“Restaurer le passé ou construire un avenir ? Planter ou enterrer ? Le cimetière ou l’accouchement ? Né d’un déracinement et d’un déni, le pays aime ses racines. Il en a fait un culte et une maladie. Les ancêtres sont vénérés comme des parents, comme des guides, comme des martyrs, des fondateurs de villages, comme des sources d’inspirations et comme moyen de garder le sol sous la semelle. Cela est bien. Un être sans ancêtre est une feuille morte qui tient la main à une valise, un homme sans mur derrière le dos, un buisson avec un drapeau.” Kamel Daoud
“Restore the past or build a future? Plant or bury? Cemetery or childbirth? Born of both uprooting and denial, the country loves its roots. It makes this love a cult and an illness. The ancestors are venerated as parents, as guides, as martyrs, as founders of villages, as sources of inspiration and as a means of keeping the soil under the soles. That is fine. A being without an ancestor is a dead leaf that holds a suitcase, a man without a wall behind his back, a bush with a flag.” Kamel Daoud
Rara: Rara, also known as chay o pye, are religious musical processions that start after carnaval, until easter. They are led by a Colonel, whip in hand, whistle between lips, a vodou priest, and launched in a Vodou temple in the name of a lwa, a Vodou deity. The songwriters of rara songs are named samba, and they aim to either shoot (bow! to quote Haitian poet Georges Castera) at a subject with a chante pwent, or sing about a village happening, often satirically. They host a multitude of instruments. The drumming is Vodou petwo drumming, on drumsets, manman, kata, and bas drums, that are lighter than those used for petwo ceremonies, manman, segon, and kata drums. Petwo is one of the 21 nanchon, nations, of Haitian Vodou, that came together as one. Petwo, along with Bizango, and Makaya, deities are referred to as eskot, or escorts, and used as “black magic” or especially in times of war, though they are an integral part of Vodou; Petwo deities are fiery, often with roots in the oppressive plantation life of the French colony that Haiti as, much tempered than the deities of old Dahomey’s monarchy and those of the now-Nigeria Oyo Empire. There is often a use of the color red, and fire in Petwo rituals. Ceremonies are started with “doute, doute,” afterwhich attendants have to answer “Dan Petwo.” Rara also use Bamboo instruments cut in varying lengths referred to as Bamboo or Vaksin, horns, percussion instruments, jugglers named majojonc (like for the Mayans durings equinox,) and procession Kings and Queens.
Founded in 1884, Chen Michan, creole for mean dog, was meant to be a chay o pye to celebrate St. Michel Archange, the Archangel St. Michael, by a certain Madame Pompi, on the Aubrey Habitation (plantation) in Petite Riviere in Leogane Haiti. It was first named bonbon, sweet, and would eventually change its name to Chen Michan, or mean dog. The Aubrey Habitation was well known during colonial times for, according to historian Pamphile Vicomte de la Croix, a certain General Caradeux had cut off the heads of at least 50 slaves and had placed each head on an individual pole. The plantation was now in Haitian hands, and the very same Madame Pompi built a chapel in celebration of the Archangel St. Michael. The chay o pye was meant to play from Ca Ira to the Aubry Habitation. Chay o pye is another name for rara. The name chay o pye, or burden at one’s feet, reveals the revolutionary past of rara: taino and black slaves produced a music and dance as maroon, dissident, culture out of African retention and taino practices. The very same sort of procession like song and dance, rara, chay o pye, was and still is practiced by the Mayans to celebrate the equinox. As a very powerful Vodou priest, houngan, Andre Basquiat once said: Haitians are lokono, or children of loko, the most important god of the tainos. They gave us the asson of the maroon culture that gave way to the Haitian revolution. A song still stands called Papa Loko, wherein Haitians sing to this Papa Loko of the Taino to be wind and push us butterflies to bring news to the deity Agwe Tawoyo.
Leogane: Until the Marquis de Larnage, Charles Brunier, persuaded Louis XV to name Port au Prince the capital city of Haiti, Leogane had been the colony’s main port city. For Haitians, the great days of Leogane were when it was the capital of the kingdom of Xaragua as Yaguana, governed by taino Anacaona until her death in 1503, when she was tricked by Nicolas de Ovando y Caceres, governor of the Indies for the Queen of Spain and burned on a public square. From her capital city of Yaguana, she produced a culture of festivity, of areytos (sung poems,) still referred today as a golden age of Haitian culture. It was that culture that saw Fernand de Ghevara, a Spaniard, fall in love with Anacaona’s daughter Higuemota, and get killed by Spaniards because of it. Leogane was burned to a crisp by Emperor Jacques 1st, Jean Jacques Dessalines, to drive French colonials out. Leogane is where his wife the Empress Marie Claire Heureuse Felicite Bonheur was born, a kind woman who saved many Haitian officers from Dessalines’s wrath reminding him that they had too fought for the independence and invented the soup joumou that Haitians drink on the first of January to celebrate the country’s independence. He met Marie Claire Heureuse in Marigot, a haut-lieu for incredible mangoes, and was her second husband.
Petite Riviere, Leogane: A whole host of rara bands have been founded by Chen Michan musicians in Petite Riviere and Grande Riviere as a Rara family tree: sans racune, etoile imaculee, etoile salomon, st rose, modele, Dessalines, Satela, and others, some defunct and some like St. Rose now pillars. Petite Riviere in colonial times was known to be a mean place where trade was significant, unlike neighboring L’Estere, fill of citron-trees, where French colonials kept country houses.