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BWA KAYIMAN: JOURNEY “4” LIBERATION


The Haitian Revolution owes its existence to the Bwa Kayiman ceremony that took place on August 14, 1791. This date is significant not only for what it “stands for” as the most successful revolt against chattel slavery, which led Haiti to become the first independent “Black Republic” in the western world.  The very date of Bwa Kayiman was a spiritually codified expression of a people’s determined to be free.

The ceremony was directed by the spirit of Vodun and led by a priest or houngan,  named Boukman.

Boukman was an African born on the island of Jamaica. He has been described as a “large man with a warrior appearance”. Boukman made to Haiti from Jamaica for “he was later sold by his British master to a French plantation owner after he attempted to teach other Jamaican slaves to read, who put him to work as a commandeur (slave driver) and, later, a coach driver.” 

According to various sources: 

“In August 1791, Boukman presided in the role of houngan (priest) together with an African-born priestess and conducted a freedom ceremony at the Bois Caïman and prophesied that the slaves Jean François, Biassou, and Jeannot would be leaders of a resistance movement and revolt that would free the slaves of Saint-Domingue. 

An animal, which symbolized the wild, free, and untameable spiritual power of the forest and the ancestors, was sacrificed, an oath was taken, and Boukman and the priestess exhorted the listeners to take revenge against their French oppressors and “[c]ast aside the image of the God of the oppressors.” According to the Encyclopedia of African Religion, “Blood from the animal, and some say from humans as well, was given in a drink to the attendees to seal their fates in loyalty to the cause of liberation of Sainte-Domingue.” A week later, 1800 plantations had been destroyed and 1000 slaveholders killed. Boukman was not the first to attempt a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue, as he was preceded by others, such as Padrejean in 1676, and François Mackandal in 1757″ (Emphasis Mine). 

According to Wikipedia:

“Boukman was killed by the French in November, just a few months after the beginning of the uprising. The French then publicly displayed Boukman’s head in an attempt to dispel the aura of invincibility that Boukman had cultivated.”

The French didn’t understand the African culture and the power of the ancestors. In many ways the ceremony led by Boukman may have been strengthened by his brutal death given the African understanding of life, spirit and so-called death. 

The August , 1791 Bwa Kayiman ceremony inspired the enslaved Africans to fight for 13 years against the French culminating with Haiti’s Independence on January 1, 1804.

The heroic actions by the Haitian people inspired both admiration and fear on the part of those who heard their tale for liberation.  Several slave insurrections, namely the Denmark Vesey attempt in 1802, can be traced to the participants being inspired by the Haitian fight for independence.

Haiti inspired enslaved Africans to dare to be free.

Mumia Jamal in his article Black August 1791 quoted Frederick Douglass’ view on Haiti:

Among these large bodies, the little community of Haiti, anchored in the Caribbean Sea, has had her mission in the world, and a mission which the world had much need to learn. She has taught the world the danger of slavery and the value of liberty. In this respect she has been the greatest of all our modern teachers.” – Hon. Frederick Douglass, former U.S. Minister to Haiti, from his “Lecture on Haiti” delivered Jan. 2, 1893, at Quinn Chapel, Chicago”

 We have not learned the lessons the Haitian Revolution and the Bwa Kayiman ceremony which was its catalyst.

According to the website www.rootswithoutend.org:

 “In 1991 then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide held a re-enactment of the ceremony of Bois Caiman in the National Palace, provoking wide approval from the Vodouisant majority, and severe criticism from Protestant and Catholic Christian leaders, and members of the Haitian elite class. The annual celebration of the event attracts aggressive evangelical Protestant pastors who do not respect the provision for freedom of religion in the Haitian Constitution.”

This negative view of the August 14, 1791 Bwa Kayiman ceremony by a large segment of today’s Haitian society is an indication of the work that still needs to be done. 

Another example of the desecration of the connection to the spirit of Bwa Kayiman, is the massive deforestation that has taken place in Haiti due to the overwhelming poor majority using wood for basic cooking and other functions. In the Vodun philosophy, the trees serve as a bridge or link between earth and the “spirit world”

“…the trees surrounding the courtyard serve as reposoirs or sancturaries for gods. Vodoun devotees believe that all things serve the loa, and are by definition expressions and extensions of God, especially the trees. They are revered as divinities themselves, and receive offerings of food, drink, and money. Like cathedrals they are places to be in the presence of the holy spirit, banana trees are particularly revered.”

