Mr. ADAM HOCHSCHILD – New York Times
Your article titled: “The Black Napoleon” attracted my attention because, as a son of Haiti, I find comparing Toussaint Louverture to Napoleon Bonaparte, beyond the fact that it is misleading, to be indeed a grave insult. Shall one dub a leader of Resistance to the Nazi: “The Jewish Hitler”?
In his book “Le Crime de Napoléon“, French author Claude Ribbe provides ample details describing how Napoleon tried to accomplish a total genocide of the Africans who revolted against the lucrative system of racial slavery in the Caribbean. The very cover of Ribbe’s book shows an actual photograph of Hitler paying homage to Napoleon at his musoleum in Paris. Hitler was fascinated with the man from whom he had learned many tricks of eugenics, including the use of chemicals (sulfur dioxide) to conduct mass murder.
No! Toussaint, the grandson of the Gaou Ginou, King of the Aladas People of West Africa, was no black Napoleon. Neither was Napoleon a white Toussaint.
I am also puzzled by this claim in your article that Toussaint “welded the rebel slaves into disciplined units, got French deserters to train them, incorporated revolution-minded whites and gens de couleur into his army…”.
The French army which Toussaint led at various times did have white, mulatto and black soldiers but there is no historical support for this exclusive characterization of whites in the French army led by Toussaint as being “revolution-minded”. These white men were serving France, not the Haitian Revolution. How many of them stood up by the side of the Africans and their revolution after Napoleon had betrayed, kidnaped, exiled and eventually murdered Toussaint? Perhaps, you were referring to the Polish soldiers who ended up leaving the French army that brought them to Haiti, after the French dictator, Napoleon, had invaded their own homeland? If so, I would agree that, indeed, some of the Polish men found common interest with the Africans and they joined them in the struggle against tyranny.
However, to credit the French deserters (Polish or otherwise) for the training received by the African rebels is to be completely oblivious to the nature of the African maroons and the fact that many of them were quite knowledgeable in the art of warfare from their very own African homeland (see Jean Fouchard’s Les Marrons de la liberté and Les Marrons du Syllabaire).
Toussaint joined the maroons before joining the Spanish and then the French – not the other way around. As a General, he provided training to everyone under his command – black, white or mulatto. So, I don’t quite get this reference to mythic French deserters providing training to people fighting against their own interest.
There have always been desperate efforts to find white heroes that never existed in the Haitian Revolution. Some have even suggested that it is the French Revolution that inspired the Haitian Revolution. As if Africans were too stupid to realize on their own the unacceptability of their condition.
I remember going to the theatre to watch a film about Steven Biko, only to find out Cry Freedom was really, yet another, depiction of Tarzan saving the natives – this time in Apartheid South Africa. Steve Biko’s life was merely a backdrop. Perhaps, it is the difficulty of playing up such a theme that cause it to take so long before the Haitian Revolution makes it to the Big Screen! Right, brother Danny Glover!?
The Africans of Haiti, who are still being punished for their bold resistance to white supremacy, did not win those victories of 1803 against the British, Spanish and French armies because of the work of ONE single man named Toussaint Louverture. This tendency to isolate a successful African from the people who gave birth to his genius is too often seen in Eurocentric writings. The reality is that African women and men were fighting from the shores of Africa and never stopped fighting.
Among the earlier geniuses that led to the eventual abolition of racial slavery on the island, there were men like Makandal, Plimout, Makaya, Boukman; Women like Cécile Fatiman, Sanite Bélair, Marie-Jeanne Lamartinnière, Abdaraya Toya etc…
And, after the French betrayed General Toussaint Louverture, who obviously credited them with much more honour and humanity than they deserved, it was JEAN-JACQUES DESSALINES who led the Africans to victory.
For those who ask why have they never heard much about Dessalines, if it is he who is the ultimate Liberator of Haiti, here is how one of Dessalines’ natural enemies presented the situation of the whites in Haiti, right after the declaration of independence:
“Former experience of the mildness and humanity of the blacks, inspired a hope of forgiveness and good treatment, notwithstanding the remembrance of recent circumstances, which might seem to preclude all expectation of mercy from that insulted and injured people. The astonishing forbearance Toussaint, and of all who had served under him, encouraged a persuasion that their humanity, was not to be wearied out by any provocation. All the white inhabitants who had been carried off as hostages by Christophe, on his retreat from Cape Francois, had returned in safety, when peace was made with Leclerc. And it was known that, during the whole time of their absence, they had been well treated by Toussaint and his followers; though the French, during that period, were refusing quarter to the negroes in the field, and murdering in cold blood all whom they took prisoners. But, Toussaint was now no more and Dessalines was of a very different disposition“.
So, Toussaint having ultimately fallen “victim” of the white supremacist klan, he is being showcased as a model of virtue. But, Dessalines, who fought the beast (white supremacist racism) with 1/10th of the savagery shown towards his people, is to be buried as long as possible.
This tactic is not so different from the fake admiration we see often shown towards Martin Luther King Jr. by those who make it a duty to diminish Malcom X, or towards a weakened and trembling Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela, in order to diminish Winnie Madikizela, the Warrior, Mandela.
Let me take this opportunity to also mention that when Miranda went to Jacmel, Haiti, in February 1806, it was the Emperor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who gave strict orders to General Magloire Ambroise to receive him well and offer him munitions and men in order to liberate Latin America. We know that, since then, the Africans of Haiti have been betrayed over and over again by Latin Americans with the notable exceptions of Fidel and Chavez. But, that’s another story! Right, comrade Lula!?
Men like Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture do not have equals in U.S. of French history, where so-called revolutions took place only to further entrench racial slavery and denial of its consequences to this day. For, unlike Napoleon, Dessalines and Louverture weren’t fighting to steal other people’s resources. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, these displaced Africans actually believed it to be self-evident that all men were created equal. They did not enslave their own offspring born of rape. Dessalines and Louverture fought to free a people who had been kidnapped, humiliated, TERRORIZED for over 300 years. If they still are not getting their right place in history books, it is because the lions are still being chased – so the hunters may continue to tell their tall tales while wigging their tails to erase all trails.
But, as sure as Osiris is dancing today because the usurpers of the story of his son Heru by Auset (Isis) have been “discovered”, I know Dessalines and his people will eventually receive due reparations (material, mental and spiritual), here on earth.