#ShamelesslyHaitian by Raygine C. DiAquoi | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

NewBlackMan (in Exile)

The Digital Home for Duke University Professor and Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal


On this day, whenever I walk out of the house, my grandmother reminds me that my ancestors are walking with me.

Toute moun, vin al regle afè Raygine. Ale avèk Raygine/Everyone, go and handle Raygine’s affairs. Go with Raygine.

She always recites these words as I unlock the door to go outside. I imagine my most immediate ancestors forming a protective phalanx around me, accompanied by many ancestors whose names I will never know. They’ve been leaving the house with me for as long as I can remember. I imagine that they walk with me in my journey through graduate school even though I am far from my home in Flatbush, Haiti.

Every time I left the house my grandmother let me know that I was well equipped to overcome any battle that I might encounter outside of our home. She was reminding me that I was her little warrior, the descendant of warriors, and that my ancestors were always around, intervening when necessary. They would help me in all of my battles. She armed me with a sense of connectedness and continuity, locating me within a past that is ever-present. She was making sure that I was familiar with Zansèt yo/The Ancestors, making sure that I would never disremember them.

Haitian culture is a culture of remembering. Haitians celebrate their Independence Day on the first of January and the Day of the Ancestors on the second. After spending a day celebrating its bright and promising future, a newly independent Haiti devoted a day to remembering the sacrifices of foremothers and forefathers. In my family, we continue to do the same. The entire first day of the January is infused with a sense of triumph and victory and the smell of soup Joumou.

The feeling of pride continues into the second day but is tempered by the call to think of those who have come before us, who have sacrificed so that we could have this present moment. For Haitians the idea of revolution, of progress, of change is intricately intertwined with the past and the ancestors. All endeavors that we undertake occur under the gaze and with the aid of our ancestors.  The past is always present. This is apparent in the Desalinyèn, Haiti’s national anthem.

Every January 1st, parts of the Haitian national anthem envelop my parents’ home, weaving in and out of boisterous telephone conversations, seasoning our pumpkin soup, and blaring from the kitchen radio that picks up Haitian radio stations.

Pou Ayiti ak pou Zansèt yo

For Haiti and for the Ancestors
Fo nou kapab vanyan gason

We must be able, valiant men
Moun pa fèt pou ret avèk moun

Men are not born to serve other men
Se sa-k fè tout Manman ak tout Papa

That is why all mothers and all fathers
Dwe pou voye Timoun lekòl

Must send their child to school
Pou yo aprann, pou yo konnen

so they learn, so they know

What Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe, Petion
Te fè pou wet Ayisyen anba bòt blan.

Did to remove Haitians from under white people’s boots.

The anthem repeatedly invokes the ancestors, reminding Haitians to honor and revere them. However, this stanza speaks specifically to the importance of teaching children about the deeds of those who came before them. Specifically, Haitian parents are charged with making sure that their children get an education that will teach them about what their ancestors have done for them. My parents have been relentless about making sure that I know whom I have been, who I am and who I will become.

Through stories, poetry, songs, prayer and artifacts, my family created a syllabus for remembering. As a child my mother fed me stories about the importance of African indigenous knowledge, in the case of Bwa Kayiman, to the Haitian revolution, and poems that placed Haiti’s achievements against the backdrop of Africa’s many firsts. One of the songs that my grandmother taught me had this repeating refrain, which referenced both a hatred of the French and a removal of the color white from the French flag to create the Haitian flag: Desalin pa vle wè blan/ Desalin wants nothing to do with the white man.

However, for my grandmother it wasn’t just about songs, stories and poems. My grandmother lives in a constant state of remembrance. The words that she would recite as I left the house, the prayers that she made to her mother and father to protect our family, and the dreams that she interprets for us at the kitchen table or over the phone are glimpses of the constant state of being which allows her to live simultaneously in the past as well as the present. These practices were lessons in survival and strength. There was an understanding that I needed these lessons to thrive, to fully understand my place in a world that would relegate me to the margins.

I recognize these practices to be a part of a diasporic indigenous ontology, particular to Haitians who have a penchant for speaking about Dessalines and Toussaint as if they just saw the two men on the platform at the 2/5 Church Avenue train station. My sister and I do this too. We talk about “our man Dessalines” and how “that cat was really not trying to hear anything about slavery”. It is a way of being, particular and native to peoples who live and are at home in the diaspora, people for whom the diaspora has become a place of permanent residence.

This way of being, which is apparent in many facets of Haitian culture, is remarkable considering the fact that the victories of the first black republic are something that history likes to forget. This constant remembering is an act of resistance, a way of ensuring the longevity of a people and their strength in world that wishes that they did not exist, a world that refuses to see them, a world bent on diminishing and distorting their history.

Today I remember Edmé Azaël Henriette Jeanty Delpé Jeanty, Lonpré Jeanty, Lucrèsse Azaël, Marcel Azaël, Antonine Azaël, Mona Brifil, Marie-Marthe Azaël, Marco Jeanty, Ulrique Jeanty, Bosier Jeanty, Hypolite Jeanty, Jiocher Jeanty, Richard Jeanty, Loulouse Jeanty, Inez Jeanty, Diaquoi ainé (present at the signing of the Act of Independence), Zabelite Théophile, Paulimuce S. DiAquoi, Felicia Dubois, Feaux Théophile, Jacqueline Théophile, Bathelmy Théophile, Malgrey Théophile, Cill Théophile, Coléstine Théophile.

Toute moun, vin al regle afè Raygine. Ale avèk Raygine/Everyone, go and handle Raygine’s affairs. Go with Raygine.




Raygine C. DiAquoi  Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences Assistant Dean, Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Source: #ShamelesslyHaitian by Raygine C. DiAquoi | NewBlackMan (in Exile)