Right or wrong, Haiti is considered the point of entry of Christianity into
the New World because it is the place where Christopher Columbus built the
first Spanish colony after landing on December 5th, 1492. Roman Catholicism
was the official religion of Spain, and thus was imposed on all the original
inhabitants of the island. The natives were made Christians by force and
the island was called ‘Hispaniola’, meaning ‘little Spain’.
Before long the Indian population was enslaved and wiped out, and Africans
were imported as replacements. But that’s not all.
Haiti is the only place in the world where revolutionary African slaves successfully
ended slavery and colonialism to build a new and independent country. All this
happened when Jean-Jacques Dessalines, his Generals, along with the indigenous
army, proclaimed Haiti’s independence from France on January 1st, 1804.
On that day, they rejected the colonial name ‘Saint-Domingue’ and
reclaimed the Indian name Haiti (Ayiti1) for the country.
In celebration of Haiti’s bicentenary, the United Nations General Assembly
has proclaimed 2004 the ‘International Year to Commemorate the Struggle
against Slavery and its Abolition’. Ironically, in that same year, several
thousands soldiers from different countries landed in the country as the ‘United
Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti’ (MINUSTAH2). Two hundred years
after its independence and at less than 700 miles from the coast of Florida,
Haiti has become the most unstable and the poorest country of the western hemisphere.
Although Haiti’s free fall can easily be understood from a strictly historical
perspective, religious arguments have been used by many to follow and explain
the demise of this tiny nation.
Have you ever heard how some preachers or theologians try to explain the unspeakable
misery that is crippling most of Haiti’s population of 8 million? Everywhere
you go, from your television screen to the Internet, what you are most likely
to find is a reference to a spiritual pact that the fathers of the nation supposedly
made with the devil to help them win their freedom from France. As a result
of that satanic alliance, as they put it, God has placed a curse on the country
some time around its birth3, and that divine burden has made it virtually impossible
for the vast majority of Haitians to live in peace and prosperity in their
land. Surprising, right?
The satanic pact allegedly took place at Bois-Caïman near Cap-Haïtien
on August 14, 1791 during a meeting organized by several slave leaders, under
[Dutty] Boukman’s leadership, before launching what would become Haiti’s
Independence War. This brutal period lasted 13 years until the last survivors
of the French expeditionary forces, dispatched to Saint-Domingue with the sole
purpose to re-establish slavery, were allowed by Dessalines to leave the island
and return to Napoleon. Those who made it safely to France wrote and reported
about the utmost bravery and supreme courage of Haiti’s indigenous army.
Obviously, the idea that Haiti was dedicated to Satan prior to its independence
is a very serious and profound statement with potentially grave consequences
for its people in terms of how they are perceived by others or how the whole
nation is understood outside its borders. One would agree that such a strong
affirmation should be based on solid historical and scriptural ground. But,
although the satanic pact idea is by far the most popular explanation for Haiti’s
birth as a free nation, especially among Christian missionaries and some Haitian
Church leaders, it is nothing more than a fantasist opinion that ultimately
dissipates upon close examination.
Exploring the religious argument
I was born and raised in Haiti, and I am a graduate of the State University
in Port-au-Prince. I am also a believer in the Lord Jesus-Christ in accordance
with the Bible. In all of my studies of Haitian history, however, I have
yet to find a good evidence of even the idea of Satan’s assistance
in the Independence War, let alone a satanic pact.
For quite some time now, several articles on the Internet have mentioned the
existence of an iron pig statue in Port-au-Prince as a monument to commemorate
Haiti’s so-called pact with the devil through Vodou. The statue would
be in remembrance of a pig that was killed during the gathering by the African
slaves. In an effort to know more about that rumor, I contacted several authors
about the exact location of the pig statue that’s incidentally nowhere
to be found in the country. Their answer was complete silence, a simple apology,
or just the removal of the reference from their texts.
One writer was grateful to me for pointing out the inaccuracy of her article,
and she made the necessary adjustment. But I am sure that the same allusion
can be found somewhere in other published pieces of writing and documents.
The worst part of the whole picture is that the story is believed by many sincere
Christians in America and around the world; and not only do they believe it,
they also spread it as fact. The tragedy of our age is that repeated lies are
often mistaken for the truth, especially when repeated long enough. That’s
particularly the case in religious circles where faith on the part of the audience
is generally expected, but that should never be so for those who believe in
Maybe, believers need to return to biblical texts like 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test
everything. Hold on to the good”.
It’s hard to know where the idea of a divine curse on Haiti following
the purported satanic pact actually originated, whether from foreign missionaries
or from local church leaders. In his book Ripe Now - A Haitian congregation
responds to the Great Commission4, Haitian pastor Frantz Lacombe identified
a ‘dependence mentality’ in the leadership of the Haitian church,
which resulted from the way the Christian faith was brought to the country,
historically and through various denominations. Apparently, this unfortunate
manner of thinking, which tends to emulate the worldview and culture of North
American and European Christian missionaries, has permeated the general philosophy
of the Haitian church on many levels, including church planting, church management,
music and even missionary activities.
In that context, I would not be surprised if the satanic pact idea (followed
by the divine curse message) was put together first by foreign missionaries
and later on picked up by local leaders. On the other hand, it is equally possible
that some Haitian church leaders developed the idea on their own using a theological
framework borrowed from those same missionaries who subsequently propagated
the message around the world. Either way, because of this message, Haiti has
been portrayed as the country born out of Satan’s benevolence and goodwill
toward mankind. Shouldn’t such a fantastic idea be tested for its historic
validity and theological soundness? I invite you to take with me a closer and
possibly different look at the available records.
Watch for Part two of this article on BlackandChristian.com.
1 – Ayiti means land of mountains in Indian language. True to its name,
the country has approximately ¾ of its territory made of rugged terrains,
high mountains, hills and valleys. Some have said that it was Haiti’s
topography along with rains and tropical diseases that defeated the French
soldiers during the independence war. While it is true that the environmental
conditions favored the indigenous army, with the use of guerilla warfare, the
Spanish and the French were able to establish and maintain slavery on the island
for 300 years under those same conditions. Therefore it is safe to conclude
that nature alone was not the factor and Haiti would have never won its independence
from France if the leaders of the revolutionary army were not who they were
and did not do what they did the way they did it.
2 – Information on the structure and mandate of the United Nations forces
currently in Haiti can be found on the U.N. website at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/minustah/.
3 – Gelin, J. 2004. La malediction divine sur Haïti: un message
ambigu et forcément caduc. Available online at http://www.alterpresse.org/article.php3?id_article=1766,
this article in French addresses the ambiguity and abeyance of the whole divine
4 - Lacombe, F. 2003. Ripe Now – A Haitian congregation responds to
the Great Commission, JoniwritrProductions. Huntington Beach, CA. Pastor Lacombe
is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and he has recently launched a ministry
aimed at encouraging Haitian believers to embrace the Great Commission.
Jean R. Gelin is a licensed minister of the Church of God and serves as an
assistant pastor for a young Haitian-American church in the United States.
He holds a Ph.D. in plant sciences and works as a scientist in agricultural
research. Dr. Gelin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding this article.
Copyright @2005 Jean Gelin, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission, BlackandChristian.com