The 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles as an heritage of reference

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Text from Pierre Michel Chéry with Michel-Ange Hyppolite's (Kaptenn Koukouwouj) contribution | translated in English by Turenne  Joseph (Tilarenn)

This 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles illustrates the ideological ground for the rigorous choice of revolt by the people on the island of Kiskeya, to gain their emancipation.

This 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles text we choose to share with you as sacred principles of Haiti was written in 2009 by Pierre Michel Chéry. It's been published first on the web in creole in Potomitan

What is the 12 Bwa Kayiman principles and what value does it have today? 

Why does the 12 Bwa Kayiman principles have what it takes to cement a concerted common goal among us?

Why does the 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles can help us believe enough in our capacity to move forward as one to fulfill the mission of liberty and dignity for oneself and our people?

I believe we have a fundamental interest in learning and understanding these 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles as a springboard to better embrace the legacy of our life in this homeland or return to it as worthy heirs.

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Truly, our intention is to encourage fruitful exchanges for mutual growth. 

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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 to unify 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.

First Principle

Every single person is a person, no one is more of a person than another. 

Every single person is a person, no one is more of a person than another. | First Bwa Kayiman PrincipleEvery single person is a person, no one is more of a person than another. | First Bwa Kayiman Principle

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".

Second Principle

Everyone has its place under the blue sky

If only one principle came straight from Bwa Kayiman tradition, it is the principle, Everyone has its place under the blue sky.

According to professor Dyengele, tradition reports that every African nation with descendants in slavery were asked by the Maroons and slaves delegate to be represented in the Bwa Kayiman meeting about to take place.

Every single person must be present. No one is to ever be forgotten. That's the lesson we get in the second Bwa Kayiman Principle.

It is a principle that is still valid in Haiti and reflected particularly in the salute, at the beginning of every Voodoo ceremony, to every African nation who ever set foot on Haiti's land. 

Third Principle

If there is enough for one, there is enough for two. Remember those to follow

Did this principle originate in Bwa Kayiman? Not likely.

It is certain that this third principle is the most common family and neighbourhood practice in the country.

The philosophy of this principle says that the earth belongs to everyone because everyone has its place under the blue sky. For everyone to live well under the blue sky, we must remember those to follow before we plan to store away.

Fourth Principle

Everyone has their own way to pray. Respect the way everyone prays

This principle set the foundation for a brand new civilization to emerge in the space that the Marron will reclaim to live with dignity as free human beings.

This principle also set a remarkable and radical methodological demarcation, unseen before, between 2 ideologies.

Why is this demarcation radical?

In occident as in a lot of civilization, there are usually many visions in regards to the universe, particularly of God. Even though there are many ideologies, every set of thoughts, every clan and every alliance always ignore that it is through our imagination that we develop our conception of the mysteries of life we don't understand yet. They ignore that we explain things through the stories of our lives, our culture and our experiences in the environment we live in. So every alliance declares to be the only one to hold the truth.

We see that adepts of specific religions say: "Mine Is Best".  When one faith cannot win over the other, they get into an armed war to settle the question. In the "Mine is best" civilization (Christian, Muslim), there's no respect for differences. By consequence, people keep dying unnecessarily on behalf of God.

More reason why this demarcation is radical?

Since every alliance in the Mine Is Best civilizations claim to be the only one to hold the truth, their vision of life can only be of fights between 2 clans: truth against lies, God against Satan, light against darkness. The tenets of the Mine Is Best faith give themselves to right to condemn all civilization which doesn't adhere to their Mine Is Best truth. They cannot conceive that another civilization experiencing life in a way they don't is valid. It is that tremendous demarcation that Bwa Kayiman reveals.

If Bwa Kayiman did not reject the Mine Is Best dogma, the descendants of different African nations would have fight against each other just because their vision of life differ.

Instead, Bwa Kayiman got every faith to join in one. Instead of having one faith supplementing one another, they create tools for a new methodology. Those tools serve a matrix where whatever your African heritage, whether you were at Bwa Kayiman or not, none will ever fight you to strip you of your beliefs. People from Jakmel know about Bonne Santé. People from Mont-Rouge du Nord Est know about Mawometan.

Logically, Bwa Kayiman shred off the logic of one against another (exclusion: denying people) to share the one plus one forward logic (inclusion: let everyone take place)

Those choices made in Bwa Kayiman let Haitian conjure with the spirits and still take the communion without ever feeling hell deserving. With such logic there is no value for an heir of Bwa Kayiman in the presumption that Mine Is Best no more than in putting anyone down because of its faith.

It is believed in the country's tradition that all African nation with their descendant on its soil left an heritage to the children of the country. It is clear in the way Vodou shows the spirits who cross the ocean with the African in harmony one with the other. It was the way they appreciate the spirit in the space they were from in Africa.

That 's what we call a matrix for a brand new civilization.

This principle is a new concept of our relationship with God. The only way to judge a religion is on how satisfying it is for the person who adheres to it. This concept doesn't work with the Mine Is Best civilization's logic.

