There are memories of Haiti Id like to keep forever. Alcibiade
Pommayrac, nestled in the carefully kept tropical garden of the school
in Jacmel, a charming town in the south. In one of the classrooms a
banner hangs wishing "Welcome to Dany Laferrière,"
even though the Haitian writerhe prefers to call himself a "traveling"
Haitian rather than a member of the Haitian diasporahas already
returned to Miami. Schoolchildren, laughing together as they tell a
visitor about their unschooled parents: "The grownups have too
many superstitions!" The road to Jacmel: a peasant riding a mule
to market, pipe in his mouth, poultry slung over his mount, a picture
of a gouverneur de la rosé, paysannes du petit matin right
out of Jacques Roumain, the best known Haitian writer, whose books paint
an idyllic picture of the Haitian countryside, its natural beauty, the
simplicity of its peasantry.
But even if Roumains literary prestigeand that of Haitis
other masterssurvives, the times do not lend themselves to their
militant, prophetic literature, which paints a beautiful picture of
the mountainous countryside and its inhabitants and heralds bright tomorrows.
The present reality in Haiti is disastrous, and that disaster covers
the country in a veil of uncertainty. For three years, the Haitian government
was paralyzed. In 1990, Jean Bertrand Aristide, then a radical Roman
Catholic priest, was democratically elected President. The following
year he was forced into exile by the Haitian army. After three years
of brutal military repression, North American occupying forces negotiated
his return to power. Aristide, who gave up the priesthood this same
year, 1994, later named his own successor, René Préval.
("Titid," as Aristide is known, remains a ubiquitous and unpredictable
figure on the political scene. Everyone expected him to run in the presidential
elections planned for November 2000. But in Haiti, every plan, date,
and deadline is provisional.)
Since the parliamentary elections of 1997, when the opposition party,
the Organization of People in Struggle (Organisation du Peuple en Lutte)
accused the governments of Aristide and Préval of fraud and began
a filibuster, the governmental institutions of this country have been
virtually shut down. No laws are passed, no budgets can be submitted.
Some $500 million in loans have been frozen by the Interamerican Development
Bank, the World Bank, and others. The financial infrastructure and legal
system are at a halt. The middle and lower classes have reverted to
a precarious black market economy; often it is only money returning
from Haitis many emigrants that keeps family budgets afloat. On
the coasts of the island, smugglingincluding massive transshipments
of Colombian cocainecompensates for the free-fall economy, even
as it undermines that economy even further. The principal Haitian export
is its people: with a population of 7.3 million, the Haitian diaspora
was estimated in 1996 as 1.5 million.
In the midst of this political collapse, social hemorrhage, and galloping
anomie, the one source of fresh air and hope comes from a very surprising
place indeed: art, and, in particular, literature. In Haiti, literature,
painting, and "culture" in the largest sensevoodoo,
proverbs, tales, oral traditionsweave a coherent fabric from a
fractured society from the scraps of a failed polity and ragged remains
of broken promises.
Why this creative abundance, no one really knows. Perhaps the explanation
is to be found in ancient literary traditions: the epics of historical
upheaval, occupation, independence, the transplantation of half a million
African slaves by French colonists. Perhaps the origin is in the rich
imagery and the oral traditions of voodoo. My guidebook, for example,
gives a factual description of spot close by Cap-Haitien: "at about
thirty meters to the right, the ruins of a colonial building shelter
a pool where lives a ghost called Lovana, who takes the form of a fish.
His faithful come to pray to him on Tuesday and Friday. There is a major
festival that takes place here, the day before the pilgrimage to Sea
of Lemonade in honor of Sainte Philomène."
Whatever its roots, Haitis extraordinary literature provides
an occasion for this sad country to transcend its own instability, and
discern possibilities beyond its current disasters. To tread a razors
edge between poetry and disaster.
To come to Haiti in search of its literature is to fall in love with
the placeeven if, sometimes, this passion is followed by a great
deal of pain.
I HAVE COME TO HAITI to give speech at an Alliance Française,
invited as a French writer of Somalo- Djiboutien origin. My mother is
from Djibouti, my father is French, I live in New York: my speech will
evoke the nomadic discourse that, in a world swallowed whole by globalization,
Djibouti and Haiti are two little countries of more or less the same
size. Both are French-speaking. But whereas Djibouti is a desert inhabited
by nomadic populations who are deeply rooted in Islamic countryside
traditions, Haiti is an overcrowded island, populated by a peasantry
that is profoundly inspired by Christian faith and voodoo rites.
The two represent cultural poles. Djibouti has few writers in the Western
sense of the term, but numerous traditional poets. It is best known,
in literary terms, for having hosted the saga of the French poet Arthur
Rimbaud, who had been attracted to Djibouti by the Secrets of the
Red Sea, Henri de Monfreids classic adventure book of the
Indian Ocean and its environs.
Haiti, on the other hand, is a country of literaturesnote the
pluralboth oral and published under the auspices of the biggest
Parisian publishing houses. I had always admired Jacques Roumain and
Jacques Stephen Alexis, the martyred writer, murdered by Papa Docs
sbires, as well as the incandescent Marie Chauvet. Djibouti to
Haiti via New York is for me a voyage rich with literary myths.
Jérémie, my first stop, seems very far from Port au Princefar
from the chaos and the interminable traffic jams of the capital.
A taxi driver had warned me: "Jérémie isnt
really Haiti any more."
Seen from the airplane, its love at first sight: "the crown
of its bay stretching up the verdant moss of the hills. Along the golden
curve of the beach houses in dentelles de bois; the masters
rooms of the rich shopkeepers turning their back to the sumptuous sea,"
as Lilas Desquiron describes Jérémie in her novel The
Roads of Loco Miroir. But before that the Jeremian novelist had
said, "She is there, horrible, infected, swollen with envy and
with bile," to describe the sleeping beauty at the bottom of the
hills. For me, fortunately, the local polemics are too deep to explore:
I have only the time to enjoy this place at the end of the world, where
the airport is decorated by a large and flattering flag just across
from the entrance of the arrival hall:
"Welcome to the City of Poets."
A short time later, a few miles from the little airport, in a countryside
that is empty apart from a few peasants on muleback, Jérémie
exhibits its proper little open-air market, and then regales the visitor
with hot croissants at Chez Patou, a French cafe and bakery not
far from the recently repainted, majestic cathedral. The local clergy
Eric Parra, the French director of the local Alliance Française,
a semi-private, semi-public institution supported by the French Foreign
Ministry, is there to meet me. Together, we go to meet the Haitian President
of the Local Alliance, Almaye Dorestan.
We find him sitting at one of the rickety tables at a cafeteria
next to the Alliance Francaise on the rue Sténio- Vincent. What
is he doing, this Saturday, at the end of the world and the end of the
millennium? He is working on a notebook full of his short stories, with
the ardent attention of an editor.
"Literature is my passion," he explains to me. "Ill
submit these stories to Editions Mémoire ou Regain or other local
publishers." And when this second job leaves him a little free
time, Dorestan spends it "inventing verses."
Dorestan is representative of this generation of lettered Haitians
who make their island and their culture a Caribbean paradox. Everywhere
else in the world modern mediaor at least newly introduced mediatrump
the printed word. Not here. Another writer born in Jérémie,
Syto Cavé, reminds me anew of the paradox. "French educators
have remarked on a growing disinterest on the part of the young
of Martinique and Guadeloupe, whereas here the book remains a major
window on the world, on life, on culture, on wisdom, on knowledge."
Dorestan confirms it. Haiti is the third largest producer of books
in the French-speaking world, after France and Quebec. Counting books
by diaspora authors, some three hundred to four hundred titles are published
each year in all the genres, with a tendency toward poetry. In a country
with such a high level of illiteracy, these numbers are astounding.
Jeremian poets faithfully attend their literary Saturdays at the Alliance.
Its a club where the audience is quick to share what it calls
its "cultural gateau." They climb up to the stage,
recite poetry in a French filled with the particular literalness of
Creole, a peasant language that is deeply rooted in the soil of their
islands. They play guitar and sing the sentimental airs of Francis Cabrel
or Bartoldi, then rejoin the audience. Nothing here speaks of Haitis
dangerous and violent reality, of the countrys current political
vacuum. They have an infinite confidence in literature, in culture.
And yet Jérémie has no electricity or running water.
No taxis, either. In order to see the dramatic view of the Grand
Anse River and its steel frame bridge, which is worthy of the nineteenth-century
French engineers who built the Eiffel Tower and Grand Palais, we have
to take a "moto-stop," a motorcycle taxi. Our drivers have
no intention of wasting our time, and plunge down rocky trails at high
speeds. As soon as the last little townwhere a truck had fallen
into the open sewerpasses, nature becomes generous, providential.
