Friday, September 24, 2021

Duverneau Trouillot's Ethnography

Duverneau Trouillot's 1885 Esquisse ethnographique: Le vaudoun; Aperçu historique et évolutions provides one of the first and most detailed accounts of Haitian Vodou. As such, and despite the lack of clarity on the source of information used by Trouillot, his ethnographic account was a pioneering effort and one of the most detailed 19th century ethnographies. For instance, Trouillot provides one very detailed account of some of the major lwa, tracing their origins back to the Whydah, the "Ardres" kingdom of the "Arada" and the snake cult. The legendary snake of the widespread snake cult of Dahomey, "Ardres" and Whydah is Wedo in Haiti, but spelled by Trouillot as Houedo. Mention of Legba, Badagri, Loco, Agwe, and other well-known spirits appear in Trouillot's account. He also provides one of the earliest mentions of the "Cimbi" or Simbi spirit (although a short story by Alibée Féry used a Simbi spirit), not to mention the evolution of the term houngan, the importance of taboos, and the use of Catholic images. 

Of course, as a Haitian intellectual likely imbued with Positivism and the superiority of Western civilization, Trouillot saw Vodou as a religion in a state of decline. Vodou, according to him, existed more for entertainment and speculation, not as a serious practice. Alcohol and the cupidity of the papa-lois and mama-lois were the most powerful stimulants to the Vodou dance, in his day. Indeed, he even claims the religion no longer has dogma or rites! It is hard to take such a perspective seriously when Vodou exists to this day in Haiti and its diaspora, but Trouillot shares with Janvier a belief in presenting Haiti as evolving toward civilization, which entailed the decline of Vodou belief or practices. Thus, Trouillot can declare, "Ni les cérémonies actuellement en usage, ni l'olympe contemporain, ne rapellent le cult du passé, le vaudoun s'est francisé et tend à disparaître sous les pas redoublés de la civilisation chrétienne" (278). For Trouillot, Vodou would eventually wither away with the spread of education and civilization. 

But what is most enlightening in Trouillot's brief essay is the analysis of the priesthood of Vodou. According to Trouillot, houngans and caprelatas were ambulant, selling pwen, wanga, "science" and works. It was actually the papa or papa-loi, master of a particular society, who constituted the priesthood of the faith (although a papa could also serve as houngan). Yet, today, houngan is generally used for Vodou priests whereas papa-loi seems to have disappeared. One wonders if this process was tied to the changes in the structure of Vodou priesthood noted in Richman's Migration and Vodou, where social dislocations, proletarianization, and the rise of priests buying and selling their services gradually replaced some of the older societies led by papa-loi and family-based Vodou rituals. One cannot generalize too broadly from Trouillot's essay since it is not clear who his informants were, but one suspects it was people living in or near Port-au-Prince, possibly in the Cul-de-Sac plain. Informants from these areas may have already began a transition away from the older family-based lwa and towards the more commercial services and ceremonies which 20th century ethnographic accounts reported.

Of course, additional research is required to ascertain the accuracy of Trouillot's description of the Vodou priesthood. But it might have also shaped his negative description of Vodou if houngans and caprelatas were beginning to replace papa-lois or mama-lois, and the commercial aspect of the religion seemed more obvious. Perhaps the death of the bossales and people who were directly familiar with African rites by the late 1800s also struck the author as another cause for decline. Although he mentions special food offerings associated with Congos, Nagos, and Ibos, suggesting the persistence of Afrian "nations" by his era, Trouillot may have inferred a gradual decline as old rites and traditions adapted themselves to younger generations of Haitians. Unsurprisingly, he may have seen this as sign of a religion in decline, a faith losing its dogma and becoming the territory of charlatans who prey on the uneducated and ignorant. Moreover, the author's belief in inevitable progress also necessitated the eventual disappearance of such a religion. One wonders if, like Firmin and Comte, Trouillot saw in African "religion" an eventual leap to the positivist stage, which may have contributed to the depiction of Vodou as a religion in decline. 

Further Reading

Clorméus, Lewis Ampidu. Le Vodou Haïtien: Entre mythes et constructions Savantes. Paris: Riveneuve éditions, 2015.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Saga of the People of Laxardal

The Saga of the People of Laxardal featured more genealogies and excessive characters than any other saga we have read so far. However, it was actually an engaging tale that captures a key moment in Iceland's history through the entwined families of the Laxardal area. One is immediately struck by the prominent women whose will and character determine the course of the various marriages, feuds, duels, and conflicts across several generations. Women, especially Gudrun (or even the Irish slave) assert themselves against fathers and godis, but without upending dominant gender roles. After all, the saga pokes fun at the idea of women wearing breeches. 

One is also reminded of how vast the world was to the people of Iceland. References to Ireland, Russia, Constantinople, Rome, and other parts of Europe occur throughout the text. This serves as a useful reminder that the rural civilization of medieval Iceland was never disconnected from the rest of the world, and absorbed traders, slaves, migrants, Christians, and travelers. Of course, as the text was written sometime in the 13th century and by Christian authors, the saga quickly passes over the Christianization of Iceland, only mentioning a few initial forms of local resistance. Yet the saga undoubtedly draws on pre-Christian folk belief, ritual, and fears of sorcery and supernatural phenomena to add suspense and show the other sources of conflict in Iceland. Moreover, regardless of Christian conversion, clearly kinship, honor and local concepts of compensation continued.

That brings us to the main theme of the story, or one of them. Kinship and feud. Since these families were quite large and conflicts arose over land, goods, power, or women (Gudrun instigates the central feud after the meandering early chapters), sometimes feuding clans or kinship groups continued to fight over generations, harboring new resentments and more feuds as different kinship groups and their respective dependents threw more salt into festering wounds. Feuds between kinsmen can never lead to any good, as it deprived the community of its best leaders (such as Bolli). Peace could only last as long as any level-headed charismatic male authority figure was around to demand it. This is why we think there may be a pro-Christian sentiment underlying the saga, emphasizing forgiveness as a virtue. Of course, it didn't always work, but Gudrun's transformation into a devout Christian woman may symbolize the transformation wrought by the new faith. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Borno and Haiti

While perusing the excellent Corpus of runaway slave ads for Saint Domingue, we came across what appears to be one of the few other sources to mention "Borno" Africans in Saint Domingue. Instead of spelling the name of their homeland in the same manner as Descourtilz (Beurnon), it was rendered as Bernon. The 1789 advertisement in Affiches américaines also mentions that one of the "Bernon" fled his owners in the company of 3 Hausa named Aly, Dominique and Aza. Scipion, the man of "Bernon" nation, was likely very familiar with Hausa people due to Borno's long history in northern Nigeria. Perhaps they also shared an Islamic background that may have helped them transcend "ethnic" differences and find some commonality with other enslaved African Muslims in Saint Domingue. The text likewise mentions another maroon, Christophe of the "Bernon" nation. He was stamped Pommier and belonged to a different owner. 

One cannot help but wonder if these "Bernon" captives were part of the same group of prisoners of war who were sold into slavery and ended up in the Rossignol-Desdunes plantation. "Bernon" Africans seem to have been somewhat uncommon in Saint Domingue, although it is possible the ambiguous "national" labels assigned to Africans in Saint Domingue misidentified them. It is possible that enslaved West African Muslims united through religion, and may have adopted or assumed a name like "Mandingue" or "Hausa" which obscured the distinct origins of some members. Such a phenomenon occurred in Trinidad's Free Mandingo mutual aid society, whose members were not solely Mandingo. Alternatively, there were probably some Africans who spoke multiple languages and were lumped into one or another "nation" which did not accurately reflect their homeland.

As an empire mostly drawn into the trans-Saharan orbit, and primarily exporting other peoples as slaves rather than their own (with a few exceptions, according to Descourtilz), it is interesting to consider the connections of Haiti with the "Sudan" and Borno. While most "Muslims" in Saint Domingue were probably drawn from various Mande groups, "Senegal" and probably Hausa and some "Malais," the links to the Central Sudan may have also been important. One wonders if Haitian writers of the 19th century, reading French works that mention, sometimes in detail, various kingdoms in the heart of the continent, also thought of their own population, which still included people born in said regions. For example, Baron de Vastey's knowledge of Mungo Park and his detailed description of Segou was utilized as proof that Africa wasn't as "uncivilized" as Europeans usually depicted it. Surely, Baron de Vastey knew of "Bambara" and "Mandingue" in the kingdom of Christophe who could also enlighten him about their homelands. Perhaps Haitian writes were also familiar with Descourtilz's description of Borno, and that of other European accounts, which depicted a sophisticated Islamic kingdom with security, literacy, and order. Who knows, maybe the Borno Africans living in Haiti also offered an example of "civilized" Africans from ancient kingdoms that the kingdom of Christophe could reference for proof of racial equality and justification of monarchy?

Friday, September 17, 2021

Sued Badillo and the Theme of the Indigenous in the Hispanic Caribbean

Jalil Sued Badillo's essay, "The Theme of the Indigenous in the National Projects of the Hispanic Caribbean", published in Making Alternative Histories: The Practice of Archaeology and History in Non-Western Settings should be required reading for anyone and everyone interested in Taino revivalism, Puerto Rican cultural identity, the rise of the mixed-race Creole culture of the peasantry by the 17th century, and nationalism in the Spanish Caribbean setting. Sued Badillo makes a convincing case for the survival, persistence and cultural reproduction of indigenous Puerto Rican and Caribbean peoples well after the mid-1500s. But, over time, this social and cultural reproduction became something new that people of European and African origin also participated in, leading to the distinct Creole identities of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. This, in turn, became a central theme for the construction of national identities, as the peasantry best represented the continuity with the indigenous past and the ""national" character. As illustrated in Sued Badillo's article, 19th century Puerto Rican nationalists called the jibaros of Borinquen the children of Agueybana.

For our interests, Sued Badillo's documentation of "Indian" communities after the middle of the 16th century was most important. It was not solely in Cuba, where "Indian" pueblos and barrios existed long after 1600. For instance, on Hispaniola, he mentions the "Indian" pueblo of Boya, an attempt by Hispaniola encomienda "Indians" to form another town, and the prominence of "Indians" and "mestizos" in western Hispaniola, where smuggling and contraband with other Europeans was common, leading to some mestizos and "mulatos" becoming wealthy. Indeed, this probably explains why Samuel de Champlain, writing in 1599, mentions "Indians" in Hispaniola who trade with the French. These "Indians" and mestizos who continued to trade with Europeans and develop their own contraband economy were also part of the creation of a new creole identity on Hispaniola as "Indians" and mestizos were joined by people of African descent that resisted the colonial government in Santo Domingo. One can see the rustic "monteros" of the 19th and 20th century Dominican Republic emerging from these forebears.

Moreover, something similar occurred in colonial Puerto Rico just as colonial officials were proclaiming the disappearance of "Indians" and mestizos. Some did so, as pointed out by Sued Badillo, to mask the fact that they continued to purchase and exploit enslaved "Indians" from other lands long after the New Laws of 1542. Such an honor appears to apply to the governor of Puerto Rico in the 1560s. Sued Badillo points out the persistence of "Indian" and mestizo communities such as the Quebrada de Dona Catalina, near San Juan. Other "Indians" and mestizos were scattered and pushed onto marginal lands and shifted into the piedmont overlooking the coastal area. These communities, joined by people of European and African origin, gradually increased in population, engaged in subsistence agriculture and commercial exchange for local and foreign markets, and continued to influence colonial society. 

Sued Badillo's analysis of the "Indians" of Mona is likewise enlightening, for it points to indigenous survival on an island which engaged in smuggling, food production (cassava) for other Spanish colonies, and their eventual relocation to the hills of San German and nearby regions sometime before 1685. Unfortunately, Sued Badillo does not explain or speculate on what happened to the "Indian" pueblo of Cibuco, but we are of the opinion that Mona "Indians" and the former residents of the 16th century Cibuco settlement must have both ended up in the region that would eventually be named La Indiera. Perhaps the reappearance of "Indians" on censuses in the late 18th century in the San German area is related to descendants of Cibuco, Mona, and "Indian" or mestizo laborers and convicts transported to Puerto Rico from Venezuela and Mexico in the late 1600s and 1700s, but the censuses do not provide adequate information to ascertain this. An alternative and equally speculative theory could be related to land control and access, as mestizos" and people who may have had distant "Indian" ancestry in western Puerto Rico tried to defend their property or local autonomy in the late 18th century and early 19th century. 

Overall, Sued Badillo's persuasive article demonstrates not only "Indian" survival" in the Spanish Caribbean, but significant "Indian" contributions to the rise of the "mestizo" creole culture. He does not seek to romanticize it, as it was not egalitarian and suffered from some of the same racial hierarchies and problems inherent to its colonial setting. Nor does Sued Badillo seek to exaggerate the population of "Indians" or mistakenly equate jibaros with "Indians" as some Taino revivalists argue. But the indigenous population and its racially mixed-progeny provided much of the basic structure of the nascent creole identity, even as officials denied the existence of "Indians" and even "mestizos" disappear. This perspective was adopted by historians who failed to see how the social and economic conditions of the Spanish Caribbean in the late 1500s and early 1600s favored "Indians" and mestizos through contraband trade, migration away from colonial towns, and a degree of autonomy that allowed for population growth. As for the fate of "mestizos" in the region, Schwartz's article suggests it is very likely that many mestizos became whites (or perhaps even "blancos de la tierra), while others were lumped into the "pardo" category in a process seen for much of Puerto Rico by Abbad y Lasierra in the 18th century. More works remains to be done on this process, as well as the experiences of "Indians" in La Indiera during the late 18th century. 

Works Cited

Castanha, Tony. The Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Borikén (Puerto Rico). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Schmidt, Peter R., and Thomas C. Patterson, eds. Making Alternative Histories: The Practice of Archaeology and History in Non-western Settings. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2003.

Schwartz, Stuart B. “Spaniards, ‘Pardos’, and the Missing Mestizos: Identities and Racial Categories in the Early Hispanic Caribbean.” NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 71, no. 1/2 (1997): 5–19.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion should be read with the first novel in the series. It is the necessary conclusion to the first installment, despite it being a worse experience for the reader. Continuing right where the previous story concluded, it expands our ensemble of characters, introduces another Keats cybrid persona, and changes the narrative structure. The second John Keats persona can experience what others see and do via "dreams," allowing him to relay data on the pilgrims to Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone. Unfortunately, the change in narrative structure is a turn for the worse, as the reader no longer has a Chaucer-like plot structure to mix up the stylistic and genre references. Moreover, the plot is stretched out with turgid, sometimes unnecessary prose and exposition. The whole experience starts to drag after a while, which is why we here at the blog took our sweet time to finish this novel. 

While there are some interesting new additions to the setting here, particularly the introduction of Ouster characters (and their vast Swarms), time travel, additional Keats allusions and more context for the development of the civil war taking place in the Core, the overall reading experience was not the greatest. It just seemed excessive and unnecessary for the story to be stretched in the manner it was, for its numerous digressions and the lack of adequate attention on more interesting characters, such as Ummon. Some of the new settings and visual language are stunning, especially the Ouster Swarm invading Hyperion, and the metasphere. 

The religious themes and apocalyptic imagery were occasionally interesting, particularly for the fusion of AI and human spirit embodied in a certain character, and the dualism of a battle between future Ultimate Intelligences crafted by humanity and AI. Sure, very Manichaean and perhaps Gnostic influences evident there, but science fiction has always reworked these themes in intriguing ways. Clearly, the Hegemony was a civilization in decline, dependent on the Core for its greatest scientific and conceptual revolutions. Thus, a civilizational change was necessary, one that would change the nature of humanity's relationship with technology and the rest of the universe. Perhaps the next civilization will fuse the cultures of the former Hegemony with the Ousters, their belief in humans adapting to the universe rather than terraforming other planets and reproducing old Earth. This is more plausible as a desirable future than the collective consciousness of Gaia in Asimov's  Foundation series. Besides, it builds on the messianic and Christian symbolism of the cybrid persona and Brawne's child. Perhaps it also appealed to Simmons and the ecological interests he clearly possessed when creating the Templars.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Haitian Allusions to Indigenous Ancestry in the DR

 Although genetics is now confirming that most people in the Spanish Caribbean do indeed have indigenous ancestry from the native populations of the Caribbean and its surroundings, it is worthwhile to consider the various Haitian sources which have been saying the same thing about the Dominican people (and their ancestors) for over 200 years. While hardly new, it does shed light on some of the ethnic and racial dynamics that shaped Haitian perceptions of Dominicans, and the question of political union of Haiti and Spanish Santo Domingo under president Boyer. It may also serve as an additional "local" Caribbean source on the legacy of the indigenous Caribbean population in the Hispanic Caribbean. The following quotations are mostly drawn from Thomas Madiou, with a few from Beaubrun Ardouin, Emile Nau, and one from the Haitian government publication, Le Moniteur. Google Books and Gallica contain numerous works by the aforementioned 19th century Haitian historians, which should be consulted for additional information.

Here, Thomas Madiou references a local military commandant addressing the local population of San Juan de la Maguana, affirming indigenous ancestry among the contemporary population of the eastern half of the island. Not only did commandant Herrera draw on on the legacy of the cacique Henri, he claimed the indigenous population as ancestors. Such a speech indicates how "Dominicans" themselves were claiming aboriginal ancestry in the 19th century.


Here Beaubrun Ardouin references an address of Dessalines which explicitly refers to the population of the east as descendants of the Indian population of Hispaniola. Clearly, over 200 years ago, Haitians were already recognizing indigenous ancestry among Dominicans. In this case, it could be rhetorical in the sense of Dessalines and the indigenous army, unifying it politically under his rule to complete the avenging of the Americas. 

Emile Nau, a 19th century Haitian historian of the indigenous population of the island, mentions "Indian" traits among the people of the island. He specifies that it is used to describe women of mixed-blood in the east, and "ignes" in the west, who have features associated with "Amerindian" people. He admits that none of these people are "pure," but it shows how certain phenotypes were associated with "Indios" in the DR (and, to a lesser extent, Haiti). 

Here, in Le Moniteur, a Haitian refutes the claims of an American observer in the 1850s that the Dominican people are whites. Instead, the author argues that most of the population are "mulattoes" and blacks, and the "mulattoes" have indigenous ancestry. The Indians, according to this Haitian, have mixed principally with Africans. 


Thomas Madiou on the "Indian" village of Boya, where descendants of the indigenous population of the island were recognized as an Indian town by the Spanish for centuries. Madiou claims there were still "pure" Indiens there in the 1700s, but different sources suggest otherwise. Intriguingly, for the 19th century, Madiou clearly states that there are no more "pure" Indians in Boya or any other part of the island.


Here, Madiou interestingly states that the Dominicans always affirmed an indigenous origin. This, according to him, played a role in the eventual 1844 separation of the Dominican side of the island from Haitian unification. If true, this suggests that one of the reasons Dominicans may have resented Haitian rule was due to their indigenous heritage, which would have, perhaps, made them feel more legitimate in asserting their right to independence and autonomy. 


Here, while referencing Haitians traveling to Santiago and the valley of Vega Real. There, the inhabitants are more of a "mestizo" type and a "mulato" type, but a footnote on the same page references a higher proportion of "mestizos" in Seybe and Higuey, in the east of the island. 

Here, alluding to the 1844 separation, Madiou references an "Indian" sergeant named Jose del Carmen. This could be an allusion to Jose del Carmen Garcia, an uncle of Dominican historian Jose Gabriel Garcia.

In the first volume of Madiou's history of Haiti, he also mentions a fusion of Indian and Spanish "blood" among the population of the Spanish colony. This process occurred over time under the poor governance of the Spanish, but resulted in a population with "Indian" blood.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Early Bainet, Jacmel, and Some Origins of Gens de Couleur

1703 Census translated and transcribed by De Ville.


We here at the blog are very interested in the history of Bainet. Thus, we could not resist preserving a copy of De Ville's translation of a 1703 census for the Jacmel quarter, which included Bainet. Taken just five years after the Compagnie de Saint-Domingue established Jacmel in 1698, it shows how underpopulated that region of Saint Domingue was in the early 1700s. The only plantations appear to have been indigo, and the entire black population was around 107 individuals (3 were free). Unexpectedly, there was a large gender imbalance among the white population, with about 12 adult women and 30 adult males and 9 garcons carrying arms. 

