Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Haiti’s Caves

Haiti's many caves, were spiritual centers for the Taino people.  Later they served as places of resistance for people fighting against the many oppressors in Hatien history.

When the Spanish arrived in what is now Haiti, the people who greeted them said, “Taino” This was the word for peace.  Christopher Columbus would go on to name the people the Taino’s.    The “Taino” were the indigenous people of present day Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
 The Taino saw their beautiful islands as sacred, living things.   In a short time, disease, slavery and murder would reduce their numbers to near extinction.  An agricultural society with permanent villages, an ordered government and a great love for their spirits or zemis, were nearly destroyed. I like to say almost because I believe that the spirit and wisdom lives on in the mountains and the people.  Haiti is mostly composed of metamorphic rock; soft, coral Caribbean limestone made over millions of years from decaying sea animals.  This geological past created thousands of small caves, waterfalls and sinkholes.  These caves became spiritual retreats, burial places and the home to Haiti’s beautiful petroglyphs that offer us a window into the Taino’s magical past. 

Sacred water in Haiti

 They were places of resistance.   For the Taino and then for the Africans who escaped slavery and fought a revolution.  The caves served as places for the Taino and Africans to share their knowledge of survival and resistance.  Deep in the mountains and forests were the caves that hid the dedicated resisters of the world’s first successful slave rebellion.

These are in Spanish because the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were also home of the Taino.
How sweet is the baby?

But my favorite Haitien cave resister is Hinche’s local hero, Charlemagne Peralte who created a resistance to the US occupation in 1915.  An educated farmer, the US marines burned down his house and killed his brothers and put him in prison.  After his escape, he organized bands of resistance.   The US trapped him in a cave outside of Hinche but his bravery lives on. Eventually the US left Haiti but only after it further stripped the country of even more natural resources. 

 The Taino believe that human beings, after creation, emerged from Haiti’s caves.   They are places of fresh water, fertility and childbirth.
 These days, in my country, we look for ways to resist, even as we look for caves of comfort and support.   I am humbled by my country’s goodness, in the midst of a conquering enemy on our shores.  The people of my country, boycott, march, and use art and persuasion to resist.  They gather in prayer and song and dance.
 The Spanish came to Haiti for gold.  The French to make fortunes on sugar with slave labor.  The United States came to take natural resources and make it an economic colony. The elite of Haiti, created vast swaths of inequality leading to death and devastation.  In my own country people sacrifice the spirit of earth and community and constitution, for a hoped for wealth and superiority that can never bring lasting happiness.    The Republican Party, as it stands now, seeks to colonize its own country.
 Haiti offers me the image of the cave with its delightful drawings of what can be.  It offers me images of clean beautiful waterfalls as well as a people who knew the meaning of resistance.  I see them sitting by a small fire at the mouth of a cave with the water, clean and bright by the moonlight.  I hear their songs and their drums and smell the food of the forest.   I see women sneaking from plantations with news and supplies, risking everything for freedom.  I see Charlemagne who gave up his good life to resist.  I see his capture and his death and all it inspired.
 On the radio, they count the days of the new administration and all the things it does to attack and dismantle democracy.
But like Haiti, the drums, which is our freedom of press is not quiet.   We meet in churches and homes and meeting halls and walk the streets in a unified message.
 And sometimes we feel so broken, we must find the cave within us; that place that is so deeply connected to earth and water and spirit.
 I think of the ordinary day that the first people of Haiti stood on the shores and said “Taino” to the new guests to their island.   We are never fully prepared for cruelty and discrimination; for a worldview that believes some are intended to be master and some slave.
 We too, were unprepared and so we shrink and suffer and search for the place of resistance and strength within our selves and our families and our communities.   We all have people and places that offer us strength and one of those people are the Taino who greeted their enemies with “Peace”.
The Taino, who did not die but live on in the caves and waterfalls of a spirit that offers all people peace and abundance,


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