(A Review of David Granger’s Five-thousand Day war: the struggle for Haiti’s Independence, 1798 – 1804. ISBN 976-8178-12.)
David Granger’s Five-Thousand Day War: The Struggle for Haiti’s Independence, 1798-1804 recounts and deconstructs the Haitian Revolution. The book is a tale of the struggle for political supremacy by different strata – caste and colour– and different slave-owning states including England, France, Spain which occurred over a long, bloody period within the French colony of Saint Domingue on the island of Hispaniola.
Haiti celebrated its 200th Independence anniversary in 2004. The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed 2004 as the ‘International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition.’ It did this to commemorate the bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution of 1804 which it said symbolized “the triumph of the principles of liberty, equality, dignity and the rights of the individual, and that it marked the history of the liberation of the peoples and the emergence of the States of the Americas and the Caribbean.”
David Granger’s Five-Thousand Day War: The Struggle for Haiti’s Independence, 1798-1804, first published in 2004, also marks the bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution,the first successful revolt by enslaved Africans. It is the third book of a trilogy of the African experience in the New World, written by the author, the others being Crime against humanity: the trans-Atlantic trade in captive Africans and Crime without punishment: the Caribbean case for reparative justice.
The Haitian Revolution was a watershed in human history. It created the first Black Republic and was the largest and most successful slave revolt in the western world. The Revolution’s significance has been celebrated by Abahlali baseMjondolo, a South African grassroots organization, as one of the three great revolutions of the 18th century but the only one which forced the unconditional application of the inalienable right of all human beings.
It was celebrated, also, by David Geggus, a professor of Caribbean history, as an event of global significance partly because it took place in a country which was then considered the apogee of European colonization; by Robert Falton, a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, as representing a serious rupture of the then supremacist order and which fired egalitarian hopes of “abolishing race as a marker of oppression”; and by Jérôme Duval, author, as a “unique case in the history of a revolt of slaves that gave birth to a State”.
David Granger’s Five-Thousand Day War: The Struggle for Haiti’s Independence, 1798-1804 is an absorbing account of the Haitian Revolution. Granger unravels the complexcaste, class, demographic, economic, geographic, strategic, ideological and political factors which converged and exploded into a sequence of revolts. Granger enriches our understanding of the Revolution in a way which few others have been able to do. Some writers have presented the Haitian Revolution as a single event but Granger treats it as a series of ten revolts, characterizing the Revolution as:
…a series of revolts occurring one after the other, the consequence of the one being the cause of the next. It constituted an almost continuous pattern of insurrection, invasion and warfare which, taken as a whole, lasted over fourteen years, or over five thousand days, of ceaseless conflict.
The book is divided into five sections;
Roots of the Revolution examines the factors which influenced and shaped the revolution. It deconstructs the colony’s social stratification and identifies its principal division into three main groups, each with its own sub-divisions. These collectively became sources of tensions and conflicts which eventually provided the combustion for revolts;
Roads to Revolution traces the external influences on the Revolution showing how the ideals of the Enlightenment and the ideas of the Abolition Movement in Europe, impacted on the Revolution;
Revolutions in the Revolutions provides an account of how the Revolution unfolded, sequentially, as a series of successive revolts rather than a singular uprising;
Triumph of the Revolution relates the revolts from the outbreak of the Civil War, to the repelling of external European armies and the launch of the final War of Independence; and
Consequences of the Revolution assesses the significance of Revolution highlighting Haiti’s place in revolutionary history; its impact on human enslavement, nationalism and the emergence of a despotic political culture; the new state’s ostracisation by American and the European powers and the Revolution’s influence on the Independence struggles in the Caribbean.
Granger mines an extensive range of books and articles, including publications by Patrick Bryan, Crouse Nellis, Mitchell Bennett Garrett, David Patrick Geggus, Elsa Goveia, Richard Hart, Christopher Hibbert and the indefatigable C.L.R James, in researching this complex Revolution.
The book’s most insightful aspect is its dissection of Haiti’s social stratification and how this engendered animosities, tensions and divisions which congealed into revolts and eventual War of Independence. This sociological aspect is often underemphasized in texts and discourses on the Haitian Revolution.
The reprinting of this book, at this time, will lend itself to a better appreciation of the roots of Haiti’s contemporary challenges which have been exacerbated by chronic economic crises, unstable politics and recurring natural hazards.
The Revolution inflicted a huge human death toll and extensive economic damage. It left the country’s economy in tatters and a loss of its comparative advantage in sugar production; it triggered the migration of the planter class and wiped out half of the population. Ethnic conflict erupted and resulted in a bitter harvest of famine, starvation and social dislocation. These disastrous effects of the revolutionary struggles and post-revolutionary outcomes have taken the gloss off of one of history’s most heroic uprisings.
Independence for Haiti had a bitter after-taste. While claiming Independence from France, successive Haitian governments lived in perpetual fear of foreign invasion. So great the trepidation, that France was able to extract compensation for losses suffered by owners of plantations dispossessed and dislocated by the Revolution.
Jérôme Duval in a column entitled “Haiti: from Slavery to Debt” observed that Haiti, in exchange for recognition from France, was forced to pay a 150 million gold francs as compensation for the loss of ownership of coffee and sugar plantations. Describing this as a ‘ransom’, Duval notes that Haiti was forced into the agreement by the threat of gunboats anchored in the bay of Port-au-Prince. The country has never recovered fully, economically, from having to pay this debt.
These direct consequences of the Revolution, were strangely overlooked by the author. It however is germane to better understanding the problems which have bedeviled Haiti more than 200 years after its Revolution.
David Granger’s Five-Thousand Day War: The Struggle for Haiti’s Independence, 1798-1804 should be mandatory reading for those interested in understanding the pearls and perils of Haiti’s violent revolution. There is always a price to be paid for political violence and, often, this price becomes a prison for future generations.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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