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a229: Re: Toussaint's body - Antoine comments and speaks of his visit to Fort de Joux (fwd)

From: GUY S ANTOINE <guyantoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

Two years ago, I had the privilege and opportunity of paying respect to the precursor
of Haiti's independence and the emancipation of slaves everywhere on the planet, the
great and immortal Toussaint Louverture. I visited his narrow cell and learned much
about his miserable stay in Chateau de Joux, for the last seven months of his life.  The
way he was treated is a harrowing story.  In spite of Toussaint's repeated letters to
Napoleon about the harsh condition of his jailing and his inquiries about his wife and
sons, Napoleon refused to hear him other than sending one of his generals to interview
Toussaint extensively and try to find out where possibly Toussaint might have been
hiding his personal fortune.  Toussaint, who was extraordinarily frugal, insisted that he
had not accumulated any fortune that might be turned over to the Emperor.  Napoleon
decided then to let him rot in jail, and he certainly succeeded in that endeavor in
relatively quick order.

I took a picture of Toussaint's cell and a few more pictures of the Chateau de Joux
environs.  I should hasten to say that what I did, for my own gratification, is nothing
really out of the ordinary.  For the past many years, Toussaint's cell has become a
pilgrimage every summer for thousands of Haitians, mostly those who live in Europe,
notably from France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, etc.  There have been such
crowds of Haitians to show up there during the summer that the local authorities
have organized a respectful tour of the location with "fairly" knowledgeable guides,
from what I understand.  One of my sisters has participated in many such visits,
and told me about the hundreds of Haitians that show up with flowers they depose
in Toussaint's cell.  I was lucky enough to escape the crowd, going there in
mid-September, as it was starting to get cold, the beginning of a long and very
harsh winter in this forsaken place of France, bordering Switzerland.  Lucky, I say,
because the only people visiting that day consisted of my family, therefore I had
the opportunity of spending a bit more time and asking lots of questions.  My guide,
a young French girl, could not answer many of my questions, but I have to say that
it was obvious that she had done her homework nevertheless and was able to provide
me with many details I previously had not read about.  Furthermore, she appeared
to be very respectful of the memory of "this great man", and quite apologetic about
the treatment he had received from her compatriots.  She also offered the well-known
fact that while in exile at Sainte Hélène, Napoleon expressed much regret about the
way he had treated Toussaint.  To me, this is meaningless.  I assimilate his expression
of regrets to crocodile's tears. When he was firmly in control of his decisions, he made
the very conscious decision to let Toussaint rot, and that's the only relevant thing as
far as I am concerned.

You may see three of the pictures that I took, interspersed with the well-known
and beautiful poem of Louis Arnold Laroche "Les Plaintes de Toussaint Louverture"
at www.windowsonhaiti.com/plaintes.shtml . Alternatively, go to windowsonhaiti.com
and from the top navigational bars, click on "Arts", then "Writers", from the collection
of literary works presented, click on "Les Plaintes de Toussaint".  Those who
understand French cannot help but be impressed by the great lyricism of this poem,
which reflects on the internal turmoil Toussaint must have suffered with respect to his
brutal separation from his wife and children.  I do encourage all Haitians to visit the
page and to learn the poem.  It is a classic of Haitian Literature.

This is what I have learned about the disposition of Toussaint's body.  There was
an autopsy of Toussaint's body on April 8, 1803, after which Commander Amiot
wrote (I translate): "I had him buried by a priest of the parish in the cave situated
under the old chapel, side G of Fort de Joux, where we used to bury the the
soldiers of this garrison".   Toussaint Louverture's body was then buried
unceremoniously without so much as a casket. In 1879, the location of his burial
(among a great many French soldiers) underwent a considerable amount of
modernization work, during which ALL bone remains which were found were
tossed out in various digs around the new fortifications.

The notion of the recovery of Toussaint's remains is pure fantasy, though the
subject of abundant mystification. In 1954, Léon Thébaud, Haitian Ambassador
to France had a small stone monument erected on the grounds of Chateau de
Joux and with a memorial cross.  The inauguration took place on August 29,
1954.  It could appear to some as Toussaint's tomb, though of course this is
purely symbolic.   After repeated requests from the government of Haiti, a
shovelful of earth from the grounds of Château de Joux was transferred to the
Haitian government as the symbolic remains of one of Haiti's two greatest
heroes, if not the greatest hero of mankind's quest for freedom, the immortal
Toussaint Louverture.

On March 31 1987, French President Francois Mitterand  paid a private visit
to Toussaint's cell and meditated in front of the chimney Toussaint used for
those seven months to gain a measure of warmth in an otherwise very cold
cell (From the day of his jailing, Toussaint was never permitted one day to
go out of his cell and see the sun again.) After his visit, Mitterand commented:
"Toussaint is one of the greatest of his century, he is the symbol of emancipation
of black slaves, but just as well the emancipation of us all."