Sumptuous surprises of a Haitian evening

By its title, A Haitian Evening appears as the logical continuation of a previous volume, A Haitian Day, published in 2007 and both published under the direction of the American academic Thomas C. Spear, well known in French-speaking literary circles as the creator of the Île en Île site which highlights a group of writers from the French-speaking island world including the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.

However, the thematic orientation ofA Haitian evening remains more successful compared to the texts presented in A Haitian day. Indeed, if the two volumes bring together a set of texts (about forty in A Haitian day and thirty in A Haitian evening) of Haitian writers experienced in the art of fiction, the second volume stands out with a thematic coherence that draws its roots from a specifically Haitian tradition: the lodyans. The authors seem to have followed the recommendations of Thomas C. Spear who encouraged Haitian creators and creators to ” think of Haitian lodyans and other nighttime storytelling traditions “. (p.7). Recall that the lodyans designates in Haitian literature a short narrative structure with an entertaining vocation, fundamentally oral, but which evolved in a written form at least from the beginning of the 20th century, mainly with the Haitian writer and journalist Justin Lhérisson (1876-1907). In the second half of the 20th century, the lodyans found a second wind thanks to the storytelling talents of Maurice Sixto, who confined himself almost exclusively to the oral tradition and the native Haitian language, Creole.

The other characteristic of the texts collected in A Haitian evening lies in their attachment to another well-known narrative structure of Haitian fiction writers, the tale. The best known have tried it in one form or another, Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Félix Morisseau-Leroy, Yanick Lahens… As they appear in A Haitian evening, they are all short texts that rarely exceed ten pages. The authors take care to locate the place, day and time when the action takes place or from where it is told. For example, the account by author Jean-Euphèle Milcé “In Gonaïves, the nights are long and childhood wonderful” (pgs. 21-24) takes place in Gonaives, December 31 at 1:00 a.m., while that of Jeanie Bogart is told from Port-au-Prince, May 24 at 11:15 p.m. Taken as a whole, these texts constitute an explosion of voices in turn quivering, panting, painful, desperate, natural. They deploy the Haitian imagination in all its diversity, all its splendor. The supernatural dear to the voodoo heritage rubs shoulders with the raw realism of chronic Haitian poverty, the wonderful world of childhood mixing its scents and dreams with the harsh realities of political repression, the details of internal migration painfully described being superimposed on the dramas of daily survival in the slums of Port-au-Prince. The atmosphere of the majority of the texts is dominated by the presence of the always formidable, always heavy Haitian night, whether it takes place in the traditional countryside or in the urban space. Two texts admirably translate this well-known climate of terror in the traditional accounts of Haitian nights: that of Faubert Bolivar titled “Who was that dog? » (pgs.183-190) and that of Michèle Voltaire Marcelin entitled “Between Dog and Devil” (pgs. 47-51). The two authors draw here on the imagination of the dog as a symbol of the devil or an evil creature, but it is common in Haiti to involve other animals, a cat, an ox, a pig, chickens… to symbolize the evil “spirits” that populate the Haitian space. But, the narrator quotes a famous Haitian voodoo priest, Max Beauvoir, who “said that in the Haitian countryside, secret societies helped maintain social order. Thus, all the peasants know that at night, placed under the high surveillance of the Hairless, Makanda, Bizango and other convoys of Vlengbendeng, is not the most favorable framework for vices. (p.188). Particular attention should be paid to the last text of the volume, entitled “Marassa two heads four legs” (pgs.197-203) by Janine Tavernier, creation situated halfway between a thriller and a horror story. The reader’s interest alternates sometimes with the pleasure of being afraid in the world of Haitian evil spells, sometimes with the controlled anguish of solving serial crimes for which we have no clues.

But Haitian nights cannot be reduced to these favorite moments of the irruption of “zobop”, “baka” and other diabolical creatures of the Haitian mystical imagination; it is also the time chosen by the political power to execute those who oppose its dictates. Jean Dany Joachim makes it the subject of his long poem entitled ” Dark Night » in which he recounts the assassination, by heavily armed men, of the narrator’s father who ” spoke of justice and freedom in an open page (pg.132).

I cannot end this review without mentioning the place occupied by the Creole language throughout these thirty diverse stories. On each page, a Creole word, a Creole expression, or one or more complete Creole sentences are displayed. They express an aspect of Haitian culture, a subtlety of Haitian voodoo that the French language is incapable of rendering. Haitian authors therefore find themselves forced to make use of the local language, Haitian Creole, the only one capable of expressing the thickness and depth of the Haitian experience.

Finally, let us point out that the first collection A Haitian day will be released in a brand new edition. Readers will therefore have at their disposal the 2 collections that will be available in Haiti and for crazy books at the end of this month.

Hugues Saint-Fort

Sumptuous surprises of a Haitian evening