12 Bwa Kayiman Principles - Introduction
If a person wants to understand Haitian society in depth, he or she cannot ignore the traditions of the country.
The slave population who did the 1791 to 1804 revolution did not know how to write. It was through words of mouth they set meetings. It was also through word of mouth they explained to one another how they were organizing to get out of slavery.
As they question the slave system, they identified their differences. By identifying the different possibilities life could offer them, they chose their own vision, their own path, a path that led them in a direction different from that of the colonists. These reflections brought them to create their own perspective of life, a perspective completely different from the colonists'.
As we study the country's population during the colonial period, we identified more than 100 different slave groups. These were presented as nations or tribes.
The first thing that unified the slave population was the conditions of exploitation and dehumanization people were living under.
The second thing which created unity among the slave population was the impossibility for slaves to look at life the same way as colonists. We repeat. It was by determining that they could not conceive life, or perceive the universe in the same way as the White colonist, that the slaves organized to free themselves.
At that stage, the maroon represented the consciously aware slave. This distinction meant that the ideology of Whites (Christianity, European, racism) had no hold on the mind of people who rejected the beliefs of Whites.
The initial rebellion started in the maroon's mind who preferred to take refuge in the mountains rather than accept the slave system conditions.
Many principles of Haitian life and many rules of everyday organization derived from the way slave thoughts diverged from the slave system during the period of slavery even before the 1791 uprising.
The military war was launched in all its vigour in 1791, but the war of ideological consciousness arose from the construction of the first Peristil (Vodou temple) in the colony. From then on, the maroons will clear off from the vision of the Whites. This will lead them to create their own perspective in all that concerned their lives as whole persons.
We gathered 12 of the most important principles that remain in the Haitian traditions to demonstrate the ideological basis that propelled the Bwa Kayiman, as well as the perspective of life that was being discussed during the Bwa Kayiman ceremony. These 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles are 12 direct responses, 12 responses opposed to the ideas generally assumed then about how slaves should live.
Bwa Kayiman has more than 12 principles. Each Haitian is entitled to choose the principles she or he considers more important than those we present. Beyond that, every heir of the impetus of Bwa Kayiman must act with competence so that all of humanity will learn, the vision that motivated a group of slaves, by a concerted movement of revolt, to overcome the infernal life in the colony in an implacable upheaval.
Even today in 2009, we are living the tremor of this cry of revolt.
The first principle, as the foundation for whichever principle to come next, is the first commandment.
This principle is the most important of all the principles that led to, came from, Bwa Kayiman.
We can recall that since Columbus took possession of the land of the natives in 1492, the West invented all kinds of theories to classify people according to their colour.
When a maroon took refuge in the mountains, the settler proclaimed him lazy.
This idea was so powerful during the colonial period that nobody admitted it was because the maroons believed that every single person is a person and no one is more of a person than another, that they refused the slave condition.
This principle came about from fights against slavery and went through time (more than 200 years) to us today. This principle has become the most popular proverb the Haitians use to denounce abuses and disregard of people, no matter where they live.
In most societies throughout the world, it is on the basis of vicissitudes, difficulties, struggles and, one after another, that people admit this principle: "Every single person is a person, no one is more of a person than another".
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Pierre Michel Chéry, member of the Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen, is a manager, linguist and, author who dances with words in kreyòl. Pierre Michel Chéry contributes to our lives in creole with his work within the REKA (Rezo Kreyolis Ayisyen) and the IOCP (International of Creole People).