On Jan. 12, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, and its inhabitants. It has been reported that 100,000 to 200,000 people lost their lives.
Help from all over the world has been arriving. Not enough words are available for me to say thank you. I have been moved by President Obama and the first lady, his administration and the American people for their outpouring efforts.
Since that terrible day, Haiti has continued to lead the news on the airwaves and in the newspapers. Remarks and comments have been made by many journalists and commentators about Haiti's history and the Haitian people's behavior. It is time for me to correct the wrongs.
Rachel Maddow, on her program on MSNBC, quoted the Rev. Pat Robertson as saying that "The disaster was payback for a pact with the devil made in 1791. The slaves in Haiti made this pact with the devil to gain their independence from France.
"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti that people might not want to talk about, because then they got together and signed a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from France.' "
Robertson concluded by saying, "True story." Robertson is wrong, ignorant in his comment and showing insensitivity toward the suffering of the millions of Haitians.
These are the true facts about what actually did happen:
On Aug. 14, 1791, deep in the woods in a region called "Bois Caiman," a place far from most plantations, a slave by the name of Bookman, a voodoo priest, assembled a large number of slaves for a voodoo ceremony, encouraging them to revolt, to kill their masters and burn their plantations. The voodoo religion, originated in Africa by the slaves, does have mysterious rites adopted from the Catholic religion. They do invoke saints, but no "Satan".
During the ceremony with the slaves in attendance, Bookman slit the throat of a large pig (in Catholicism, the Last Supper when Christ offered his blood and body) after drinking the pig's blood, the participants were transformed to a height never experienced before, and on their knees they swore an oath of obedience to Bookman (not to the devil as suggested by Robertson) and to all other eventual leaders, to be at the ready when ordered to rise and kill all the white plantation owners of St. Dominque. That was the beginning of the slaves' revolt that years later brought the independence of Haiti. A true story.
Sister Mary Aquinas Healy, a Catholic nun, in her book explained the true meaning of that ceremony. To influence the inter-cultural slaves, Bookman and the leaders planning the uprising had to resort to the supernatural, even going so far as to make them believe they were invulnerable. What is designated as voodoo might be considered a kind of political-mystical association which the most enlightened among the black very cleverly used to achieve their ends.
My second observation is about a Jan. 17 St. Petersburg Times article by Susan Taylor Martin quoting Jared Diamond, who claims that Haiti occupation by the U.S. in 1915 was to protect the sea lanes of the Panama Canal.
Before claiming that as historical fact, Mr. Diamond should examine the Navy Department archives. The cause of the occupation started with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington's secretary of state. The question of colonization, trusteeship or protectorate of Haiti, has been on the back burner of every American administration, pushed into the front by Woodrow Wilson.
The third correction I want to make is about the construction of the National Palace by the United States. Claims made by the media, both TV and print, that the U.S. built the palace.
On Aug. 8, 1912, at about 3 a.m., an explosion destroyed the palace, killing President C. Leconte, his family and 300 palace guards. This was the second time in the history of Haiti that the National Palace was destroyed by an explosion. The first was on Dec. 19, 1869.
The National Palace, heavily damaged during the earthquake of Jan. 12, was built by the Haitian government without the help of any foreign country. Construction of the National Palace started in 1914, but stopped for a year because the delivery of materials such as marble from Italy was delayed by the war. Then in 1916 a young Haitian architect, Georges Brassan, just arrived from France, was given the job of finishing the palace, which he did by 1918. President P. S. Dartiquenave moved in in May 1918.
The only direct participation of the U.S. in the palace construction was when chief engineer of the public works department A.L. Parsons, a member of the Force of Occupation, presiding at the ribbon cutting, presented the building to the Haitian government; therefore no direct involvement by the U.S.
Publishing my book To Set the Record Straight in July 2009 gave me the unique position to answer these erroneous statements. Haiti is wounded. People should not try to be careless or negligent in commenting on what is happening around them. Always consult the right, credible source.
Max Laudun lives in Spring Hill.