Lessons from the African Revolution of Ayiti: organized African resistance is key – Part 1

HAITI—African people have been resisting colonial slavery and colonialism ever since the first white man stepped foot on our national homeland over 600 years ago.

We have always resisted oppression and struggled to keep our freedom by waging serious struggles against the colonizer nation and any other oppressor.

We were a free and self-determining people and this is what we have been fighting to get back to since the onset of colonial slavery.

African people in Ayiti (Haiti) know the culture of resistance all too well as we have been resisting in every possible way since reaching the land of Ayiti in 1505.

Ayiti is known for achieving the first and only successful revolution of enslaved African people in the world, and for completing the first Workers’ Revolution in the world.

Ayiti is also known for being in a state of ongoing resistance against the oppressive neocolonial governments installed by the oppressive colonial United States government.

We spent an entire year in “Peyi Lòk” (“Locked Country”) which came as a result of the fight-back of the masses in response to the Haitian government’s waste of the Petro Caribe funds.

Haiti’s Peyi Lòk was a period of intense resistance of the masses, which included tens of thousands of African people taking to the streets every day to protest and engage in struggle.

While some saw this as just another chapter in a book of Haiti’s ongoing protests, many others saw this as the beginning stages of another much-needed revolution and called on the spirit of Jean-Jacques Dessalines to take us to victory like in 1804.

African people have a right to resist

Monument located in Cap-Haitien, also known as Okap, in Northern Haiti honoring those who fought in the Battle of Vertières (Kreyol: Batay Vètyè) on November 18, 1803.

There are many lessons to be learned from the revolutionary organized resistance that took place in Ayiti, particularly between August 14, 1791 and December of 1803.

Ayiti was known to be a colony with some of the “worst slaves”—meaning enslaved Africans who would not give up the fight for freedom—where ongoing rebellions took place.

Africans who were newly captured from our home and freedom could not be as easily broken as Africans who had been captured for a while or were born in captivity, and Ayiti was often the first stop the colonizers would make while going along the slave route.

Because there was an ongoing influx of newly captured Africans, with a fresh and vivid memory of what it meant to be free, coming onto the island, Ayiti was always a place of high resistance.

The Africans in Ayiti were constantly fighting to be free again and began to rebel in every way possible. The Africans organized both overt and covert methods of struggle and fight-back.

While many of the Africans were engaged in on-the-ground armed struggle with the Europeans, successfully led mostly by Toussaint L’Ouverture, many others were in hiding, developing a system known as “mawonaj,” which was about being hidden.

The term “mawonaj’ comes from the Kreyol (Haitian Creole) term “Mawòn,” meaning Maroon. The proverbial Nèg Mawòn (Maroon Man), also known as the Unknown/Escaped Slave, represents the Maroons of Ayiti who remained hidden in both a literal and figurative sense.

It speaks to both the fact that they were literally the Maroons and that they lived a lifestyle of camouflage: the Mawòn were engaged in ongoing mawonaj. In today’s speaking, the two definitions for the literal Mawòn and the figurative act of mawonaj are one and the same.

And so, for each visible leader and fighter like Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, there were Mawòn (both “Maroon” and “invisible”) leaders and fighters like François Mackandal and Dutty Boukman.

We must wage all forms of struggle

2020-07-08-haiti-03-620w2Located in Haiti’s capital Port-Au-Prince is a statue of Ayiti’s “Nèg Mawon,” a symbol of the ‘Haitian’ peoples’ independence. Nèg Mawon has broken chains on his wrists and ankles and is portrayed blowing a conch shell, which was a rallying call for other escaped and enslaved Africans to join the rebellion.

Mawonaj was exercised in more ways than one, as it involved the Mawòn literally hiding in the mountains of Ayiti, “the land of many/high mountains” as named by the indigenous Taino people.

Mawonaj also included the Africans putting up pictures of the white Catholic saints in place of the Vodou lwa (family of spirits) during their Vodou ceremonies to fool the slave-masters who would see us practicing our traditional beliefs.

It also extended to a coded language spoken by the Africans when speaking to the colonizers. It was a double-meaning speak where the answer the slave-masters would understand were not the same answers the Africans meant.

This is not to be confused with the resistance language of Kreyol, which was developed by the Africans to allow us to communicate with one another. In fact, mawonaj can take place within the Kreyol language today. The verbal mawonaj of that time was likely happening in French.

Not only was mawonaj a form of resistance in and of itself, it was a critical component to the Africans organizing other forms—especially more overt and especially armed—of resistance.

Our struggle needs uncompromising revolutionary leaders

2020-07-08-haiti-04-620wIllustration the historic August 14, 1791 Vodou ceremony led by Dutty Boukman at Bwa Kayiman in Ayiti.

The Africans in Ayiti understood that the success of our struggle depended on our ability to unite as one. Toussaint L’Ouverture introduced the motto “L’Union Fait la Force,” which means “Unity Makes Strength.” This motto was carried out in every action united on by the enslaved Africans.