The breadfruit and palm trees burst out on the banks of the Grande Anse,
where washerwomen scrub laundry while their children play on bamboo
rafts, then climb up the sides of the hills. From the summit of the
hills, the town and its surroundings are out of the famous primitive
local paintings: a timeless tropical paradise.
Obviously, the paintings failed to capture some of the wounds of underdevelopmentamong
others, the typhoid fever that is endemic to the region of the Grande
Anse. Nor do they portray the struggles of political enemies who, from
time to time, enflame the poor neighborhoods near the road weve
just traveled. With the narcotraffic has come a new form of violence,
political in effect if not in intention, for it steadily destroys local
Can literature, here, really have something to say, given the economic
ruin, the political destruction of the country? Something constructive,
and not simply distracting?
The audience at the Jérémie Alliance Francaise responds
with a resounding yes. Like his younger colleagues, the poet Syto Cavé,
author of some fifteen plays in Creole and French, remains hopeful:
"The time of the dictatorship destroyed everything. It left us
needing to reestablish continuity with our own past, to cast a light
on the present in view of all we have experienced. We need to help the
young to know their past, that which we need to preserve from it, say
about it, in order to better go forward."
This is a familiar theme in Djibouti. There, too, the public demands
of popular theater and fiction that they be a literature of memory,
that they tap into the sources of local history.
"We are in the middle of a long transition toward democracy,"
continues Cavé, "but at the same time there is a reestablishment
of memory taking place slowly, gradually."
FROM 1968 TO 1972, Cavé left the country. At that time, the
Duvalier dynasty had cast its dictatorial cloud over the country. Although
originally elected, Francois DuvalierPapa Docdeclared himself
president for life in 1964 and installed a sinister paramilitary, the
Tontons Macoutes, to enforce his rule. Jean Claude DuvalierBaby
Docsucceeded his father after his death in 1971 and ruled until
he was forced into exile in France in 1986. In New York, Cavé
and Hervé Denis founded a theater company.
"So, for us, the time of repression gave birth to a literary movement,
Haiti Littéraire, but we were all forced to leave. Among the
Jeremians, only René Philoctète stayed."
Syto Cavé paused, looking at the lush tropical gardens outside
"For those of us in New York, the problem we faced was what literary
form to choose, how to escape from the old molds. For us, New York was
a political and cultural intersection, as well as a meeting place with
the massive Haitian community living there. The theater was a way to
open peoples eyes about what was going on in Haiti, but it was
also for us a chance to come back to Haitian culture. We needed to find
a new theatrical form, we needed to think about how to express a text
in a new way, how to stage an actor differently. And so we took as our
point of departure the cockfights, where people gather in a circle around
the ring to watch, and to place their bets. This was also reminiscent,
for us, of folktales told on an evening in a circle.
"So we decided to do a theater in the round, to return to Voodoo
in a new way, avoiding any whiff of folklorism, concentrating rather
on Voodoos ritual aspect, its mixture of song and dance. This
allowed us to find new directions, to engage a Haitian diction, to combine
equally Creole and French onstage without letting either become ascendant,
to create a theatre of the body. And it allowed us to avoid falling
into old models, imitating our classical predecessors.
"This time in America enriched me enormously. In 1980 Hervé
Denis returned. Two years later it was my turn to come back, and together
we decided to pursue our theatrical ambitions. During our absence, despite
the repression, the National Theater of François Latour continued
to put on major pieces. Two of them had an enormous influence on the
public: Boukiman Paradis, written by Franck Fouchier, a playwright
residing in Canada who was inspired by the folk tales of Bouc and Malice,
and Pèlin Tèt, by Frankétienne. These two
works, so different from the old patriotic plays, brought a new public
to the theater."
Here in Jérémie, Syto Cavés comments sound
encouraging. But faced with the nearly complete halt of the states
machinery, most people seem to find refuge first in the traditional
protection of the church, and only then in other means of expression.
The first day in Jérémie the processionals of young people
seem to take up the entire village. The next day it is black-clad groups
in Sunday dress, Protestants who wake me at dawn by softly chanting
hymns on their way down the rue Bordes. The visitor cant help
but notice, in the morning, the preponderance of churches. And yet the
street in front of my hotel, made of smooth stones that ring musically
under the hooves of mules, lends itself to a more pagan recollection.
Each time I walk down its steep slope I find myself before the turquoise
waves of the sea, bathed in the ancient Caribbean wind that was so dear
to the venerable Jacques Stephen Alexis, whose body has never been recovered.
