- This year's Haitian Studies Association Conference (HSA 2005) featured dozens of talks, many of which happened concurrently. I am reporting on the few which, after much tortured prioritizing, I managed to attend.
- Overall, there was a good balance of both talks on Haiti and the Haitian diaspora in America. A decent number of academics and various professionals attended from Haiti in contrast to this year's Caribbean Studies Association Conference where none to few Haiti-based academics presented despite the fact that it took place next door in the Dominican Republic.
The need to measure up
- Haitian-American not-for-profit representatives asked that haitianists generate more hard data on Haitians and their diasporas.
Haiti in Caribbean context, not
- Sadly, as is often the case and except for Prof. Jean-Marie Theodat's presentation on Haitiano-Dominican environmental issues, the conference lacked Caribbean context. There was no discussion that I know of on Haitian relations with Caricom --of which we are technically now a member--and the english-speaking Caribbean world, neither was there much discussion of the haitian diaspora in the Caribbean, this despite the fact that a substantial portion of the Haitian diaspora lives in Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. Hopefully HSA 2006 will correct this.
- Thankfully, geography professor Jean-Marie Theodat from the University of Paris talked about the thesis in his book Une Ile pour Deux, namely the often neglected geographical reality that Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic and that the two nations are intricately linked by what he calls "insular twinness." He predicted that unless policymakers in both countries begin acknowledging this reality, deadly environmental and demographic crises will ensue. On opening night Theodat also showed a film by his student Tristan Parry on Kenscoff produce farmers. See here for more on the film entitled Deye Mon Gen Mon.
- Lyonel Trouillot, award winning Haitian author of the critically acclaimed novel Les Fous de St-Antoine and noted intellectual, offered the keynote address. He lamented the non-existence of public spheres of cross-class intellectual exchange in Haiti.
- Odette Roy Fombrun a career educator and author of haitian history textbooks and conference honoree, introduced Lyonel Trouillot and talked about the need for Haiti to adapt to the globalized world. She insisted that Hispaniola should be called by its original name, Kiskeya.
- On a journalism panel, Michele Montas, an award winning journalist and widow of slain Haitian journalist Jean Dominique, presented on the state of Haitian journalism today. She cited a lack of autonomy and impartiality as one of the main problems.
- Haitian-American sexuality writer Amy Andre read an exchange, published in the anthology Waking up American, Growing Up Bilculturally, with a second-generation Haitian-American woman and her coming out as a lesbian to her family.
- Prof. Sharon Bell, a professor of French at Kent State University, explored bossale cultural themes in certain Haitian folk tales, drawing heavily for her interpretation of the tales on French anthropologist Gerard Bathelemy's book Le Pays en Dehors.
- Prof. Matthew Smith from the University of West Indies talked about David Nicholl's From Dessalines to Duvalier questioning whether its central thesis, that the main obstacle to the nation building effort in Haiti has been the color divide, still holds in today's Haiti.
- Filmmakers from the Hayti Project are preparing a documentary to air on PBS on the impact of echos of the Haitian Revolution on 19th century African American communities who called themselves "Hayti" (pronounced hey-TA-y).
- Amy Andre's website features her account of a panel on healthcare that I missed. The talk she highlights was on an HIV treatment program in rural Haiti which also reduces the stigma attached to HIV. (Go to her October 19, 2005 entry.)
- UMass Prof. Jean-Philippe Belleau talked about the Vepres de Jeremie and myths associated with the otherwise elusive concept of "elites" in Haiti.
- Pictures of the conference. blogs and internet
- According to today's New York Times, The World Bank has come up with much needed data on the brain drain. Their main finding: small developing countries are the most affected by the brain drain. For example, 80% of Haitian-borns with college degrees are outside of Haiti and the numbers are similar for Jamaica.
- It would be great if Caribbeanists could conduct similar studies on a range of issues. Studies would benefit both the academics who conduct them and the studied societies: I can't imagine a study not furthering the academic's career while hard data could actually help in attracting grants for NGOs or development projects in the studied society. After all, for better or worse, this is the age of Freakanomics.
- Case in point, while chatting with a representative of a Brooklyn-based Haitian-American NGO at the Haitian Studies Association Conference 2005 last week, she explained that she had made the trip from Brooklyn to Boston to urge Haitianists to generate more hard data on Haitian-Americans.
