The Slave
Mentality of the Haitian Revolution

The
Kingdom of This World by
Alejo Carpentier expresses the history of Haiti before, during, and after the
Haitian Revolution as seen by its main character, Ti Noel, a slave on M.

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Lenormand de Mézy’s plantation in Santo Domingo. Carpentier portrays the
multiple revolts making up the Haitian Revolution from the point of view of the
slaves. He explores the cultural and religious practices that inform the
slave’s drive to be free of slavery and oppression. The main goal of the
Europeans during slavery was to keep their slaves, under their control and away
from the thought of insurrection. The characters in The Kingdom of This World go against traditional representations of
slaves. Traditional history displays slaves as victims and Europeans as having
a superior mindset and therefore acting accordingly, but Carpentier’s gives a
different outlook by representing these slaves as ones who demonstrate the
power and the will to rebel against the oppression being placed upon with the
leadership of their revolutionaries.

Macandal is seen as the main
revolutionary for the rest of the slaves. He announced himself as the “Bocor of
Milot,” which is a sorcerer or priest of the Haitian vodou religion (Carpentier
26). Macandal believed that he is supposed to free his people from their white
tormentors and he uses his powers to help him do so. The result of this mentality
is the development of a ruthless regime in which the oppressed become the
oppressors, a period of rebellion. During this time, slaves had no right to “appeal
in court, had few or no property rights defended by the courts, could not sign
legally enforceable contracts, did not pay taxes, were maintained illiterate by
social policy, and were not regarded as objects of religious institutions that
kept records” (Stinchcombe). For most slaves, a lack of so many rights took a
toll on their outlook on life. They felt helpless and stuck in their unfair and
dangerous situations. But Macandal was resilient and he devised a plan to
poison the masters and their livestock from many plantations in hopes of
killing not only the livestock but the plantation owners and their families as
well. He disappeared as his plan worked and “cows, oxen, steers, horses, and
sheep were dying by the hundreds” and as time went on the poison continued to
make its way through the town, “decimating families and wiping out grownups and
children” (Carpentier 29). When the slave owners finally caught on to the
source of the poisoning, they set out to find Macandal but were unsuccessful
for years. Although they were unsuccessful, Macandal visited the plantation often
“with wings one day, spurs another, galloping or
crawling, he had made himself master of the courses of the underground streams,
the caverns of the seacoast, and the treetops, and now ruled the whole island”
to make sure that the other slaves were still hopeful (Carpentier 36).

Finally, after four years
Macandal was captured and the masters held a huge ceremony displaying his execution.

Little did they know that the slaves and Macandal had a plan. Macandal who was
bound by ropes and ties transformed into a mosquito and the restraints became
useless, the slave owners were “completely helpless … against a man chrismed by
the great Loas” (Carpentier 45). When Macandal
escaped from his death sentence, his people were so joyous they failed to see that
he was recaptured and successfully put to death. Macandal lived on in the minds
of his people as a symbol of resilience and admiration. From Macandal the
slaves had learned that they are the active agents in their own liberation, and
that they are not just victims of slavery. His people gained strength and
determination from his example.

Bouckman and Ti
Noel follow in Macandal’s footsteps and continue to fight for the liberation of
the slaves. Bouckman plays a prominent role in society by also acting as a
revolutionary. Bouckman
tells the slaves that “The white men’s God orders the crime. Our gods demand
vengeance from us. They will guide our arms and give us help. Destroy the image
of the white man’s God who thirsts for our tears; let us listen to the cry of
freedom within ourselves” (Carpentier 67). Bouckman tries to again cause an
uprising among the slaves. He preaches to them trying to explain to them their
worth and the duty that they have as the oppressed in his eyes. In a society
where slaves were not represented fairly it was even more important to defend
one’s rights, or to “defend one’s practical freedom by using other more or less
legal liberties, such as emigration, rebellion, or the right to duel”
(Stinchcombe). This was all that these slaves had. They weren’t able to receive
justice in the way that the whites during this time did. Through Bouckman,
Carpentier ties European and African religion to the issues of enslavement and independence.

