Thursday, May 2, 2013

"poysanne" / birth certificates in Haiti

For many years, in Haiti, there were two types of birth certificates.  One that was stamped with the French word for peasant, "paysanne" and those that were not stamped.  They were also stamped, "moun ondeyo" or people from the outside.  The babies born on the outside were the babies of the rural  poor who were not born in Port-Au-Prince and were mostly the heart of Haiti's rural agricultural communities.

One of the first things, Aristede and his political party sought to do was to have one common birth certificate for all babies born in Haiti.

My Kreyol teacher says, in defense of Duvalier's policy, that "paysanne" simply meant where you
were born and I say "but peasant is not a place."   I am not sure what "peasant" meant in that context, but I sense that it was  not a complimentary word to have stamped on your birth certificate.  It is not quite a career choice like farming or fishing and we surely can not assign an occupation to one at birth.  Peasant was a social class and by putting it on your birth certificate it assumed life long membership in a group that was "outside" the rich elite of Haiti; a group that had significantly fewer opportunities and  rights.

This is a story from the past.  In time, Aristede's party did change the birth certificates and did try to make sure that no child was assigned, at birth, a class designation from which there were no choices.  Most people do not have birth certificates.  They are not filled out by the birth attendant who most likely was never given an education an dan opportunity to learn to read and write.

I tell the midwifery students that their parents story of their birth is a sort of birth certificate. From that story they can discover who was there, the weather, the time of day, who picked their name.  I ask them to find out this story and carry this precious story with them always.  On it is stamped the world "precious" no matter where you are born.

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