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Did Haiti Form a Pact With the Devil?

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Did Haiti Form a Pact With the Devil?"

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My colleague Amanda Terkel observes that Pat Robertson thinks the Haitians have no one but themselves to blame for the earthquake that’s afflicting their country. After all, it’s only comeuppance for their pact with the devil:

[S]omething happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you get us free from the prince.” True story. And so the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” They kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free.

But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle, on the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.

It’s surprisingly hard to say why Haiti is so poor, but I think we can dismiss that devil-based theory.

But was there a pact with the devil? I would also note that the Haitian Revolution began in 1791, years before Napoleon took over France as Consul. Napoleon III didn’t come to power until 1848. So clearly Robertson is confused on the basic history. But I believe that Robertson is referring to the Bois Caïman Ceremony that in Haitian national mythology initiated the revolution. This was a Vodou ceremony and the following text is normally attributed to its leader, Boukman:

The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man’s god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It’s He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men’s god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our hearts.

If you were a white, Catholic French person or Haitian plantation owner, I can see why you would characterize this as a prayer offered “to the devil.” The black Haitians are postulating the existence of two Gods, one for the whites and one for the blacks. The whites regard the God they pray to as the one true God. So if the blacks are praying to some second god, and doing it with a Vodou ceremony, it stands to reason that they’re engaged in a satanic ritual of some sort.

But there’s no reason for 21st century Americans to accept this interpretation of the story. From the Haitian perspective, I think you’d say they were just praying to God for his assistance and asserting the justice of their cause. This is what pretty much everyone does before heading into battle.

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