Just yesterday somebody asked me which Caribbean nation was the most beautiful. Without really hesitating I replied ‘Haiti. No one ever mentions how gorgeous it is.’ My response is mine and thus totally subjective. And there’s plenty of places in the Caribbean I’ve yet to stumble onto. But out of Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, Dominica (which comes in a distant but good second), Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Cuba, the Domincan Republic, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, none touch Haiti’s simply overwhelming beauty imho.
Henry who you say? His name may have slipped through the annals of history but Henry Sylvestre/Sylvester* Williams was a man whose work back in the day is still echoing over a hundred years after his death. Hence his life and work merit the number two spot in this series of Five Great, British and Black Moments which is movingblack’s contribution to black history season.
Well, that and it’s in chronological order (number one is here)
The Short Version:
1) Henry Sylvester Williams coined the term ‘Pan-African’.
2) When considering the biographies of Sylvestre Williams, WEB DuBois, Marcus Garvey and Edward Wilmott Blyden, a group of final-year students at l’Université des Antilles et de la Guyane voted him the Father of Pan-Africanism last year, so it’s official.
3) He organised the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, sowing seeds which would yield extraordinary fruit half a century later, long after he’d been forgotten. Assembled to organise for an end to colonial exploitation and racism, and for self-determination, their warm, formal reception by the British establishment – including a tea with prominent MPs on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament – is basically unthinkable to those agitating for such things today. The conference was attended by eminent black activists from all over the world, as well as a number of the British political bigwigs of the day – Liberal Party people, Fabian Society folk, the Cobden girls – who believed social justice was for everybody. Continue reading
There are lots of black people ‘of African descent’ in the UK. Perhaps the Kreyol expression ‘nou bel e nou la!’ / ‘we are here and we are beautiful!’ reflects the centuries-long battle to have our presence merely acknowledged.
Despite 500 years of debate and denial of our presence in more and less creative ways, we’re still standing. If this is news to you, please check out the National Archives’ web exhibition. It’s rather appropriately titled ‘Black Presence’ and covers the period 1500-1850.
If it’s not news, then you may also know it would be remiss of me to pretend the UK’s not celebrating black history month this month, and that all sorts of weird and wonderful events and occasions are not happening as a result.
I LOVE black history month – or ‘season’ really considering things start kicking off towards the end of September and slow around mid-November. As October approaches, traditionally my girls and I would keep the social calendar clear, stock up on What’s On brochures and debate what looked ‘actually unmissable’, and what looked like a rehash of something already done. In London we were always spoilt for choice as councils, museums, theatres and arts venues seemingly competed for the most innovative and interesting ways to bring history that is black and yet British to life. Continue reading
You may recall that a couple of months ago I was bursting with excitement about going to Haiti. If you were following closely, you may have noticed that I wrote very little about that trip. If not, well, now you know. The truth is, as holidays go, it was an extremely intense, thought-provoking experience. I couldn’t write in part because I didn’t know what to say. There was so much to say! But I also had A LOT of questions. Last night I saw a film, The Agronomist, which provided a lot of answers.
A Film For You
The film highlighted the quest of Haitians to secure participative democracy in the twentieth century. The documentary examines the life’s work of Jean Dominique, a journalist, broadcaster and Haitian activist over four decades and exiled twice. Fearless, hope-filled, passionate and patriotic, under him Radio Haiti was the first station to broadcast in Kréyol, the first language of 90% of Haitians.
I won’t lie, it was a Hotel Rwanda moment for me. Perhaps because I had such beautiful recent memories, the flagrantly deliberate man-made suffering of one people just broke my heart. I had never quite got my head round this Aristide chap who seemed to pop in and out of power in Haiti. Never felt the full fear inspired by the Tonton Macoutes, never understood why the UN are still in Haiti. Now it all makes horrifying, chilling sense.
I’m not talking heartbreak based on pity. It’s the weeping that comes after the rage. Made by American film-maker Jonathan Demme (Silence of The Lambs, The Crying Game, Philadelphia), I watched it as part of an event called Voir Haiti Autrement (See Haiti Differently) organised by a community organisation here called Jamais Deux Sans Trois. You should DEFINITELY see The Agronomist. Whether you’re slightly sceptical about the sincerity of American foreign policy and its commitment to democracy, are into inspiring social justice-themed documentaries, or just enjoy a good story, it’s for you. If you’re in Martinique, you should definitely check out the association. C’était une soirée géniale. Continue reading
I don’t want to write about Haiti right now. Not least cos I still haven’t worked out how to put ‘it all’ in one concise post. However I also have not been able to stop writing about Haiti.
Since I first got proper confirmation that I was going (i.e. after I’d looked at my bank balance after buying the plane ticket) all I’ve been able to talk about is going to Haiti. When I was in Haiti, I jumped up and down in my seat on numerous buses, as excited as a little girl about the place I’d been to, and in anticipation of the next town. High on the experience of travelling through Haiti. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been in part low that I’m not still there, catching jokes and exploring, part femme comblé because I made it. I went to Haiti.
And it was f*cking amazing.
I’m not really into blogging on the road. I know lots of people write about their experiences as they go along and it gives a real sense of immediacy to their travel writing, but it’s just not me. I like to take the whole trip in and reflect on it before I write it up. Everyone’s different, it’s just my way.
Part of it is probably that I like to do one thing at a time; if I’m exploring and discovering someplace new, I’m really not trying to interrupt the magic with a trip to the internet cafe, or worse, a hunt for one.
I’m also one of those black people that despite the advent of modernity, deep down still won’t celebrate my birthday before it’s actually happened. The travel version of this superstition about jinxing the future by acknowledging it, is not writing/blogging about a place before I go.
Life is short.
Anything could happen before I go, when I reach, or before I get back. Given that I seem to tell every passer-by that says hello that I’m going to Haiti, with a grin that suggests that I’ve won the lottery, I figure I should outline why exactly I’m on a Serious Hype Ting as one might say in South London. Continue reading