African Diaspora Memory Communities: Rituals, Rebels, and the Haitian Revolution

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Crystal EDDINS, Michigan State University, USA
This paper investigates the influence of Africa-inspired sacred rituals on late 18th century diasporic Africans’ collective consciousness and struggles for liberation before the Haitian Revolution. In addition to being the modern era’s most successful rebellion of enslaved people and most radical political event during the Age of Revolutions, the Haitian Revolution and its causes were, and largely remain, an enigma of historic proportions. By investigating understudied micro-level actions that occurred from 1750-1791 in the French colony Saint Domingue, I enhance scholarly understanding of the factors that explain the shared consciousness for liberation that led to Haitian Revolution. The African Diaspora process was initiated by the European trade of captive Africans, which resulted an enslaved population of nearly 500,000 in Saint Domingue. Diaspora and/or transnational populations can contribute to the decline of hegemonic regimes in host societies due to their experiences with oppression and ability to sustain political resistance cultures. Despite the collective trauma of the Middle Passage, Africans in diaspora did not lose their systems of understanding and ways of life that were largely, though not entirely, rooted in and shaped by social, cultural, political, economic and religious forces in their African homelands. Therefore, this paper argues that Africa-inspired systems of understanding and cultural memory had a considerable influence on African Saint Dominguans’ self-perceptions, views about their social conditions, and approaches to collective action and mobilization. Reporting on findings from archival and secondary sources, I hypothesize that, in addition to being sacred events, Africa-inspired ritual gatherings were simultaneously free spaces wherein rebels invoked cultural practices, campaigned for liberation, and sought new mobilization recruits. The most well-known case of a ritual leader operating as a campaigner for rebellion is “Zamba” Boukman Dutty, who, in August 1791, steered both the Bwa Kayman ceremony and the mass uprisings in northern Saint Domingue.