Fifth Principle

What we don’t know is greater than us

The principle of humility for what we don’t know.  The principle of respect for others, the way people are living, respect for how others understand life even if it is different from what we are used to.  Respect for others experiences. 

Many phenomena we hear about, like do twins put a hex on people?, can be true for one and maybe not for another.  Nobody can claim to know all about the laws of the universe. People build civilizations upon how they experience life through times and places. 

In Tibet, northern China, the monks in a Buddhist monastery could not imagine there were laws in nature that can allow people to pull water from the valley to the mountaintop.  In Haiti there are people who can be surprised to hear there are herbal doctors and voodoo priests who can stop a pregnancy, and make life go on normally after. We may seek to understand, but we can’t say that it can’t be.  We have to admit we can't experience all the possibilities of this existence. They cannot all go by right before our own eyes.

We grow as we acknowledge all knowledge and we learn.  The more we learn, the more we discover that there is always even more to learn. The more we learn, the more we respect all phenomena in all walks of life. As we learn, we become wiser.

One very important word in Haitian society is “pwofonde” in acquiring knowledge. The dominant classes in the country put their weight to shortcut the expansion of knowledge in the society. For example, since 1950, science admits that the mother tongue is the greatest tool to learn.  In Haiti all those responsible for education know that, but they prefer to fail the learning process with repeating lessons in French which is a foreign language.  The core reason they constantly put upfront is: “How can Creole, the mother tongue, be useful when a person goes abroad ?” It is as if the society is preparing people to leave the country.

Also, we must recognize that the issue with the Creole word “pwofonde” is its mystical value and the importance of mystics and voodoo in the Haitian society.

In epistemology, a branch of philosophy, we study knowledge in a time period within a society. In voodoo epistemology, we find certain knowledge reserved for people who are initiated, who are moving up in ranks. 

Considering that the fifth principle applies to all Haitians, we must expand the word “pwofonde” for all Haitians to be well versed in looking for knowledge.

Sixth Principle

Everything in life is regulate by a law. Nature's law balances life.

Albert Einstein discovered the law of general relativity in 1905. The general law of relativity expresses how everything in the universe evolves with respect to another because one force against another brings them closer to or further from another and each other.

The universe balances to harmony between one element's force in accordance to another. In their course, the power of those forces may change to a new balance. Since science agreed with Einstein, scientists keep working on finding a mathematical formula that will apply to all situation.

Before Einstein discovered the theory of general relativity, the principle of balance was already express in each Vèvè that were drawn in the country's peristyle. The balance between forces is a requirement for whichever Vèvè for whatever reason the Vèvè is drawn. Many well versed say that the Vèvè drawn in the peristyle are aboriginal heritage.

If indeed the Vèvè are aboriginal heritage, it means that the aboriginal people already understood that the universe relies on the balance between its elements. The principle of balance was already part of the indigenous lifestyle. 

All civilization desiring to respect harmony between people and their environment be it the universe must embrace the universe balance principle as a way of living.

Seventh Principle

Do not undo life’s balance without good reason. People who displace the elements badly put everyone in peril.

What does this mean?

It means that each individual must agree not to undo life's balance, not to undo the balance of the universe.

Undone balance is bad karma for everyone, even the person who takes the responsibility. The balance will work itself back as the elements interact in the midst of the turmoil.

When balance is undone, it takes frictions and clashes before the forces of the elements find balance again. No one can predict what the turmoil comes along with. The elements before the turmoil may be no more, as new ones may surface.

Ayiti's turmoil looks like an undo balance where forces are working towards a new balance. Someone's pride may have been wounded. A tree may have been strike down selfishly. A scientist may have invented a bomb. Either way the balance was undone, no one knows how long it will take the ones to follow to reequilibrate that balance.

Eighth Principle

The more we learn, the more we know how to respect life’s balance

These last three principles connect to the fifth. It is somewhat the same from different angles. This emphasizes the importance for everyone to truly get them. Those principles stir the consciousness of our living conditions to question them, whether in a rich society or a poorer one.

Our awareness of human's disrespectful behaviour towards the environment, whether in Haiti or abroad, make us understand how those who draft these principles had a vision, how they value knowledge in their profoundly wise thinking.

Life hardship presses us to gain profound knowledge of the laws that govern our lives and the universe. Everyone is impacted by the course of the universe.

Haitian hardship these days, like the Maroon's hardship to defy slavery, requires to follow the Maroon's example. The Maroons went deep in the philosophy of life to find the right and effective way to free themselves from slavery.

In 1791 the Maroons discipline themselves to make way for a new lifestyle. In 2009, most Haitians chose to wait for help and God's miracle. The society is in a downfall mindset of passivity, assistance, and resignation. It is no way to visualize how people will be able to eat, where work for everyone will come from, even less to work on the balance we must learn how to reequilibrate.

We must learn how to recalibrate balance and harmony in our society.

Ninth Principle

Always know what's in your plate before you eat

Why must Haitians be careful to "Always know what's in their plate before they eat"?: Memory Principle.

