By Dwight Hobbes
Mahmoud El-Kati’s Haiti: The Hidden Truth (Papyrus Publishing Inc.) begins on a faltering note before righting itself to evolve into a valuable piece of engaging, well-informed reading.
The author offers the coy statement, “Here rests but a feeble attempt to challenge [the]…simplistic view…of Haiti as only a place of social death.”
False modesty does not become this veteran scribe, a renowned wordsmith and vaunted historian, as no attempt of his to convey a concept has ever been remotely feeble and he knows it — he certainly should by now with several well-received books, not to mention volumes of raptly attended essays, under his belt.
Once El-Kati stops pussyfooting around and comfortably gets it in gear, his characteristic flow is at its fluid best, delivering uncanny insight, scholarly grace and compelling passion.
The forceful thrust and unerring aim of this work indicts media malfeasance and socio-political complicity as a literal whitewashing of history to ruthlessly render African blood in general and Haiti in specific as an ignorant, inept and virtually subhuman species.
“At bottom,” El-Kati asserts, “the conquered land of the indigenous populations of ’The New World’ and the forced labor importation of Africans is what changed forever the course of human history. This over 500-year-old inhuman event is, indeed, the greatest story never told.”
He sets the record straight in no uncertain terms and with such exhaustive research that Haiti: The Hidden Truth belongs on the shelf of every young mind that stands to benefit from coming face to face with the facts and every teacher interested in telling students what actually happened instead of perpetrating the insidious propaganda that has long been passed off as education.
El-Kati makes clear that it took, of all things, a devastating turn of events — the colossal, mind-numbing catastrophe of 2010’s earthquake near Port au Prince, which ended at least a quarter of a million lives (the final count has yet to be taken) — to render Haitian humanity real to, as it were, perceptions that be. Real enough, at any rate, to inspire Red Cross aid and other such conscience-salving social service as the White world is prone to provide before returning to its business-as-usual practice of ignoring disenfranchised nations of color. He does this by incontrovertibly attesting to what Haiti and its people have always been: a land and populace to which determinedly hard-sought, hard-fought autonomy is its lifeblood.
An example of the information characteristically ignored in schools, for instance, is that years before his undoing at Waterloo (caused as much by the impossibly brutal winter as the Russian army), rampaging conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte had been soundly defeated in Haiti by warriors who called on a fierce, indomitable will to defy subjugation at the hands of the French.
El-Kati observes, “The voice of Toussaint L’Ouverture echoed to other patriots throughout the struggle. When Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, as head of 30,000 crack troops — France’s finest — to retake the island, L’Ouverture’s words rang true: ‘Burn the cities. Poison the wells. Scorch the earth. Show the White man the hell he came to make.’”
Haiti: The Hidden Truth does a fine job of illustrating that just as has been the case all over the world whenever people of color catch hell from the White man, it is not through any such thing as White supremacy: The timeless delusion of supremacy actually is a matter of ruthless and treacherous domination by means much closer to crass, xenophobic cowardice than anything else.
As a bonus of sorts, there’s a mini-primer, “10 Good Things to Know About Haiti,” eight of which cite noteworthy names in history. For instance, it points out that legendary dancer Katherine Dunham (who also was an anthropologist) incorporated aspects of Haitian culture in her choreography.
And, W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP and the first son of Africa to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, was the son of a Haitian.
As entertaining as it is informative (as scholarly achievement doesn’t have to be boring to teach something worthwhile), Haiti: The Hidden Truth is an excellent addition to your library and a perfect conversation piece to leave laying around on your coffee table.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.