- The World Bank's study is interesting but we can certainly use data on areas that they are not likely to study but that are crucial to the Caribbean. For example, do we know how CARICOM is perceived by citizens of member countries? Do we know for sure that citizens of the newest member, Haiti, know and understand CARICOM and the significance of the country's adhesion to it? (Very little buy-in was sought out by the government in place when Haiti became a member.) Since Haiti has become a CARICOM member, CARICOM has issued directives to Haitian governments and attempted to mitigate countless political crises. But is there any plan for real integration of Haiti to CARICOM?
- Social scientists often find economists' perspective devoid of context but how about doing more of what they do while providing the context? Mary Waters and Sherri-Ann Butterfield, both sociologists, do just that and thanks to them we know lots more about Caribbean-Americans. Hopefully, there will be much more discussion of this at the 2006 Caribbean Studies Association conference which, according to its call for papers, promises to explore "The Role of the Academy in Responding to the Challenges of the Region."
My gorgeous nephew (fill-in gorgeous boy's name of your choice, gotta protect his privacy) was born this week and hopefully you will forgive yours truly for having put the blog on hold since last friday. Visiting him in the hospital has entailed some fairly long --yet elated-- bus and train rides and of course I'm still recovering from last weekend's trip. More to come soon on HSA 2005 and much much more...
Prof. Jn-Marie Theodat, University of Paris.
Beating the Rain
- It rained cats and dogs in New York yesterday and I assumed my bus trip to Boston to this year's HSA 2005 would be impossible, but to my surprise, I got to Boston 4 hours to departure on the dot and for $15! Plus, it hasn't been raining nonstop in Boston like it has in New York, and arriving to a drier port was quite a bit of relief!
A Documentary by Tristan Parry
- After welcoming remarks by Professors Marie-Jose N'Zengou-Tayo and Marc Prou, the conference opened to a screening of Deye Mon Gen Mon by Tristan Parry of the University of Paris on Kenscoff and Seguin peasants and their fruit and vegetable markets.
- Kenscoff and Seguin are two mountain towns in Haiti, the first being close to Port-au-Prince, the latter being much farther (in distance and up the hill) but promising to supplant Kenscoff.
- Indeed, Kenscoff 's output of fruits and vegetables is dwindling due to a confluence of factors that include increased competition by cheaper, more tariff-protected Dominican goods and gentrification of the area by richer Port-au-Princians seeking cooler weather and wishing to flee the city's overpopulated squalor. (Theodat estimated that Port-au-Prince now has over 2 million and possibly 2.5 million inhabitants.)
- Unfortunately, Seguin suppliers have to walk 8 hours to P-A-P to supply the goods because a road in making for decades has not materialized due to various factors, not the least of which is Seguin's altitude...
- An animated dicussion ensued, moderated by Theodat, Parry's prof at the University of Paris, (Parry himself did not make it) in which several conferencegoers offered their own experiences working with farmers in the area as well as some of the history behind Kenscoff's current plight. Theodat intends to show yet another documentary today.
- So I missed the show but feedback --obviously to be taken with something of a grain of salt-- has trickled in from the show's promoter Papa Jube and from Mozayik, one of the bands who performed-- they kick ass, by the way.
- SOB’s Haitian events promoter, Papa Jube, emailed his take in his weekly mailing to SOB's French Caribbean events list:
- “[I]n all of our years of promoting Haitian music, this was the first time a Haitian show sold out in advance, where there were no tickets available on the day of the show, ...the caliber and age diversity that came out to support this festival showed clearly that there was a solid untapped market that all the promoters out there have been neglecting, ... we thank all the artists that came from all over (Haiti, Canada, Belgium) ...to take part in this event, and we also apologize for the thousands of fans who were not able to get inside SOBs ...since this event has never been done before, we didn’t know what to expect, but next year, rest assured that we will have this festival in a much bigger venue to accommodate everyone…And perhaps this will be a consolation for all fans!!!!! ”
- Mozayik, a favorite of mine, had this to say on a mailing to its fans: "To those unfortunate fans who were not able to secure tickets in advance or gain entrance, it is our sincere hope that this event marks the beginning of a new era of support and appreciation for the Haitian jazz genre...Let the resounding success of this event serve as testimony that there IS INDEED a most appreciative audience, ready to come out in support of events such as the Haitian Jazz Festival."
- And the kicker, In Papa Jube's words: “SOBS is planning to release a state of the art CD/DVD of the “FIRST HAITIAN JAZZ MUSIC FESTIVAL” LIVE AT SOBS soon, stay tuned for more details on this upcoming Release…”
- (He also mentioned that Sweet Micky's on this weekend, but sadly I'm out of town. He didn't elaborate on MTV Live's involvement with the show although his message's title mentioned the TV station.)