Toussaint L’Ouverture was born enslaved in the city of Cap-Haitien of Northern Haiti. He was the son of a Gaou Guinon, an African prince who was kidnapped and taken to Ayiti.

L’Ouverture became a highly skilled military official. He was called “L’Ouverture,” which is French for “the Opening” because he was sharp at finding the opening amongst enemy lines.

Toussaint was the first leader of the African revolution in Ayiti and was the one “opening” the door to a new future for Ayiti. Toussaint led the Africans of Ayiti to defeating the British and Spanish armies in 1797 and 1801, respectively.

L’Ouverture did not live to see the defeat of Napoleon Bonparte and the French army because of a very critical error he made; one error that could have cost us the revolution itself!

Despite Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ warning against doing so, Toussaint L’Ouverture agreed to participate in a meeting with the French that would take place on a ship.

The proposed meeting was just a trap and once L’Ouverture got on the ship, the French sailed off with him back to France and locked him in a prison cell atop a French mountain, where he was frozen to death.

At the point he realized he made a foolish decision, he said:

“In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”

The proverbial tree sprung back up in the form of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the non-liberal and uncompromising leader who led us to our victory.

François Mackandal was a Mawòn leader who was born in West Africa and taken to Ayiti at the age of 12. He was an ougan (Vodou priest) who was very knowledgeable in natural remedies and poisons.

Beginning in 1757, François Makandal organized Africans to poison the colonial slave-masters in “all corners of the colony” as well as any other African who could not be trusted to remain true to the revolution. Up to 6,000 colonizers were successfully killed in this process!

Dutty Boukman, who was born in Senegambia of West Africa, kidnapped to Jamaica and later transported to Ayiti, was another Mawòn leader of the African revolution in Ayiti. On August 13 and 14, 1791, he led the historic Vodou ceremony that many people attribute to the success of the African revolution in Ayiti.

As significant as this Vodou ceremony was, it was what we did after the ceremony that granted us victory over the French army and colonial slavery. The ceremony was a morale booster for the fight we would engage in.

During this ceremony, the Africans made a pact that if one of us were to be caught we would rather die than to betray one another. History has revealed that we remained true to our word.

The African revolution in Ayiti was led to victory by General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was Toussaint L’Ouverture’s right-hand-man and who immediately picked up the battle after the French kidnapping and eventual killing of L’Ouverture.

One of the mottos introduced to the revolution by Jean-Jacques Dessalines was “Koupé Tèt! Boulé Kay!” The order was for all of the enslaved Africans to “Cut Heads; Burn Houses!”

Dessalines was a believer in equal retaliation. When the French General Rochambeau buried 500 Africans alive, Jean-Jacques Dessalines responded by hanging 500 French prisoners!

Dessalines had his own right-hand-man, General François Capois. Capois introduced the war cry that kept the morale of the African soldiers high during the Batay Vètyè, the final battle that won the revolution:

“Grenadyè, alaso!
Sa ki mouri, zafè a yo!
Nan pwen manman
Nan pwen papa
Sa ki mouri, zafè a yo!
Grenadyè, alaso!”

Grenadyè was the name of the African soldiers of the revolution in Ayiti. The lyrics translate to:

Grenadyè (also: soldiers), attack (also: “to the front” and “move forward”)!
Those who die, so what!
There is no mom
There is no dad
Those who die, so what!

The solders understood that there was absolutely no looking back in the struggle to free our people and that we had to keep moving forward, no matter what.

Revolutionary history shows us the way to victory

There are many other examples of organized resistance within the Haitian Revolution that we can look at, but one of the main lessons we need to pull from it is that African people must be united, strategic and organized in our fight against colonialism.

We cannot expect to win this revolution by holding sporadic acts of resistance, or even by being in a state of having perpetual resistance without coming to a revolutionary conclusion.

We have to come into political life and build the revolutionary organization with revolutionary leadership, working on a revolutionary trajectory that is non-liberal and uncompromising in how it functions.

This why the African Socialist International (ASI) exists today!

Chairman Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the ASI, the expression of combined African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) organizations around the world, teaches us that “revolution is a science and an art!” It requires, as one of its prerequisites, a revolutionary organization on a revolutionary trajectory.

The African Socialist International is the single organization working day and night to unite the African nation for a united and organized African Revolution. The Main Resolution of the APSP to build to African Socialist International states:

“The African People’s Socialist Party calls on all African revolutionaries in all countries to unite with us into one all-African international socialist association which would assume the tasks of… uniting, coordinating and giving general assistance and direction for the revolutionary struggles of all African people wherever they occur and whenever the aims of such struggles are consistent with the aims of the international socialist association.”

We are calling on all Africans who want to continue in the path Ayiti laid out for us—a path to ensure that we see a liberated Africa and African people by achieving the International African Revolution that is needed to free us—to become a member of the African Socialist International.


Long Live the Haitian Revolution!

Viv Ayiti!

High Discipline! High Morale!

Join the African People’s Socialist Party!



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