Tag Archives: Haiti

Tonton Macoute (HUM303)


Tonton Macoute (Creole: Tonton Makout) can be translated as “bogeyman,” though it literally means “Uncle Gunnysack.”

See this excerpt:

In 1959, only two years after becoming president, “Papa Doc” created a paramilitary force that would report only to him and would be fully empowered to use unremitting violence to maintain the new administration’s authority to summarily dispose of its enemies. This marked the birth of one of the most brutal paramilitary organizations in the hemisphere and was justified by the leader’s profound paranoia towards the threat posed by the regular armed forces. Haiti’s military began to steadily lose a great deal of authority with the consolidation of the François Duvalier regime, which it would not recover until 1986, when the pressure coming from senior military officers played a major role in the fall of Jean-Claude. A spate of coups followed, with military figures occupying the vacancy left by “Baby Doc.”

The Haitians nicknamed this warlord-led goon squad the “Tonton Macoutes,” after the Creole translation of a common myth, about an “uncle” (Tonton) who kidnaps and punishes obstreperous kids by snaring them in a gunnysack (Macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast. Consequently, these torturers, kidnapers and extortionists were feared not only by children, but also by the country’s general population, as well as by opposition members and business men not willing to make enforced pay-offs to the authorities. The militia consisted mostly of illiterate fanatics that were converted into ruthless zombie-like gunmen. Their straw hats, blue denim shirts, dark glasses and machetes remain indelibly etched in the minds of millions of Haitians.

Ever since its establishment, this brutal organization had free rein to act unreservedly, disregarding any ethical or civil rights of the citizenry that might interfere with its indiscriminate violence. They were not accountable to any state branch, court or elected body, but rather only to their leader, “Papa Doc.”



Background on US/Haiti (HUM415)

This is a link for a lecture I gave about Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones.


Information on Haiti’s history can be found at the Encyclopedia Britannica online or Country Watch, both available through the library website.

You can also key word “Haiti” on this blog and find several useful articles by Edwidge Danticat, Slavoj Zizek, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At the least, please read Peter Hallward’s essay on Haiti (located on the course information page).

Continue reading

Edwidge Danticat Interview (Americas, ContCult)

26 Callaloo 30.1  (2007)  26–39

Dyasporic appetites and Longings

an interview with Edwidge Danticat

by Nancy Raquel Mirabal

. . . every meal is a reminder that we’re not home.

—Edwidge Danticat

With a few words the author Edwidge Danticat captures the complicated and multiple

connections among food, memory, and home. Food is home, regardless of whether we

are there or not. It travels with us as seamlessly as does language, personal histories, and

the faded photographs of the houses, people, and lives we leave behind. How we pre-

pare food, the ingredients we find and cannot find, the spices we covet and the ones we

use instead, the smells we remember and the recipes we forget, are all part of what we

take with us and what we leave behind. It reveals who we are and what we care about.

It can even speak for us when words fail. And yet, we often underestimate the power of

food. Studies and research on immigration, globalization, colonization, and space rarely

consider how food eases our diasporic transitions, how it facilitates cultural imaginings

and translations.

In this interview Danticat recounts how her father’s ritual of cooking for people when

they first came from Haiti, was his way of providing comfort and familiarity to friends and

family who felt lost and lonely upon arriving to New York. Similar to many immigrants,

Danticat’s father recognized the healing power of food, of its ability to immediately connect

us to our roots through taste, smell and memory. Well aware of how food could assuage, if

only for a moment, what she terms our dyasporic longings, Danticat’s father was convinced

that we could all return home simply by raising a fork to our lips.

At the same time, as Danticat recounts, this is only part of the meanings we attach to

food, only part of its complicity. When sick, people lose their appetite for food, for life.

When poor, it signals poverty and class in the most obvious and cruel ways. It can, as

Danticat conveys, be a source of both celebration and shame. The truth about food is that

it can both heal and wound. For many, there is no guarantee of a next meal. Edwidge

Danticat’s refusal to take the easy way out, to give simple answers, underscores the power

of food, the power of nostalgia, and how our continual and effortless ability to render it

meaning can both comfort and haunt us.

Continue reading

Haiti, music, politics (Americas, ContCult)

A clip from Al-Jazeera in advance of today’s election in Haiti:

Famni Lavalas, the party once led by deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has been banned from the election. Many Haitians– though notably not the wealthiest of them– called for the postponement of polling, and today 12 of the 19 presidential candidates united to say that the elections were compromised by severe irregularities including ballot-box stuffing, including Sweet Micky. See the article at Christian Science Monitor:

Angry voters flood streets as several candidates reject Haiti election

Continue reading