"This is a country in search of itself," continues Cavé.
"People are becoming more and more aware, and a more selective
taste for literature, born of the dreams that were put down by the Duvaliers,
is also developing. Obviously, theres a lot of mess, also, because
habits die hard. But undeniably, you feel here a cultures steps
forward. In the provincial villages there is a thirst for books that
is only growing."
Leaving Jérémie, once again before the sign wishing "Welcome
to the City of Poets," another author, Joseph-Marie St. Natus,
asks my professional opinion of the title of his latest manuscript,
which translates as The Enigma of the Village of the Golden Dawn.
The title strikes me as a pretty homage to Jérémie,
but beyond that I have no suggestions to offer. Perhaps I have understood
something of the local situation, but, of course, everything eludes
me in the question of commercialism. For, as Cavé says, "poetry
is not for sale. Its for reciting. Its the high ground of
language, its attic, where one tries to renew language, to find a voice,
to break the hatis of a speech all ready to purchase
and it is
the place of your silence."
Some degree of confusion, it would seem, is the only possible response
to the local situation.
THE PLANE FLIES OVER LES ABRICOTS, a lieu-dit dear to Jean Claude
Fignolé, whom I had met once in Paris on the occasion of our
respective novels publication by the same publisher. Born in Jérémie
in 1941, the same year as Syto Cavé, Fingolé studied law
and agriculture, all the while writing major critical essays.
With René Philoctète and Frankétienne, he founded
the important literary movement called Spiraliste and at the
same time organized agricultural development projects with peasants
from the Abricot region. In an essay, "Travel vows and literary
intentions" (1978), Fingolé declared that "The first
entrance to self consciousness is neither word, memory, or hope. It
is ACTION." I found the quote in an issue of the well known French
literary review, Notre Librarie: Haitien Literature from 1960 to
Today. Its a good summation of this important authors
pragmatism in successfully resisting the socioeconomic disasters not
only by literary techniques, but also by agricultural ones.
Erosion, both of arable land and forests, is ravaging the mountainous
island, whose Indian name, "Ayitie," means "the high
Island." A little further the bay of Pestel is famous in Haiti
for its Easter-time Festival of the Ocean. But the colors of the Caribbean
sea dont bring many foreign tourists to this part of Haiti, or
any other. Political and economic instability discourages investment.
Since my visit, political violence has escalated. The popular journalist
Jean Dominique was murdered in front of his wife, and elections have
brought more turmoil than peace. And while a Royal Caribbean cruise
does put in at the enchanting Labadee beach in the north, close by Cap
Haitien, the tours brochure doesnt even mention Haiti.
The Tropical Airways flight flew over Petit-Goâve, where Danny
Laferrière comes from, and begins its descent to Port au Prince,
birthplace of so many authors and a breeding ground for Haitian literature
in general. And here I am met by the novelist Yanick Lahens.
Lahens is one of the more than a dozen Francophone Hatian women who
have acquired literary reknown; others include Lilas Desquiron, Jan
J. Dominique, Margaret Papillon, Kettly Mars, Evelyne Trouillot, and
Yanick Jean. In the less common English-speaking diaspora, there is
Edwidge Danticat, and among Spanish-speaking emigres, Micheline Dusseck.
All have taken their cue from Marie Chauvet. Author of the novel
Love, Anger, and Madness, Chauvet was the center of the "Haiti
Littéraire" movement. This vitality of womens writing
is a major phenomenon in Haitian literature.
"Literature is one of those rare places where, in the bosom of
chaos, one can still feel safe," wrote Lahens in Notre Libraire.
"The first remark one can make about these women novelists is that
they have abandoned the globalizing constructions of Marxism and
inigenisme in favor of the microcosms of family and private life.
They go straight for the territory of childhood, and describe a literary
space deeply marked by femininity, a space of the household and the
We talk while climbing at high speed in her car toward the heights
of Pétionville, the residence of the privileged classes. Yanick
Lahens has just published, with Editions mémoire, her short story
collection, The Little Corruption, and taken her latest novel,
In the Fathers House, which was published in France by Le
Serpent à Plumes, to the French book fair in Paris.
Everything happens quickly with this writer at the center of it all.
We speed toward the heights of Boule 10, on the mountain that leads
"In the heart of disaster, literature can function as an questioning
of its own forms. It can dream, imagine, even play; indeed, its
the only space thats left for us to play in. Even if were
in a situation where there are few readers, few people who even can
read, where political chaos is everywhere
yes, certainly literature
is a way out.
