Resilience is resistance

Being the first black republic in history on 1804, it goes without a doubt that Haiti was born in unbearable suffering. More than two centuries later, the country’s history still holds an uncountable number of tragedies and struggles, begun with the assassination of Jean Jacques Dessalines, the founder father of the nation. To make a long story short, political instability and corruption coupled with several natural disasters have plunged the western part of the Hispaniola island in deeply rooted poverty. But contrary to popular beliefs, such conditions of existence are far from abating the people. As an example, on his visit in 2010, former France president, Nicolas Sarkozy was right to affirm that though it was bruised on a never-ending night (January 12), Haiti has remained standing. A lesson of courage to the world.

Resilience, which has nothing to do with invulnerability and social success, is the key to unveil this mystery. The french psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik defines it as the ability to stand against all odds and pursue one’s development despite the many adverse circumstances. Resilience relies on multiple factors to grow, among which four can easily be identified in Haiti: the creole language, religion, community life and music.

A language is a powerful tool that allows you to communicate your whole person besides expressing a practical idea. In the case of creole, it is strongly tied to the Haitian’s creative mind. Through its flexibility, It offers a wide opportunity to appropriate oneself of a situation and consequently hold power over it. The Haitian humor has been well expressed in the word “goudougoudou”, based on the sound of concrete-made houses shaking during the earthquake. The word aimed to name the event but also gave the people a certain level of familiarity with the disaster and the ability to raise themselves over it. Other creole words or proverbs are as powerful such as “wozo” (reed in english) meaning that Haitians may bend over but never will they break down. However, creole is not the only factor boosting the Haitian resilience.

From the beginning, religion has played an astonishing role in the slaves’ ability to cope with their situation and to overcome it with courage and pride. The story of Bois-Caïman ceremony which led to a catastrophic revolt, testifies the importance of religious gathering through Haitian history. It was such a known fact that the French have forbidden all kind of vodoo practices in Saint-Domingue colony. But as the iconic group Boukman Eksperyans asked in “Kouman sa ta ye” song: “what would it be like, if it wasn’t for vodoo?” Until today, the majority of Haitians practice vodoo (though secretly because of cultural discrimination) along with Catholicism and Protestantism which are highly spread and constitute deep sources of hope and force for the people. No matter the confession, religion remains an unquestionable pillar for resilience building in Haiti.

Cayman wood ceremony by Ulrick Jean-Pierre

Cayman wood ceremony by Ulrick Jean-Pierre

In line with religion, community life is another big rock in the process. It is common in Haiti to assimilate neighbors to family. Activities like agriculture, religious practices, commerce and entertainment evolve around various size of more or less constant communities. Even impermanent ones play a major role, like a cheerful tap-tap or a marketplace where strangers share a portion of their life with anyone like old acquaintances . In Haiti, the communities constitute an appropriate frame necessary to nurture one’s character and contribute to his continuing development no matter life’s circumstances. In hard times, when a hurricane hits or during the post-earthquake period, when a mother, a father or a child dies, when losses are unexpected and hard to accept, having a community to rely on is already a step towards a new beginning. In brighter moments like a child-birth, a kid’s first communion or a large harvest, the community’s presence remains highly reliable.

The last growth factor for resilience we’d like to describe here is not however, the least prevalent nor important. Every second of an Haitian’s life is punctuated by music. It lives in his soul no matter the type, the more popular being konpa, rasin and creole rap. The current president himself, is a former popular singer and musician of the konpa group Sweet Micky. Music is the perfect vehicle for expressing the dreams, fear, sorrow, beauty, sarcasm, accomplishment, spirituality, political position or any common life experience. It is where Haitians look at life, grasp it, question it and make it their own. Every moment of life- carnival, protests or elections- carries a variety of rythm or definite songs. With the power of music, the most unbearable situations become poetry, a comfortable place to grow better and be more resilient. As an example, Zenglen reminds people to keep fighting despite the daily struggles in its song “Rezilta” (Results). More others can be found to illustrate the importance of music in growing resilience. This is absolutely why carnival and rara can be counted as the most popular seasons in Haiti.

This analysis of the four different elements cited above, under the light of Haitian history and daily life events, has let us trace down their impact on character building, on the way they help people turn tragic events into relatively harmless memories and definitely how they contribute to development of constant resilience in Haiti since centuries. This core attitude is critical to the existence of Haitians as a people. Resilience is their resistance. Resistance against inertia, defeat, resignation and mind slavery. As the Haitian proverb goes: “Toutan tèt pa koupe, li espere mete chapo” (As long as the head is not cut off, there’s hope to wear hats). Day by day and one stone at a time, Haiti will strive to keep building its resilience castle.