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NEWS: Paul H Williams | Haitians mesmerise attendees at Charles Town festival. #commentary

Haitians mesmerise attendees at Charles Town festival
Haitian immigrants drumming, singing and dancing at the final day of the 16th Annual International Charles Town Maroon Conference and Festival in Portland. Credit: Paul H Williams - The Jamaica Gleaner

AS THE Charles Town Drummers, Singers and Dancers brought the 16th Annual International Charles Town Conference and Festival (AICTMCF) to a riotous close on the evening of Sunday, June 23, a special group of men, women and children sat in the Asafu Yard in the Maroon community of Charles in Portland and watched fixedly.

Some of them could not resist the hypnotic sounds of the Charles Town drums, so they stood on the periphery moving as the frenzy unfolded onstage. The 35 of them are Haitians who are granted humanitarian stay in Jamaica.

Prior to that they had listened to a tribute to Haiti, prepared and read by Okomfo Fofie of Sankofie, with US-born Haitian, Ras Tayo, being the interpreter. After they were fed, they were invited onstage to do ‘some drumming’. But, when they got hold of the drums, the jaws of the onlookers dropped.

In a impromptu display of dexterity, the Haitians beat the drums as if there were no tomorrow, and broke out in a dancing frenzy themselves. The joy on their faces was unspeakable. Then they took a little break, talking among themselves, deciding what to do.

When they resumed, the young men sang lustily as they slapped, beat and thumped the drums. The few females and a little boy danced with zest and vigour. They were singing songs of freedom, releasing pent-up emotions, in a space that their hosts, the descendants of the Windward Maroons, had created to celebrate and remember the work of their ancestors, Captain Cudjoe and Queen Nanny, in their fight for freedom.

They were brought to Charles Town by attorney-at-law Dr Marcus Goffe on behalf of the Charles Town Maroon Council (CTMC), “to experience some of the real Jamaica, and the Maroon community of Charles Town in particular, and to allow that group of Haitians, who have been in Jamaica for almost a year and who recently were granted a humanitarian stay in Jamaica, to get a chance to eat and drink and sing and dance and enjoy themselves, and to be among Jamaicans who support Haiti and to participate in CTMC’s Tribute to Haiti as part of the final day of the 16th AICTMCF”, Dr Goffe told The Gleaner.


He continued, “The occasion was historic because it was probably the first time in centuries that we had Haitians singing, drumming and dancing in the Charles Town Maroon community, rekindling the ancestral connections between the Windward Maroons and Haiti. The audience was exposed to the Haitian cultural form called Petro and the Haitians were so visibly happy to feel free once again to enjoy themselves and to themselves pay tribute to their ancestral homeland, Haiti.”

The signing of the peace treaty of 1738 between the British and the Leeward Maroons of western Jamaica, and of 1739, with Windward Maroons of eastern Jamaica, predated the beginning of the Haitian Revolution of 1791, which was said to have been influenced significantly by the Jamaican Maroon, Dutty Boukman (Boukman Dutty).

Boukman was born in the Senegambia (Senegal/Gambia) region of Africa around 1767. He was captured and brought to Jamaica, but he ran away, and ended up in Saint Domingue (Haiti), where he became a Maroon leader and feared vodou priest.

It is said that Boukman, along with Cecile Fatiman, presided over the religious ceremony at Bois Caiman, in August 1791, that triggered the 1791 uprising, widely considered the beginning of the Haitian Revolution, which ended with victory for the enslaved Africans over the powerful French army, making Haiti the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, on January 1, 1804.

“It is no accident that the Haitians who are fleeing Haiti to Jamaica come to east Portland at the foot of the Blue and John Crow Mountains and the Windward Maroons. That’s how the Maroons of Jamaica and the freedom fighters of Haiti helped one another in the 1790s and subsequently... The tides of change and despair for Haiti now cannot break the familial bonds that bind us and just as Haiti welcomed Jamaicans fleeing oppression here centuries ago, we must welcome and support Haitians here in Jamaica in their hour of need,” Dr Goffe said.

----Dennis A Minott, PhD 3 days ago

I wish that I could have made it there. The joy of those Maroon and Haitian survivals are alive in me as a deeply rooted Minott from the Winward Maroons. Thank God for Haiti! Mèsi Bondye pou Ayiti, mèsi Bondye pou Dutty Boukman, mèsi Bondye pou Goffe ak Alleyne, mèsi Bondye pou tout kouzen mwen yo pami tout Mawon Windward yo, mèsi Bondye pou kouzen mwen yo ki konnen kisa Bwa Kayiman ak 1791 vle di pou nou tout. Mwen menm, Dennis Minott, te grandi kòm yon gason Mawon fyè, elve pa Herbert Minott ak Mable Maylor, depi lè m fèt. Yo pa ka kenbe m.Thank God for Haiti, Thank God for Dutty Boukman, Thank God for Goffe and Alleyne, thank God for all my cousins among all Windward Maroons, thank God for my cousins who know what Bois Caiman and 1791 means to all of us. I, Dennis Minott, was raised a proud Maroon Boy by Herbert Minott and Mable Maylor, from birth. Catcha-man cannot hold mi. Ayiti Kanpe!

June 28, 2024

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