A Haitian friend loaned this book for me to get an overview of Haitian history. It’s complicated in the truest, most interesting, most painful, I need diagrams kind of way. I can follow the major players and give a simple 5-year-old friendly rendition. Something like this:
The French Revolution sparked freedom seeking. The “elite” and even the bourgeois did not want to extend brotherhood to all because of the economic implications of actually having to pay for labour. Toussaint L’Ouverture led the San Domingo Revolution and helped establish the first independent, throw off colonialism state led by people of African heritage.
I will have to continue to review and study to give a maturing telling of Haitian history, but what has been winding its way into my heart was on page 4:
“These and other requirements of the higher civilisation reduced the native population from an estimated half-a-million, perhaps a million, to 60,000 in 15 years. Las Casas, a Dominican priest with a conscience, travelled to Spain to plead for the abolition of native slavery. But without coercion of the natives how could the colony exist? All the natives received as wages was Christianity and they could be good Christians without working in the mines. The Spanish Government compromised. It abolished the repartimientos, or forced labour, in law while its agents in the colony maintained it in fact. Las Casas, haunted at the prospect of seeing before his eyes the total destruction of a population within one generation, hit on the expedient of importing the more robust Negroes from a populous Africa; in 1517, Charles V. authorised the export of 15,000 slaves to San Domingo, and thus priest and king launched on the world the American slave-trade and slavery.” (James, p. 4)
While I accepted my childhood poem of Columbus as a hero sailing the ocean blue was not a true full-story telling. Ok, I had discerned that it was the propaganda of the winners of the age of colonialism, but some how I have been grieved for months that Las Casas could suggest slavery as a solution to slavery. From other readings, I understand he later repented and spent 50 years trying to abolish slavery. Still . . .
The Taino obliterated from Hispaniola.
Africans expatriated and enslaved.
Cruelty, rape, deforestation, shame, degradation.
When and how to add the gory, real parts of history in the telling. What is an age appropriate truth?