- See photos of Mozayik's performance courtesy of mozayik.com. You'll notice that Wyclef Jean, as always, made a cameo appearance.
- Whatever the word Creole means, tons of people --or at least their elites-- claim they're it. But the word hardly ever means the same thing depending on where it's used and it is thus surprising that an IOCP (International Organization of Creole Peoples) exists.
- In Louisiana and Trinidad, Creole seems to mean person of mixed race, some of their ancestry being French. In Haiti, mixed-race people are called Mulatto or Grimo but not Creole--despite what a recent Village Voice article seemed to imply-- and Creole designates the French-derived language spoken by all of the population, French proper only being the second most spoken language.
Creole Haitian style v. Creole Gwada style...
- In Martinique and Guadeloupe where the power structure is still French from France, Creole designates anything that is local (and therefore results from a mix of cultures that has been simmering ever since Columbus' arrival) and cannot be said to come from France alone: the cuisine, for example and more broadly the culture and language too of course.
- Creolite the academic movement was concocted in Martinique and Guadeloupe ("M&G" for short) by the likes of acclaimed novelists Raphael Confiant and Patrick Chamoiseau apparently to begin forging a Caribbean consciousness 1) in order to redress some of the lopsided Negritude of Cesaire, Senghor and their hyperintellectual buddies from Paris who believed in a (pan-African) Negro essence; 2) in the face of an uneasy French presence on M&G soil; 3) in the face of crushing European competition after France and all its overseas territories and departments--M&G included-- joined the EU. (Not only were locals having to compete with the french born who occupied most of the top bureaucratic spots in the two overseas departments, but they now had to contend with any Europeans who wished to do business there.)
- When Haitian roots band Boukman Eksperyans sang Se Kreyol nou ye (meaning We Are Creole) a decade or so ago, the statement had a significance somewhat distinct from M&G's Creolity movement. After all, Haiti has long ago severed ties from the French colonial structure, making it wholly unnecessary to assert anything vis-a-vis France or the relatively few French officials on Haitian soil. If anything, the statement was more about forcing Haitians to maybe think of themselves as belonging to the Caribbean (something our english-speaking West Indian counterparts had been thinking of for quite a while while building CARICOM), as opposed to wallowing in its historical isolation.
- And perhaps because in Haiti but also in M&G, the biggest association with the word Creole is still the language rather than Caribbeanity, increasing Caribbean consciousness is being expressed more and more with the words Caribeen, Caraibe, Cariban or in creole Karibeyen and only academics or ideologues use the word Creole to designate people. So Wyclef's song with Guadeloupean dancehall artist Admiral T opens with "Karibeyen nou ye, se Karibeyen nou ye." All of the new dancehall from M&G not only bandies about the word Caribbean --in english-- but also does its best to sound as Jamaican or Trini as possible despite singing in Creole, almost invariably ending rhymes and singing whole choruses in english-derived Patois.
- That being said, certain groups of Haitians in America are reclaiming Creolity, probably to make the notion of Haitianity seem familiar i.e. Louisianian... So there is now an annual Haitian music festival in New York called Kreyolfest, there is a Haitian beauty pageant called Miss Creole, and there is a Haitian internet forum called Lounge Kreyol... That coining may be something of a novelty but still sounds much much better than a euphemism that SOB's used for years to designate Haitian Music Fridays: French Caribbean Fridays. Ack! How many Haitians ever say "I'm French Caribbean" when asked where they're from? (Cf. Jean Dominique intro on Wycleff's Welcome to Haiti--Creole 101.) SOBs --which has made mucho bucks off of Haitians for years what with consistently sold out $25 a pop Friday nite concerts-- is now finally okay with calling its cash cow constituency what it is: H-A-I-T-I-A-N. So French Caribbean Fridays is now Manhattan H-A-I-T-I-A-N Dance Party. (Please post away about what YOU think prompted this cultural shift. That should make for a fun discussion in the comments section.) And next Saturday's Haitian Jazz Festival-not to be missed- won't have to be French Caribbean Jazz Festival.
- So in short, the lowest common denominator in defining Creole is that it is said of an entity (person or non-person depending on the country) that results from a mixture of cultures, at least one of which is French. If you're Caribbean or Louisianian, some African is probably presumed in the mix. If you're from Reunion, some Pacific Islander is probably part of the swirl. So when surfing IOCP, enjoy the pictures and the culture, the shift from English to French to one of several Creole languages but keep in mind that each of the Creole people featured has a different definition of what a Creole person is...
Legacy of 1804 with Professor Patrick Sylvain on: "I'm a Haitian, not a Creole and I speak Haitian"