The date of the Bwa Kayiman ceremony on August 14, 1791 under the lens of numerology gives us a number significant for those seeking spiritual completion.  August 14, 1791= 8+14+1+7+9+1=40=4+0=4. 

We in North America and the Caribbean are familiar with the phrase “40 acres and a mule” to indicate the promise of emancipation that was never fulfilled.

The number 40 in according to the people of Kemet:

  • It is the number of days necessary in order that the soul becomes definitively delivered of his body.
  • Indeed, following the death of the physical body, the etheric body spends globally 40 days to be dissolved in the universe.
  • As long as it is not fully dissolved and that particles which constitute it did not join the various elements of the nature, the conscience of the defunct will remain linked, more or less closely, to the terrestrial world in which he evolved.
  • This is why a religious ceremony is celebrated 40 days after a death in some traditions in order to facilitate the definitive liberation of the conscience of the being with his habits and his material fasteners.
  • It should however not confuse with what it is called the etheric energy which it is totally extracted of the body after the three days following the death.

 The number 40 symbolizes the death with oneself and the spiritual rebirth.

40 also has the following significance:

  • It corresponds to the thirteenth Hebraic letter, mem, and to the Arcane 13 of the Tarot: the Death, marking the completion of a stage. *Remember 13=1+3=4 just as 40=4+0=4.
  • According to the Bible, it is the number of the waiting, the preparation, the test or the punishment.
  • Also the Bible often resorts to the number 40 when starts a new chapter of the history of the salvation. On the other hand, forty would indicate the duration of a generation or a long period, whose we ignore the exact length.
  • Thus with the date of Bwa Kayiman, we have the energy of the number 40 indicating “spiritual rebirth”.

    40 as mentioned above is linked to the number 4. The number 4 deals with “organization” and “foundation”.

    In Kemet:

    “Four is the sacred number of Time, measurement of the sun. Four pillars support the vault of heaven. There are four canopic jars placed around the dead at the four corners guarded by the four sons of Heru who are associated with the cardinal points. In the Hermetic it is the divine quaternity. It represents God.”

    The August 14, 1791 date of the Bwa Kayiman ceremony is sacred not only for act of liberation from the oppression of France but in the very structure of the date itself.  Embedded  within “August 14, 1791”  is the numerical representation for a total break from the oppressive conditions that the Africans in Haiti found themselves.

    By “cosmic design” the intentions, ambitions and desires  of the freedom fighters in Haiti collided and were codified in the appropriate date to give it representation. 

    The number “40” found with “August 14, 1791” speaks to the re-affirmation of the African spirit that was confronting the dehumanizing practice of chattel slavery.

    The appearance of “40” speaks to the determination of those at the Bwa Kayiman ceremony to no longer accept oppression and even in the face of physical death find “rebirth” on the “spiritual stage” whether they lived to “see” the fruits of their righteous labor.

    The “dual sighting” of the number 4, symbolizes the Haitian’s desire to build a society in which they would live as free people. The number 4 being the number for “order” and “foundation”, combined with the number 40  explicitly demonstrated the inner soul of the Haitian liberation struggle “to build” a society based on the greatest principle of all the unquestioned acceptance of each member’s dignity.

    The Haiti’s independence however was not complete, though Vodun was used to inspire the Haitian people to overthrow the yoke of oppression, Catholicism became the official religion.  

    The terms that the Haitian leadership agreed to was the true “pact with the Devil”, where they agreed to pay former slave owners reparations for their “lost property”. Pat Robertson of course failed to mention these draconian financial burden placed upon the Haitian people though “free” had to bear the cost of  winning the war.

    By remembering Bwa Kayiman, we act in accordance with Sankofa and we re-connect to a part of ourselves in order to become the people and nation (wherever we are) that we should be. As Peter Tosh proclaimed “wherever you are and you’re a Black Man, you are an African.”

    Thank you Haiti for a powerful example of liberation.

    ©VisionThought 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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    One Response to “BWA KAYIMAN: JOURNEY “4” LIBERATION”

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