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The War Nerd February 19, 2004
 
The Big Hate
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 4
 
Unfortunately for me, they don't want white guys. Desallines, one of the scariest men who ever ruled Haiti with a bloody machete, said it pretty clearly when it came to racial policy: "For the Haitian declaration of independence, we should use a white man's skin for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!"

Kinda reminds me of what it was like going to high school in Long Beach, Mister White Minority aka punching bag. Every time Roots was going to be on in reruns I'd stay home sick -- sick of getting the crap beat out of me in the halls, that is.

I'd probably make a good parchment -- you know, lots of room for any added clauses the lawyers want you to put in at the last minute -- but even data entry has got to be better than having a Haitian committee writing on my back with a bayonet.

Of course there's lots of big racial talk in the world, and not much of it means anything. That's what I respect about Haiti: they mean every goddamn word. Take Desallines; his men killed every paleface they could catch. They were following a good Haitian tradition, dating back to the big slave rebellions, when the black rebels used a white baby stuck on a pike as their flag. Now that's serious people. You see where all this "Cannibal Army" stuff comes from.

And they've got reasons to be pissed off. Once you start getting into Haitian history, you start to get why people play rough down there:

because somebody else played way rough with them. Play the tape as far back as you want, and there's always some badder gang moving in and stomping the Haitians into hamburger.

It was going on when Columbus arrived. Hispaniola, the island Haiti's on, was a paradise when he got there. The locals were a tribe called the Taino, a branch of the Arawaks, who were by all accounts these cool, relaxed people who believed in free love, the Dick Gregory Bahamian diet, and hanging out on the beach. Like stone-age hippies. Columbus hated to leave (for one thing, the Arawaks had no problem handing over their wives to the Europeans for a week or so) but had to report back to Isabella, so he left some men who started building a settlement. By the time he got back, the place was burnt to the ground by the Caribs, a cannibal tribe that thought "Arawak" meant "BBQ." They ate Columbus's men too -- a little white meat for variety -- and moved on.

Soon there were so few Arawak left that the price per pound was too high even for a Carib planning a big backyard cookout. And in a couple of generations there were no Arawak at all.

Then instant karma kicked in, when the Spanish came back with more men, more guns and wiped out the Caribs. The Caribs went out in style: the last few just jumped off cliffs instead of letting the Europeans capture them and put them to work on the sugar cane plantations the whites were setting up.

Well, that meant a shortage of free labor, which cut into the profit margin. So the plantation owners started buying Africans. Lots and lots of Africans. Nobody's sure how many, but it's well into seven figures. Most of them died on the voyage, or under the whip, or from disease, but there were enough left to keep the cane plantations going. And that was important, not just to the local colonists but to France, which ruled the whole island by that time. You have to remember, the Europeans were focused on the West Indies back then. They didn't think much of North America at the start of the 1700s. It was just a big cold wilderness with no gold, and no potential for raising the tropical crops that really made money. Barbados meant more to England than Virginia, and Hispaniola meant more to France than Canada.

Cotton hadn't come in yet (remember ninth-grade history? Does the name "Eli Whitney" ring a bell?) It was sugar cane that made the big money. And it's a real labor-intensive crop. It's also some of the worst work in the world, by all accounts. One ex-cutter said it was like trying to cut fiberglass poles all day with your bare hands. You come home full of slashes, cuts, bits of bamboo jammed into your hands and arms and face.


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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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