Haiti. oh, intoxicating and mysterious, beautiful and tragic Haiti. i love you.
mwen renmen ou!
… i love your rhythms, your dance, your song, your spirit, your resilience, your fire, your vodou…
i’ve written and re-written this post so many times. i gotta get it right. (without boring you with the details of my whole damn story.)
i’ll just say this: i fell in love with Haiti around 2003 or 2004, while i was living in Florida.
i attended my first Haitian dance class in 2007, after moving to San Francisco.
…and it was unlike anything i had ever experienced.
several drummers lined one side of the room, playing a variety of drums and shakers, and singing songs. the dancers wore long, round, white skirts.
(i would later learn that it’s a tradition to wear white for the first dance class of every year – to let the past go and begin fresh.)
i loved the way the skirts were used to accent the movement. and i loooooved those drums. the rhythms were spirited, deep, and earthy as shit.
i was immediately hooked.
in 2009 i traveled to Haiti with Rara Toulimen, a company created by two incredible people – dancer and choreographer Portsha Jefferson, and Haitian master-drummer Daniel “Brav” Brevil.
our days were filled with dance, drum & song classes, yummy homemade food, and visits to various towns and attractions.’
one of the places we visited was Souvenance (a Lakou in Gonaives). it’s also – as far as i understand it – the name of the Vodou ceremony that takes place there every year.
we were there for a few days and nights, occupying a home someone had generously vacated so that our group could have a place to stay. it’s one of my favorite memories… sleeping on mats made of palm fronds, laying on the ground next to my travel companions, feeling the vibration of drums beneath me, and hearing music all around…
the drums played all day and all night. no matter where you were in the village, the rhythms could be heard in the air and felt in the ground beneath your feet.
looking back now i think those drums must have entered my soul.
during the day children ran around laughing and playing, while practitioners and initiates went through their ceremonies and rituals. many people were there just to witness and experience the public aspects of the ceremony, like us.
at one point, as i watched a ritual and my body swayed to the penetrating rhythms, i got this very clear feeling that this was where i was meant to be. like i could see my future, and it was all about returning to learn and write about this place.
but that didn’t happen.
instead, i started playing drums in a rock band.
(that has always seemed like such a random thing to me – like i veered way off course from where i thought my life was going. but as i write and reflect on the chain of events, it doesn’t seem so random to me now. life has its twists and turns. the music – and the drums – are what stuck. i talk about that connection a little bit more in this interview.)
and, it’s also true that i didn’t know how to proceed. i’m a white girl of british ancestry, and i refuse to carry on that legacy of imperialistic assholery. yes, have this inexplicable affinity for Haiti’s stories, dances and rhythms. but what business do i have sticking my nose in their lives? for what purpose?
i’m really not sure why i’m reflecting on all of this now.
i miss my Haitian dance family.
and Haiti…. the land, the people, the energy…. still calls to me.
will i ever return? do i have ‘unfinished business’ there, so to speak?
is it simply that i enjoy having this thing ‘out there’ to yearn for? (it could totally be that.)
i honestly don’t know.
but those are some of the fondest memories of my life.
regarding the history of Haiti – it’s powerful and inspiring, and not many people know about it (although i have to believe that is changing).
the Haitian slaves rose up against their captors and successfully defeated Bonaparte’s army. it was the first successful slave rebellion in history. they won their freedom in 1804. and they’ve been punished for it ever since.
N a wè (see you soon),
ps – if would you like to support Haiti – here are a few organizations that i recommend: