Haiti and its French past
Haiti and its French past By Sokari Ekine
Here in Haiti I am teaching and also working with the Committee from Camp Acra and Adoquin. I have been teaching English for 2 weeks to students of Sopudep School. There are 14 pupils from school grades 11 and 12 in the class and they have different levels of English. There are also some adults taking timeout from work to learn. The first day we did introductions and everyone – including me! – was a little nervous. The last time I was in a classroom was 15 years ago. And I have never taught English before. Two weeks later, the class is relaxed. We do conversation most of the time and I am happy with my teaching and with the progress of the students. Then, after the hour-long class, it’s my turn to learn: Madam Rea spends 20 minutes teaching me Kreyol.
More than two hundred years after independence from France, there is still a strong French influence. For example speaking Kreyol is seen as a bad thing. And a lot of people here speak Kreyol. This means they cannot understand a lot of the information which is only in French and they cannot learn about the history of Haiti in schools. Kreyol is a language which came from a revolution. It is easy to forget that most of the slaves who fought in the Haitian revolution were born in Africa; it is through them that Kreyol and Voudou were created from their own languages and religious traditions, mixed with French and Spanish. Haiti is no longer a French colony but the language and religion of the Haitian people are not back yet. French continues to create problems for most of the people, who speak Kreyol. Children are forced to learn maths in French, making the subject more difficult. During last year’s 12 January anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, white evangelical Christians tried to stop a Voudou anniversary ceremony by playing their own loud music. The police had to be called to take away the evangelical Christians before someone got killed.
Photo of St Anne's Church in Haiti by rapidtravelchai under a CC Licence
Jean-Bertrand Aristide is the island’s first democratically elected president and he was a Catholic priest. He returned to Haiti from exile in 2001. He writes critically about religion. He argues that the Catholic Church played a large role in the colonization of his country, and that religion can be used as a dangerous weapon: He writes that in the eyes of those who do not see well, religion looks like gold. Thankfully people who can think clearly know that ‘not everything that sparkles is gold’. He continues saying that for a long long time many small groups with power have used religion as a weapon: a weapon to destroy the ideas of others and to force their own ideas onto others. He adds that the Catholic religion roared like a wild animal, eating all the foreign religions in its path…. He says the interests of the colonialists and the interests of Jesus are two mountains that will never meet. Slavery and liberty are exactly like hell and paradise. You can’t hide the strong rotten smell with incense.
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