I am from Haiti, a country located in the Americas and at the heart of global unrest. I am part of a history stemming directly from Africa. Originally Indigenous territory, Haiti takes its name from the Taino word ayiti, meaning highland or mountain land. The genocide of Indigenous people was carefully orchestrated through colonization; Africans brought over on slave ships became unwitting participants in this colonial initiative. The name Haiti evokes the horrible consequences of colonization, resistance, and violence, all of which have shaped me as a human being.
So I am part of the first great phase of slavery. In the Americas, Haiti was the largest trading post on the slave route and my story begins here. This is perhaps what drives me to travel all over Africa. That is, to truly understand Africa, to get back to Mother Earth, find my lost body, my soul, and immerse myself in my roots. Colonization robbed me of my history and of my very being. This is why I need to return to this mythical place and embrace these landscapes, to heal myself of the violent history that has divided the world into two opposing camps: the conquerors and the conquered.
Out of Africa. The theme brings to mind an exotic film— one I will I choose to ignore—instead diving into my past. A past that shapes me. And as far back as I can remember, Africa has been present. In the steps I take. In the words I write. In my dreams as a human being. Africa is unavoidable; it is an ontological need.
I am a fragmented being, inhabited by different, often even paradoxical dreams. This is why I lend my voice to those of other African authors, such as Léopold Sédard Senghor, Mongo Beti, Mariama Bâ, Tchicaya U Tam’si, Achille Mbembe, Felwine Sarr, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Abdourahman Waberi, Léonora Miano, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Tierno Monénembo, Chinua Achebe, Cheick Anta Diop, and Wole Soyinka.
I hope that you too will join the chorus and, in so doing, discover this call from Africa, which cannot help but strengthen your sense of humanity.
In closing, I would like to leave you with several excerpts of poems that hark back to the “Old Continent.”
Nostalgie – Carl Brouard
quand tu résonnes
mon âme hurle vers l’Afrique.
Tantôt je rêve d’une brousse immense
baignée de lune,
où s’échevèlent de suantes nudités.
Tantôt d’une case immonde,
où je savoure du sang dans des crânes humains
Untitled poem by Aimé Césaire
Haïti où la négritude se mit debout
Pour la première fois et dit qu’elle
croyait à son humanité.
Trahison – Léon Laleau
Ce cœur obsédant qui ne correspond
Pas avec mon langage et mes coutumes,
Et sur lequel mordent comme un crampon,
Des sentiments d’emprunt et des coutumes
D’Europe, sentez-vous cette souffrance
Et ce désespoir à nul autre égal
D’apprivoiser, avec des mots de France,
Ce cœur qui m’est venu du Sénégal?
Translated by Don Sugden, reviewed by Breanna Fabbro.
Born in Haiti, poet, essayist and publisher Rodney Saint-Éloi is the author of a dozen books of poetry. His work, à l’écoute du monde, is a long journey through cities and faces. Passenger of texts, forms, and memories, he founded the Mémoire d'encrier editions in Montreal in 2003. In 2012, he received the prestigious Charles Biddle Award, which "recognizes his exceptional contribution to the development of arts and culture in Quebec." In 2015, he was accepted as a member of l'Académie des lettres du Québec. His last collections of poetry are Je suis la fille du baobab brûlém (Mémoire d’encrier, 2015) and Moi tombée, moi levée (Le Noroit, 2016).