"Were in a period of enormous change, political and social.
The young understand their Francophonic heritage, but they see themselves
much more as American. This is a fact we cant ignore. The other
change is that the Creole speakers are coming into their own. French
is no longer mastered, English not yet, were caught in between."
We arrived at a villa dominating the city. Here, the reality of Port-au-Prince"a
vile town, ravished by hateful sewage and mess," as Frankétienne
described it in Haiti Babel, Haitie Babel, Land of Schizophreniais
little more than a memory, diluted in the healthy mountain air and the
spectacle of nearly alpine tropical flora.
"Of course, American hegemony is undeniable, but we cant
surrender ourselves bound hand and foot," Lahens tells me. "Art
requires openness, but at the same time it needs the transmission of
the most intimate cultural identity. We live in what has been until
very recently a closed country, a society turned back on itself, which
has provided it with a powerful cultural coherence. Today, many of our
problems have their origins in our management of that changethat
is, in this sudden opening toward the international. Haitian culture
already had a somewhat contentious relationship with modernity. Its
this contentiousness including the new forms of communicationthat
has to be managed today by politicians, economists, and writers."
THIS EVENING IN PORT AU PRINCE Frankétiennes mythical
play, Pélin Tèt, is being reprised. The park around
the theatre is filled with cars: the new production of this classic
play is once again a major event. The capital is rediscovering its poet-writer-singer-playwright,
as subversive as ever, at 63 years oldthe great Frankétienne.
Max Dominiquea Catholic Priest, professor at LEcole
Normale Supérieure, and director of Saint Martial College
accounts for Frankétiennes immense importance in his recent
book, "Critical Sketches":
Frankétiennes massive oeuvre remains key to Haiti. That
its possible to be irritated by his long flights of fantasy,
immediately recognizable from one work to the other, is an immediate
testament to the impact on the collective imagination of this man
and his internal lacerations, this son of an American father and a
peasant mother, born of a rape in the harsh landscapes of Artibonite,
and brought up in the heart of a slum, Bel Air in Port-au-Prince.
One can criticize his gigantisme or his indulgence in the obscene.
But the defense will always come back to his first career as a bayakou,
a toilet cleaner: this bayakou, in his writing, is trying
to flush out the entire universe.
In the literary landscape of Haiti, Frankétienne is a kind of
volcanic conscience in perpetual eruption. An earthquake. Each of his
plays is received with passion. As Frankétienne himself explains
in his essay on the Spiraliste literary movement he founded with
Fingolé and Philoctère:
The Spiral embraces chaos, but remains open: open to live, to the
future, to the infinite.... Ive always been fascinated by the
multidimensionality of humans. I was a professor of physics and mathematics.
Before becoming interested in literature, I was a voracious reader
of theoretical physics, notably Einstein.
I became aware of the importance of the phenomena of chaos in all aspects
of life; that chaos was a constant, not an exception; that it was the
glimpses of rationality that were in fact exceptional. Its this
observation, and this discovery, reinforced by my scientific readings,
that allowed me to follow the path toward this literary form of the
spiral. At that time I also frequented a lot of voodoo ceremonies, which
allowed me to reconnect with my origins, my family traditions, because
my grandmother was a mamboa voodoo Priestessin St.
Marc. My mother was also a mambo; she was often ridden by spirits
in my presence. And at the same time as I began to learn about voodoo,
I became interested in the major mystical texts, as well as discovering
Taoism and Zen.
There are voodoo practitioners who claim to travel to the bottom
of the sea or across galaxies and there to discover richer landscapes
than those that Ive seen in all the capitals of the world. Ive
traveled everywhere, because in Haiti we are systematically penned
in. I felt a kind of bulimia, a hunger to possess everything that
exists on the planet, to introject it, to gobble it up.
In Haiti, Frankétienne is a myth. As he says himself: "Its
either garbage or transcendent: there is no objective appraisal of my
work in Haiti. At least I dont leave anyone cold."
In France he is less famous than his friend Patrick Chamoiseau, who
has won the Goncourt prize and become the spokesman of Creolization.
But no living writer better incarnates the almost incredible vitality
of the dialogue in contemporary literature between French and Creole
Frankétienne writes about an incident in which, in the street,
he meets a woman whose face is glistening with sweat, sitting next to
a little cart. When she sees him she recites a line from Pèlin
Tèt, then adds in Creole: "So, Frank, when are you giving
us something else?"
