Haiti: Jamaica’s Embarrassment

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“Haiti: Jamaica’s Embarrassment” is the title of a recent article by Dr. Orville Taylor, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies-Mona. Here, he writes about cultural similarities, shared histories and experiences, and the stigma and injustices suffered by Haitians at the hands of other Caribbean peoples.

It might sound like the Jamaicanised pronunciation of the number which comes after 79, but Haiti is a historical enigma and its people are a worthy of respect, dignity and even our admiration. This is the last week in Black History Month, and it is ironic that in the 28 days given to us to come to an understanding of ourselves, we have figuratively and literally missed the boat regarding the first nation in modern history to have a black government. The Haitians are not as far from us as one thinks. It is a different experience when one sits or stands aloof and looks at them as boat people stereotyped by pestilence, poverty and a range of other maladies.

However, in fact, contrary to the negative typification, they are far more like Jamaicans than some Jamaicans I know. Haitians speak two languages: an official French for national and international discourse, and the Kreyol spoken by the majority, if not all the population. Like us, the gap between the official is as wide as “Of course!” “And wah fi enda?” A former colonial possession, it still has this dalliance with things European and ethnically African.

[. . .] Thus, many Haitians would have also been seasoned, Jamaicanised or Jamaica-born Africans as well. It should not be ignored that Haiti is a mere 150 miles east of no lesser place than St Thomas, a parish with many of the fabled stereotypes. Haiti’s Creole language is, coincidentally, 90 per cent structurally similar to ours. In fact, its rhythm is virtually the same as deep-rural Jamaican Patois and Twi spoken by Ghanaians.

[. . .] Though not generally acknowledged, Jamaica has some responsibility for the historical direction that Haiti has taken. [. . . I]n the 1700s, Jamaica, full of African leaders, had the most slave rebellions per capita in the Americas. The escaped Africans fought the British, who were far less successful than their police imports were in the 2000s, and ground them to a standstill in 1739. Colonel Guthrie offered a peace treaty to Cudjoe and others, and the rest is sociology. The success of Cudjoe and his Maroon kinfolk did not only inspire Tacky, the Myal warriors and Sam Sharpe but, very importantly, the oppressed Africans in St Domingue (Haiti). It was Dutty Boukman, an exportee from Jamaica, whose spark ignited the revolution, and it was only after he was murdered that Toussaint became the leader. [. . .]

Unfortunate stereotypes: Many Jamaicans have complained of preconceived notions and stereotypes at ports of entry. In many cases, they were never given an opportunity to present a case. In Portland, two weeks ago, 25 Haitians arrived by boat, among them a Jamaica-born child. Only two Jamaicans who speak their language, spoke to them directly. Yet, official reports were that nine other boats had left Haiti. However, none of the 24 adults knew of any other boats, except that single one leaving their village.

Apparently, the other vessels either got lost at sea or, more likely, lost in the (unavailable) translation. It is an indictment on us that we do not have in place persons who have the capacity to communicate with these persons in an effective manner. No attempt was made to interview them for the purposes of asylum or to check their antecedents in Haiti to determine whether they would be in grave danger if deported. The dispatching of a few pesky Haitians, without due process, is not a small matter. It sets the tone for how we ought to be treated ourselves by other nations which think we are going to invade and blacken their shores. We should be our brother’s keeper.

For full article, see http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130224/focus/focus5.html

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