The slave’s religious beliefs play a huge role in their decision to rebel
against their enslavement. Like Macandal, Bouckman is a powerful leader, but he
relies on the faith that Macandal has instilled in the slaves in order to lead
them to rebellion. Bouckman’s rebellion however, did not rely on secrecy. It is
a very brutal approach which uses violence causing the slaves to follow by ambushing
the masters in their homes with weapons, murdering and raping the family
members and burning their property. Expanding upon the foundation put in place
by Macandal’s rebellion and the failure of the masters to notice the will of
the slaves to be free, Bouckman raises the stakes with this violent revolution.

From the standpoint of the enslaved at this point, the only way to carry out an
effective revolution in efforts to end oppression and slavery is brutally. Bouckman’s
uprising ends with his execution, “green and open- mouthed, already crawling
with worms on the very spot where Macandal’s flesh had become stinking ashes”
(Carpentier 70). The extermination of the black community is called. This is a
low point for the slave population as many of their own are killed. Lenormand de Mezy makes sure
his slaves are released, including Ti Noel, with plans to sell them in the
slave markets in Cuba.

After Ti Noel has
been won and moved to a new plantation, he saves enough money to buy his
freedom. Throughout his life, Ti Noel desires nothing but freedom. When he is a
slave, he has so much built up animosity towards his masters. As a free man, Ti
Noel returns to his homeland looking to experience a completely different life.

However, he unfortunately finds that the abolishment of slavery as he knew it
does not mean an end of his suffering or enforced labor. He returns to find
“Prisoners… as he observed that the custodians were Negroes, but that the
workers were too” (Carpentier 107). Under the rule of the black King Henri
Christophe, Ti Noel finds himself back as a slave. Ti Noel feels as though
slavery under a fellow black man is much worse than when it was Lenormand de
Mezy. Ti Noel escapes and returns to the former plantation of Lenormand de Mezy
for some time and then later returns to the city to find it ruled by Henri
Christophe’s regime. The slaves again began to plan a rebellion and during the
changing of the guard had come in and “shots were fired into the air” (Carpentier
137). When King Henri’s home is overrun by blacks and voodoo traditions he
commits suicide and a new regime comes to replace him. Ti Noel is also present during
the struggle against the Mulatto Republicans. Carpentier viewed history for the
Haitian community as a “cyclical repetition of a pattern of oppression,
revolution, and renewed oppression” (Paravisini- Gebert 117). After being
through the cycle of rebellion and oppression so many times, Ti Noel “began to
lose heart at this endless return of chains, this rebirth of shackles, this
proliferation of suffering, which the more resigned began to accept as proof of
the uselessness of all revolt” (Carpentier 171- 172). Ti Noel tried his hardest
to keep the mindset and resilience of Macandal, who he viewed as a largely
impactful person in his life but as life went on it became increasingly hard to
do so. and home. Ti Noel, like Macandal, transforms himself into animals and “slips
into death, not before learning that the meaning of his toil in the kingdom of
this world is that of understanding that action (revolution in the case of
Haiti) is the most appropriate response to the human predicament” (Paravisini-
Gebert 120).

Even in today’s day and age,
oppression and slavery is still very much alive. A study last year states that there
are “27 million slaves worldwide” (Chadwick). Of that 27 million, there are
approximately 300,000 children from ages 5 to 17 that live “in the impoverished
land of Haiti as a domestic worker” (Janak 321). These child slaves are known
as restavecs. In many cases these children are treated as less than human,
doing any work that random family they have been given to ask of them. When
these restavecs are girls it is almost expected that they will have “suffered
mental abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse” (Janak 321). Poverty and some
form of slavery or oppression have been linked with Haitian culture for
centuries. Despite the revolution which gave hope for freedom and prosperity,
Haiti has continuously struggled with sufficiently providing for its citizens
and they still continue to do so today.

The sequence of enslavement
and freedom seems to be never ending. This cycle that Carpentier writes about
in his novel, The Kingdom of This World,
can be viewed as a sign of persistence rather than hopelessness seeing as each
of these phases of enslavement is eventually destroyed by the faith of the
slaves and their determination to challenging any who oppress them. It is with
this determination and faith that will one day cause the cycle to come to its
end.