In 1793, Toussaint Louverture exacted France to declare freedom for all slaves in the French colonies. In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte, as first French Council, sent 55 000 soldiers to reinstate slavery in the colonies of Santo Domingo, Martinique and Guadeloupe. They did not succeed in Santo Domingo but they did in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

What did the former slaves learn from Napoleon Bonaparte's attempt?

The most important lesson we inherit from the first Haitian generation is both political and social:

"No treaty is ever fully conceded. We must stay awake. We must always be vigilant because the moment we put our guards down, the moment we are weak, those we fought will bounce back on us where they can."

What does this principle have to do with Haitians in 2009?

The Bwa Kayiman principles erected from the colonies living hell: that's why they are thorough. For the Marrons to crush that hell, they had to infuse life's laws to the core to retrieve these principles. With these principles, the slaves gained back their human respect. Respect the slavery system would disavow. The Bwa Kayiman Principles were at odds with the laws of the European then (White racism, Mine Is Best, dehumanization).

Even though humanity is evolving, the Bwa Kayiman Principles are still odd ones because they are still inconceivable in many societies. These societies won't acknowledge them even today because there are forces to still disavow the Bwa Kayiman Principles' values.

The descendants must respect, value and honour the memory of their great ancestors. The ancestors assess how and dislodged the system that was loting their people among animals. If the descendants forget, the Mine Is Best civilizations will find their way back with different weapons to dehumanize our people like in the good old time of the colonies.

Tenth Principle

Always remember: metal cross metal, there are more mountains behind mountains; don’t shed innocent’s blood; don’t trust careless people

These are a series of rules to help people living in life with harmony. There are no forces without their weakness; all forces can have other forces to challenge them. Always try to be right.  There are some people who say: “What you do on earth, you’ll pay it in heaven”. There are others who say: “What you do on earth, you’ll pay it on earth”. There are others who don’t respect anything in life…  They are making loads without knowing who is going to pay among those who remain behind.

Never forget that we can only ask careless people to live

Eleventh Principle

Beware! The Bwa Kayiman’s enemies will take many names and appear in many tenure for revenge

 If Napoleon Bonaparte is not present to reinstate the slavery system in the country, if it’s impossible for slavery to come back in Haiti, it doesn’t mean that racists don’t have other means to revenge.  The first means that the racists have to take revenge is the failure of the Haitian society to solve its problems.  The failure picture that Haitians provide to racists arguments and weapon to criticize the 1791-1804 experience. What’s worse is that right inside the country, all things such as: “anti-superstitious campaign, the anti-voodoo campaign (or the act of renouncing voodoo), root out Bwa KayimanÈzili4 is Jezebel, give the country back to Jesus”, all of these things are attempts that the racists are trying, thanks to Haitians that they are attracting with money, to erase the memory of Bwa Kayiman within the Haitian people.  The objective of the racists is to make Haitians repeat: “We don’t see what Bwa Kayiman was useful for! What was 1804 useful for?” like some Haitians start saying.

Twelveth Principle

It is bad for an heir to forget slaves made Bwa Kayiman so that people serving God wont be packs among animals.

In 2009, the racism still exists on earth.  Up until today, the 1791’s offspring, descendents of 1804 are paying for the right snatched from colonizers so that people would not be considered as animals. Black men in Martinique and Guadeloupe waited more then 40 years after Haitians before white French accepted to free them. The United States have constructed an ideological barrier especially for Haiti to block off the revolution’s influence coming from the Bwa Kayiman’s experience. Remember, in 1826, it was the United States that made them receive Haiti in the first meeting organized for independent states in the American continent.  The United States took 60 years to recognize Haiti’s independence.  Whites were obliged to fight against Whites to put an end to slavery in their country. Blacks in the United States had to wait until between 1960-1964 to find the right to vote.  In South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison before the Whites recognized the right of Black people… Despite that, what happened later, many Whites on this planet never forgive Haitians for uprooting first the slavery system in a spot on the planet.  After their failure in Haiti, colonizers crossed over to other continents (Africa, Asia), spreading out their racist vision by exploiting the indigenous people found in these continents.

As some civilizations are on the verge of disappearing, others are appearing. Each civilization comes with its own values and its own vision of life. In the Roman empire, they got rid of slavery in the beginning of the Middle Ages.  When Christopher Columbus seized America together with his settlers, Las Casas had a soft heart for the Indians.  He asked to bring negroes from Africa.  Thus, people who pretended to serve God signed their names under a crime against humanity in order to make money.  It is this Calvary that’s branded deep in the soul of slaves’ offspring that racist Whites, under the cover of the Gospel, try to erase from the victims’ consciousness and memory.

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Pierre Michel Chéry
 is a member of the Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen. Pierre Michel Chéry is a manager, linguist and, author who dances with words in kreyòl. He promotes kreyòl and Haitian culture. 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). It is with my introdution to 12 Bwa Kayiman Principles that I came to know about Pierre Michel Chéry's work.

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