"I found myself in my car, stupefied and filled with joy. Here
is an illiterate peasant who recognizes me. Its the most wonderful
thing that could possibly happen to me."
Faced with the economic, social, and political disaster of the island,
under all the different dictatorships, in each historic period, his
work has served at the same time as conscience, relief, and reflection.
With its enormous freedom, its polyvalent richness, the way it indefatigably
interrogates the universe with all the resources of his multiple culture,
Frankétiennes work reaches every level of this society.
And writing about the revival of Pelin Tèt, Franz Lerebours
in Nouvelliste, the oldest Haitian daily, concludes by thanking
him in the form of an admonishment:
Thank you, Franck. May the voices you inspire continue to go forth
and conjure up the evil spells and old demons of underdevelopment,
that we can give birth to a more just society, a more honest, sincere,
and prosperous one.
Lyonel Trouillot could be one of these new voices inspired by Frankétienne.
He writes tirelessly, always interrogating notions of reality. His newest
book is out from Editions du Serpent a Plumes in Paris.
We meet at the Institut Français. He is a round man in his forties
with an intense glance and an erudite language. A brilliant early evening
light floods the room. Through the blinds, a white bird floats over
the nearby mangrove. I ask him whether books can change the reality
"Novels and poems are not going to feed the hungry ... nor is
it with novels or poems that were going to establish a fair political
order thats not based on cheating, lying, corruption, and violence.
But, on the other hand, I can say that literature is my contribution
to the community: I feel profoundly responsible for this reality."
To this same question Frankétienne answers: "If literature
gives no one anything to eat, it nonetheless allows one to learn to
plant a field of wheat. Bread will come after."
Trouillot has no scientific answer to the question, but he chooses
his words with precision. "Modestly, I would say that I give some
weight to the little bit of writing in meknowing that it doesnt
amount to much. Literature is more than ever futile when its blind,
and I think that we Haitian writersnot all agree with meare
obliged to be clear-sighted. But were threatened by the big international
market that requires a sort of denationalization of literaturea
sort of narcissism, a sort of inwardness. Im afraid that well
be struck with blindness, we Haitian writers. And so, Id say that
finding our eyes is the reality for me."
Is reading threatened, in Haiti, by the new media?
"I dont think so. Sadly, in Haiti there is still an exclusivity
reading is nearly a class privilege, and the social
classes that enjoy this privilege are less and less interested in it.
On the other hand, thanks to education, the less fortunate classes in
Haiti are able to appropriate the book, and learning, as weapons. Many
young people of modest origins are writing in Creole. This is a new
phenomenon, and this finds its inspiration very much in the reality
of Haiti. Elsewhere, those belonging to the same generation have quite
a feeble aesthetic, have in some way experienced a loss of clarity,
a loss of source, of identity, of originin fact, a total loss.
"When one lives in a country that is as torn up as ours, so filled
with social contradictions, its to be expected that literature
will also be the place where these contradictions play themselves out.
In fact, Haitian literature is alive precisely because it incarnates
these contradictions. Personally, I place myself in the tradition of
René Philoctète. To me, he is the Haitian writer par
excellence, resolutely modern, resolutely anchored in the reality
of Haiti. Or, I follow Mahmoud Darwich, the Palestinian poet. Literature
needs to be at the same time the wound and the dream.
"To guarantee the viability, the longevity of the Haitian literary
heritage, we must make the French language more democratic, and we need
to focus on Creole. Both. Creole should become a written language, one
that can be slammed down on a table when one is abroad to say: Here
is my language!"
In the American airplane that carries me back to the United States
from Port au Prince, announcements are made in Creolea realization
of Lyonel Trouillots hopes for his language.
THE LAST STAGE of my journey took me to the coasts of Jacmel, a little
town between sea and mountain that resounds still with the absence of
the two great writers it gave to the diaspora, René Depestre
and Jean Métellus. The first, since his retirement to France,
finds the primary material of his work is a dream of a lost time, a
nostalgia for the Jacmel of his childhood. It would not survive a confrontation
with the present reality.
Jean Metellus, meanwhile, is a neurologist in France. His first book,
Evening in Jacmel, evoked decadence by chronicling the history of
his country as a tale of dereliction and decline.
In the airplane above Florida, I turn to the last chapter of Danny
Laferrières Country without a Hat. Laferrière
describes himself as a "primitive writer," fated to be exiled;
he now lives in Miami after many years in Montreal.
Laferrière had been in Jacmel before me, and his words provide
a perfect conclusion: