Fatiman, Cécile

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Cécile Fatiman was a Mambo or Vodu priestess who with Dutty Boukman led a Vodu ceremony that is generally recognized as the spark that started the Haitian Revolution. The ceremony is reported to have taken place on August 14, 1791, in a thickly wooded area near a Lenormand plantation known as Bois Caiman (Alligator Wood).
Cécile Fatiman was the daughter of an African woman and a Corsican prince. She was sold into slavery with her mother in Saint Domingue. Her mother also had two sons who disappeared after being sold into slavery. A mulatto with green eyes and long black silky hair, Fatiman became the wife of Louis Michel Pierrot, who led a black battalion at Vertières—the site of the final and decisive battle of the Haitian Revolution. Louis Michel Pierrot would later become, for a brief period, the president of Haiti. Cécile Fatiman lived in Cap-Français, later Cap-Haitien, until the age of 112, reportedly in full possession of her mental abilities.
Information about Cécile Fatiman and the Bois Caiman ceremony comes from the accounts of Antoine Delmas written in 1793 and later published in Histoire de la révolution de Saint-Domingue (1814). Specific information about Cécile Fatiman comes from her grandson General Pierre Benoit Rameau. General Rameau is a Haitian national hero who took part in the resistance against U.S. intervention in Haiti in 1915. He fought in the North along side Rosalvo Bobo.
During the Bois Caiman ceremony, Cecile Fatiman was the officiating Mambo who invoked the Vodou deity, or Lwa, Ezili Dantò. It is reported that a black pig was sacrificed, thus marking the ceremony as a Petwo rite of Vodou. The Petwo rite, or Nancbon, is believed to be a uniquely Haitian manifestation of the Vodou religion. For example, relatively to the Rada, or Ginen Nancbon, the Petwo Nanchon cannot trace its origins solely to Dahomey. Its origins are rather in the African struggle against slavery, and it is closely associated with the Haitian Revolution, as well as other Haitian uprisings against oppression, such as the Cacos in 1915 or the overthrow of Baby Doc m 1986.
According to Moreau de Saint-Méry, the Petwo Nanchon was introduced in 1768 by a powerful houngan by the name of Don Petro in Petit-Goave. He introduced a dance called the Danse a Don Pédre, whose rhythm was so powerful and electrifying that it was forbidden. His impact was so profound that his name was used to refer to a group of Africans who today worship Lwa bearing his name. Indeed, many of the Rada Loas have a Petro counterpart, as if their images were reflected in a mirror, thus inverting their personalities to match that of the Petwo Nanchon. The Petwo Lwa have earned a reputation of being aggressive and violent, whereas the Rada counterparts are said to be gentle. These distinctions, however, are not absolute because the Rada Loas can be quite vindictive when offended, whereas the Petwo Lwa can be quite protective and generous.

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Further Reading

  • Carolyn, F. E. (1990). The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution From Below. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
  • 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.