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#3618: HAITI-CULTURE: KEEPING AN OLD TRADITION ALIVE (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
MIAMI, (May 12) IPS - As Haiti enters the 21st-century, Paula Pean is
determined to see that the country does not forget a tradition that once
defined a way of life -- the telling of folk tales.
An actress and storyteller, Pean -- whose work is born of "the lakou (a
shared green space) phenomenon," "tire kont" or telling folk tales -- is
bringing family, friends and neighbors together for a shared story and
fellowship, reflecting a lifestyle based on community and common values.
"When the hands clapped, everybody gathered," said Pean, who sets the
scene of tales past, when the world of a small village among the Haitian
countryside gathered under the thick green leaves and generous shade of
trees in a yard to hear stories told.
Pean, who visited Miami last weekend as part of a U.S. trip that
included performances in South Florida and New York, said many young
children today know little of the storytelling tradition.
"Some of our children represent a generation that has lost its cultural
rapport with Haiti," said Pean, whose New York City audiences were made up
of many Haitian-American kids.
But the beauty, Pean said, is how quickly those same children are taken
by the tales and sit on the edge of their seats, drawn in by the rhythmic
pounds of a traditional Haitian drum that announces and anticipates every
word Pean speaks.
"They really start getting into it," Pean said of her younger audience
members who came out to libraries in Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Rosedale and
Cambria Heights in New York.
Over the last 50 years, tough economic times have forced many peasants
off the land and into Port-au-Prince and the tradition of storytelling has
all but died.
"It's not the same anymore," said Pean, who studied theatre and drama in
Paris and Boston, and directs a library with the Center Culturel Pyepoudre
As living conditions in the city became more cramped, the practice of
gathering under a tree for a tale slowly faded away. Pean said that is
where she felt the urge to step in.
"The role of the storyteller is to keep the traditions alive. We take
storytelling and give it back to the people," said Pean, a native of the
northern city of Cabaret.
What Pean and others give back to the people is a little piece of their
dreams, their hopes, their aspirations and their culture.
"Folk tales let us dream, and that is a dimension we need in our lives
in Haiti," said Pean, who heard her first story as one of a group of young
children gathered around an uncle.
"We need to know there is a certain hope," she said. Hope like that
found in "Ti Pye Zoranje" (little orange tree), where a young girl,
frustrated by hostile treatment from her stepmother and weak with hunger,
eats an orange belonging to the disparaging old woman. When the stepmother
finds out, she demands the daughter replace the orange immediately.
Planting an orange tree, the young girl is amazed as the tree grows
instantly, providing lush plentiful oranges.
"You don't forget your problems in these tales, but you travel to
another place, another dimension, that is often magical," Pean said. "This
space helps you to dream about what could be."
The range of subjects, story lines and dreams is never-ending. From
paradise to the political, with social questions like women's rights,
children's rights, problems finding clean water, the high cost of living
and the practice of religion too, there are few domains folk tales do not
Drummer Fritznel Fan Fan Morisseau joined Pean on her U.S. trip. The
beating of Morisseau's drum has accompanied Pean's stories for the last 15
years as the two told tales in towns far and wide -- from Port-au-Prince,
Gonaives, St. Marc, Leogane, Jacmel, to overseas cities like Miami, New
York, and Paris.
"Folk tales are essential for anyone who wants to live the culture of
Haiti," said Morisseau, 39, a native of Port-au-Prince.
"They sensitize people to hold on to our culture that continues to be
denigrated day after day," he said as his rhythmic hands danced across the
drum nestled between his legs.
The chemistry between the two is clear from their performance. Pean and
Morisseau are delicately, finely tuned to each other, working in tandem to
produce a performance that sweeps their audience up in the moment. Pean
becomes the subject of the tales she tells as Morisseau sets the stage with
In many ways their talent is reflective of elements of Haitian voodoo,
where the person in question becomes someone else -- possessed by a spirit
that must be heard.
"Everything she says enters into my soul," Morisseau said. "I know her
every move -- when to turn up the volume of the drumming and when to turn
In New York, as in Miami, Pean's bare feet glide across the floor as she
recounts stories to a group of Haitian men drawn from Port-au-Prince,
Ottawa, Boston and beyond, gathered in South Florida for a conference at
Libreri Mapou in Little Haiti.
Edner Monsato, 62, was due to drive home to Jacksonville, Fla., early on
May 7, but when he learned of Pean's upcoming afternoon performance,
decided to postpone his trip.
"I called my wife and told her I'll be late. I won't and I can't miss
this," said Monsanto, who smiled broadly as he recalled the days of his
childhood when family and friends would gather around an uncle or
grandfather to hear them tell fairy tales.
Jean Saint Vil -- an author who took the name Jafrikayiti -- called the
tradition of telling folk tales a lesson for Haiti's past and the promise
of what lies ahead.
"It's a moment of communion and a moment of reunion that is clearly
African," the 33-year-old author said after Pean's performance.
"It is a connection to our Haitian reality, and it strikes a chord in
all of us," Jafrikayiti said.