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#4971: This Week in Haiti 18:22 8/16/00 (fwd)
From: "[iso-8859-1] Haiti Progrès" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
newsweekly. For the complete edition with other news in French
and Creole, please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100,
(fax) 718-434-5551 or e-mail at <email@example.com>.
Also visit our website at <www.haitiprogres.com>.
"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
Aug. 16-22, 2000
Vol. 18, No. 22
THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION REVISITED:
SELECTIONS FROM "THE BLACK JACOBINS"
(First of three parts)
Two hundred and nine years ago on Aug. 17, the French colony of
Saint-Domingue erupted in a giant slave rebellion. It would mark
the beginning of thirteen years of revolution, culminating in the
1804 declaration of independence of Haiti, the first nation in
Sixty-two years ago, a Trinidadian scholar named C.L.R. James
published an account of that first and last successful slave
revolution, entitled "The Black Jacobins." The work has become
the definitive English-language account of the period.
In recognition both of the revolution and James, we will
reproduce passages from "The Black Jacobins" over the next three
weeks. We encourage any reader who has not read the book to do
so, and anyone who has, to return to it. Rarely has any writer so
concisely presented and effectively analyzed one of history's
most pivotal class struggles.
James' many footnotes detailing his sources have been omitted,
and some paragraphing has been added to ease reading. We have
retained James' references to the colony as San Domingo. The
first selection comes from the chapter entitled "The Property."
The stranger in San Domingo was awakened by the cracks of the
whip, the stifled cries, and the heavy groans of the Negroes who
saw the sun rise only to curse it for its renewal of their
labours and their pains. Their work began at day-break: at eight
they stopped for a short breakfast and worked again till midday.
They began again at two-o'clock and worked until evening,
sometimes till ten or eleven.
A Swiss traveller has left a famous description of a gang of
slaves at work. "They were about a hundred men and women of
different ages, all occupied in digging ditches in a cane-field,
the majority of them naked or covered with rags. The sun shone
down with full force on their heads. Sweat rolled from all parts
of their bodies. Their limbs, weighed down by the heat, fatigued
with the weight of their picks and by the resistance of the
clayey soil baked hard enough to break their implements, strained
themselves to overcome every obstacle. A mournful silence
reigned. Exhaustion was stamped on every face, but the hour of
rest had not yet come. The pitiless eye of the Manager patrolled
the gang, and several foremen armed with long whips moved
periodically between them, giving stinging blows to all who, worn
out by fatigue, were compelled to take a rest - men or women,
young or old."
This was no isolated picture. The sugar plantations demanded an
exacting and ceaseless labour. The tropical earth is backed hard
by the sun. Round every "carry" of land intended for cane it was
necessary to dig a large ditch to ensure circulation of air.
Young canes required attention for the first three or four months
and grew to maturity in 14 or 18 months. Cane could be planted
and would grow at any time of the year, and the reaping of one
crop was the signal for the immediate digging of ditches and the
planting of another. Once cut, they had to be rushed to the mill
lest the juice became acid by fermentation. The extraction of the
juice and manufacture of the raw sugar went on for three weeks a
month, 16 or 18 hours a day, for seven or eight months in the
Worked like animals, the slaves were housed like animals, in huts
built around a square planted with provisions and fruits. These
huts were about 20 to 25 feet long, 12 feet wide and about 15
feet in height, divided by partitions into two or three rooms.
They were windowless and light entered only by the door. The
floor was beaten earth; the bed was of straw, hides or a rude
contrivance of cords tied on posts. On these slept
indiscriminately mother, father, and children. Defenseless
against their masters, they struggled with overwork and its usual
complement - under-feeding. The Negro Code, Louis XIV's attempt
to ensure them humane treatment, ordered that they should be
given, every week, two pots and a half of manioc, three cassavas,
two pounds of salt beef or three pounds of salted fish - about
food enough to last a healthy man for three days. Instead, their
masters gave them half-a-dozen pints of coarse flour, rice, or
peas, and half-a-dozen herrings. Worn out by their labours all
through the day and far into the night, many neglected to cook
and ate the food raw. The ration was so small and given to them
so irregularly that often the last half of the week found them
Even the two hours they were given in the middle of the day, and
the holidays on Sundays and feast-days, were not for rest, but in
order that they might cultivate a small piece of land to
supplement their regular rations. Hard-working slaves cultivated
vegetables and raised chickens to sell in the towns to make a
little in order to buy rum and tobacco; and here and there a
Napoleon of finance, by luck and industry, could make enough to
purchase his freedom. Their masters encouraged them in this
practice of cultivation, for in years of scarcity the Negroes
died in thousands, epidemics broke out, the slaves fled into the
woods, and plantations were ruined.
The difficulty was that though one could trap them like animals,
transport them in pens, work them alongside an ass or a horse and
beat both with the same stick, stable them and starve them, they
remained, despite their black skins and curly hair, quite
invincibly human beings; with the intelligence and resentments of
human beings. To cow them into the necessary docility and
acceptance necessitated a régime of calculated brutality and
terrorism, and it is this that explains the unusual spectacle of
property-owners apparently careless of preserving their property:
they had first to ensure their own safety.
For the least fault, the slaves received the harshest punishment.
In 1685 the Negro Code authorized whipping, and in 1702 one
colonist, a Marquis, thought any punishment which demanded more
than 100 blows of the whip was serious enough to be handed over
to the authorities. Later the number was fixed at 39, then raised
But the colonists paid no attention to these regulations and
slaves were not infrequently whipped to death. The whip was not
always an ordinary cane or woven cord, as the Code demanded.
Sometimes it was replaced by the rigoise a thick thong of cow-
hide, or by the lianes - local growths of reeds, supple and
pliant like whalebone. The slaves received the whip with more
certainty and regularity than they received their food. It was
the incentive to work and the guardian of discipline. But there
was no ingenuity that fear or a depraved imagination could devise
which was not employed to break their spirit and satisfy the
lusts and resentment of their owners and guardians - irons on the
hands and feet, blocks of wood that the slaves had to drag behind
them wherever they went, the tin-plate mask designed to prevent
the slaves eating the sugar-cane, the iron collar. Whipping was
interrupted in order to pass a piece of hot wood on the buttocks
of the victim; salt, pepper, citron, cinders, aloes, and hot
ashes were poured on the bleeding wounds. Mutilations were
common, limbs, ears and sometimes the private parts, to deprive
them of the pleasures which they could indulge in without
expense. Their masters poured burning wax on their arms and hands
and shoulders, emptied the boiling cane sugar over their heads,
burned them alive, roasted them on slow fires, filled them with
gunpowder and blew them up with a match; buried them up to the
neck and smeared their heads with sugar that the flies might
devour them; fastened them near to nests of ants or wasps; made
them eat their excrement, drink their urine, and lick the saliva
of other slaves. One colonist was known in moments of anger to
throw himself on his slaves and stick his teeth into their flesh.
(Next week, "The Owners")
All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Progres.