Dutty Boukman (Zamba Boukman) was the Vodou priest (Houngan) commonly recognized as the person who started the Haitian Revolution. Although Boukman was not the first to lead a rebellion against slavery in Saint-Domingue, because he was preceded by others such as Padrejean in 1676 and François Makandal in 1757, he is nonetheless believed to have delivered the spark that ignited the Haitian Revolution.
Boukman had come to Saint-Domingue by way of Jamaica, and he became a maroon in the forest of Morne Rouge in the northern part of the island. Prior to his marronage, he had been a commandeur and later a coachman on the Clément plantation, which was among the first to go up in flames once the revolution began. It is said that his experience as a commandeur provided him with certain organizational and leadership qualities and that his post as a coachman enabled him to follow the ongoing political developments in the colony and to develop communication links and establish contacts among the enslaved Africans of different plantations. Boukman was a man of imposing physical stature with unflinching courage. He exerted extraordinary influence and command over his followers, who knew him as “Zamba” Boukman.
On the rainy night of August 14, 1791 (some texts, however, have placed the date as August 22, 1791), in the northern part of Saint-Domingue, Boukman led a Vodou ceremony in a thickly wooded area known as Bois-Caïman (literally “Alligator Woods”). He was accompanied by a Vodou priestess (Mambo) named Cécile Fatiman. Fatiman is believed to have invoked the Vodou deity (Loa) Ezili Dantò while Boukman rose to deliver an impassionate call to arms that ended each refrain with the words: “Koute laliberté nann ke nou tout” (“Listen to the voice of liberty which speaks in the hearts of all of us”). In his oration, Boukman called on the enslaved Africans to rely on the forces of the Supreme Being found in nearly all African religious traditions, as opposed to the “false” Christian God of the whites, to rebel against slavery. This is Boukman's prayer translated in English:
The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.
This call was nothing less than a call for Africans in Saint-Domingue to draw from within themselves and from their own beliefs for victory. This is Boukman's famous prayer in its original Creole version:
Bon Dje ki fè la tè. Ki fè soley ki klere nou enro. Bon Dje ki soulve lanmè. Ki fè gronde loray. Bon Dje nou ki gen zorey pou tande. Ou ki kache nan niaj. Kap gade nou kote ou ye la. Ou we tout sa blan fè nou sibi. Dje blan yo mande krim. Bon Dje ki nan nou an vie byen fè. Bon Dje nou an ki si bon, ki si jis, li ordone vanjans. Se li kap kon-dui branou pou nou ranpote la viktwa. Se li kap ba nou asistans. Nou tout fet pou nou jete potre dje Blan yo ki swaf dlo Ian zye. Koute vwa la libète kap chante Ian kè nou.



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Further Reading

  • Flick, C. (1990). The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution From Below. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
  • Fouchard, J. (1972). Les marrons de la liberté. Paris: Ecole.
  • Geggus, D. P. (2002). Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Blacks in the Diaspora). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • James, C. L. R. (1989). The Black Jacobins. Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (2nd rev. ed.)New York: Vintage Press.
  • Trouillot H. La guerre de l'indépendance d'Haïti: Les grand prêtres du Vaudou contre l'armée française Sobretiro de Revista de Historici de América 72 (1971). 261–327.