivoodoo campaigns in Haiti." [In bringing people from Voodoo to Catholicism!]

In 1945 he was assigned to Jean-Rabel and in 1946 he went to La Tortue, where he stayed until run out by Duvalier 22 years later.

Riou tends to get dates mixed up. He is consistent that he was on La Tortue for 22 years, and that he was arrested on March 9, 1969. Thus he must have gone there in 1947. Ah, p. 147 he says he arrived on Tortuga on Aug. 14, 1947.

p. 176-177: discusses the ecological disasters on the island as a result of the American's use of DDT during the occupation. The DDT killed off all the cats, and the island was overrun with rats.

Riou allows that he trusted Duvalier all the way until about 1963.

Later when he was being hassled a great deal by the macoutes, a macoutes officer friend of his convinced Riou to be made a macoute and to carry a card identifying himself as an officer. This, he claims, gave him freer passage between Port-au-Prince and Port-de-Paix. (p. 262)

Riou built up La Tortue in the 22 years he was there, especially in founding, funding and staffing a large clinic, schools, feeding programs and agricultural and economic development projects. He got a good deal of publicity in the U.S., Canada and Europe and went on many begging trips, especially to Belgium.

He believed that Duvalier was jealous of what he had done on La Tortue and deported him to break his power.

He was, needless to say, devastated to be deported after 30 years in the country but he says at the very end of the book:

p. 298. Someone asks: "How could you have stuck it out in this rotten country?"
"'It was for them -- for my Tortugan children,' I said."

The "children" he was talking about included all the adults of the island.


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