The black population also had more adult males than females, but the difference wasn't as stark. Moreover, the underpopulated Jacmel quarter only had indigo plantations or farms, with only 7 of the listed households owning an indigoterie. Presumably the rest, the vast majority, grew subsistence crops or provided services to the Compagnie de Saint Domingue or the owners of the indigo plantations. Perhaps some of the less fortunate whites were formerly indentured laborers, brought by the Compagnie or an earlier entity, and were only beginning to establish themselves as habitants by 1703. 

Baptism of Jean Baptiste Cange in 1719

Bainet's presence in the list can be found in numerous names listed here, whose largely mixed-race descendants formed an important part of the area in the rest of the 18th century. For example, Sougrain, Robin, Cangé and possibly Moreau, Bonnefoy, and Lemaire were surnames used by various free people of color families in and around Bainet, Jacmel, and Grand-Goave for the rest of the century. Presumably, they are the descendants of the white colons already in the area in 1703, and the enslaved or free people of color who married or bore children by them and their descendants. Historians have often pointed out the prevalence of interracial marriages in Bainet during the early decades of the 1700s, particularly that of white men lacking property and propertied women of color. 

Baptism of Jeanne Butet in 1709, the woman we suspect was a sister of Marguerite Butet

For instance, one of the surnames we have been researching, Cangé, was associated with a very large number of people in the area who were descendants of a Jean Celin Cangé who married a free "mulatto" named Marguerite Butet (probably the daughter of Rene or Louis Marin Buttet). While we are still unsure of who the two adult Cangé listed in this 1703 census was, we believe the Cangé name was brought to the area by two brothers or cousins. The first baptismal record for a Cangé born in the area, Jean Baptiste Cangé, indicates his parents were Jean Cangé and Marguerite Courville. 

1728 baptism in Jacmel parish of Marie Jeanne, child of Jean Cange and Marguerite. Jeanne Butet was the godmother.

It seems possible that the Jean Cangé who married Marguerite and began having several children (Jean Baptiste, Louis Celin, Pierre, Marguerite, Marie Jeanne) was probably one of the children listed in the Cangé household in 1703. Perhaps his wife's surname was mistakenly written as Courville in 1719, but she seems to have used Butet in most records identifying her (unless Jean Celin remarried another Marguerite in the 1720s). She was also connected to a Jeanne Butet, fille naturelle of Rene Butet and a free black woman, who moved to Jacmel and married a Boursicot. Some of their descendants would marry, too, further solidifying the family and property ties between some of the Cangé and Boursicot in the Jacmel and Bainet parishes. 

Baptism of a child whose godmother was Marguerite Butet, still alive in 1776

Regardless of the ultimate origins of the Cangé name in Saint Domingue, the marriage of Marguerite Butet and Jean Cangé was advantageous for both. Marguerite, through her father and uncle, had ties to early planters and administrators in the colony. Marriage to Marguerite could have helped the Cangé politically and economically, eventually paving the way for them to establish a coffee plantation in Grand-Goave. Clearly, in 1703, the Cangé household did not own an indigo plantation and they only owned 2 female slaves and 3 horses. Strategic marriage with a woman of color whose family were landowners and serving in the administration of the colony must have been a step up for Jean Cangé and increased the status of his mixed-race progeny. His free people of color children and grandchildren usually married other free people of color, and established themselves as coffee planters and left behind many descendants. We believe that it is likely most people with the Cangé surname and roots in Bainet, Jacmel, and Grand-Goave are descendants of these people in some fashion, as well as the enslaved majority of the population in the colonial era. Unfortunately, it is far more difficult to trace our enslaved forebears, but that will obviously occupy much of our future research into Bainet's history during the 18th century.