Happy Haitian Heritage Month: A Reading List

A strong “Sak Pase” to all of our Haitian and Haitian-descendant readers! May is Haitian Heritage Month and we wanted to celebrate with a recommended reading list dedicated to the history of the first independent black republic in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti.

May was chosen as Haitian Heritage Month because it marks the anniversary of the birth of Toussaint L’Ouverture, one of the most prominent, world-renowned leaders of the Haitian Revolution. May is also the month in which the Haitian Republic flag was created. The Haitian people and their revolution are so important because they represented a bright light of hope and inspiration, still till this today, as the most successful slave rebellion in history. Learn more about this revolution and other defining characteristics of Haitian heritage through the reading list provided below.


THE FACES OF THE GODS: VODOU AND ROMAN CATHOLICISM IN HAITI

BY LESLIE G. DESMANGLES

Vodou, the folk religion of Haiti, is a by-product of the contact between Roman Catholicism and African and Amerindian traditional religions. In this book, Leslie Desmangles analyzes the mythology and rituals of Vodou, focusing particularly on the inclusion of West African and European elements in Vodouisants’ beliefs and practices.

Desmangles sees Vodou not simply as a grafting of European religious traditions onto African stock, but as a true creole phenomenon, born out of the oppressive conditions of slavery and the necessary adaptation of slaves to a New World environment.

THE HAITIANS: A DECOLONIAL HISTORY

BY JEAN CASIMIR

In this sweeping history, leading Haitian intellectual Jean Casimir argues that the story of Haiti should not begin with the usual image of Saint-Domingue as the richest colony of the eighteenth century. Rather, it begins with a reconstruction of how individuals from Africa, in the midst of the golden age of imperialism, created a sovereign society based on political imagination and a radical rejection of the colonial order, persisting even through the U.S. occupation in 1915.

RED AND BLACK IN HAITI: RADICALISM, CONFLICT AND POLITICAL CHANGE, 1934-1957

BY MATTHEW J. SMITH

In 1934 the republic of Haiti celebrated its 130th anniversary as an independent nation. In that year, too, another sort of Haitian independence occurred, as the United States ended nearly two decades of occupation. In the first comprehensive political history of postoccupation Haiti, Matthew Smith argues that the period from 1934 until the rise of dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier to the presidency in 1957 constituted modern Haiti’s greatest moment of political promise.

THE LIFE OF TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE, THE NEGRO PATRIOT OF HAYTI: COMPRISING AN ACCOUNT OF THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERTY IN THE ISLAND, AND A SKETCH OF ITS HISTORY TO THE PRESENT PERIOD

BY JOHN RELLY BEARD

Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803) won international renown in the Haitian fight for independence. He led thousands of former slaves into battle against French, Spanish, and English forces, routing the Europeans and seizing control of the entire island of Hispaniola. L’Ouverture became governor and commander-in-chief of Haiti before officially acknowledging French rule in 1801, when he submitted a newly written constitution to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) and the French legislature for ratification. In response, Bonaparte sent an army to depose L’Ouverture, who was taken prisoner in June of 1802 and shipped to France, where he died of pneumonia in April 1803. The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1853) was first published in London on the fiftieth anniversary of L’Ouverture’s death and remained the authoritative English-language history of L’Ouverture’s life until the late twentieth century.

HAITIAN CONNECTIONS IN THE ATLANTIC WORLD: RECOGNITION AFTER REVOLUTION

BY JULIA GAFFIELD

On January 1, 1804, Haiti shocked the world by declaring independence. Historians have long portrayed Haiti’s postrevolutionary period as one during which the international community rejected Haiti’s Declaration of Independence and adopted a policy of isolation designed to contain the impact of the world’s only successful slave revolution. Julia Gaffield, however, anchors a fresh vision of Haiti’s first tentative years of independence to its relationships with other nations and empires and reveals the surprising limits of the country’s supposed isolation.