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Comparing the Legends of Bois Caiman

On Wednesday January 13, 2010, televangelist Pat Robertson on his 700 Club television show [Christian Broadcast Network (CBN)], highlighted the tragedy of the earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday afternoon, January 12, 2010. He said that his network will be there “to help the people.” He explained Haiti has been "cursed," blaming Haiti’s own people for making a “pact to the devil.”


"[S]omething happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you get us free from the prince.” True story. And so the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” They kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free.

"But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle, on the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.

"They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people and the suffering is unimaginable."

I began searching for sources about what Robertson referred to as a “true story,” when I first heard his statements.

My very quick search on January 14-15, 2010, located much of the information about “the pact” on Christian web sites.

I found out this story has often been promoted by fundamentalist Christian missionaries. I also found out the nation of Haiti occupies only the western third of the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic occupies the other two-thirds of the island. I found out that the Haiti revolution lasted from 1791 to 1804, and I found out who was running France during that time.

In June 1791, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette were prevented from fleeing France. Louis was still the king--technically speaking, but the King and the Queen were detained and not permitted to leave France. Louis XVI was formally arrested during the Insurrection of August 10, 1792. Then, France had a Republic in 1792, and Louis was finally beheaded January 21, 1793. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup and installed himself as First Consul of the French Republic. Five years later the French Senate proclaimed Napoleon the Emperor. He was Napoleon I.

Robertson erroneously identified Napoleon III as the French ruler during Haiti's revolution. Napoleon III was the leader of France from 1848 to 1870, as President of the French Second Republic and the ruler of the Second French Empire.

What story or legend was Pat Robertson referring to?

I began trying to assemble the bits and references which I found about the Christian version of the Bois Caiman legend into a complete narrative. Below is the result.

The Christian version of this legend is retold in the following paragraphs, indented to clarify that I am retelling a story from a particular point of view.

"Haiti is the only country in the entire world that has dedicated its government to Satan. Demonic spirits have been consulted for political decisions, and have shaped the country's history." Thus speaks Reverend Doug Anderson, who grew up in Haiti with missionary parents, and served there along with his wife Dawn as a missionary until 1990.
--Government Of The Devil, By The Devil, And For The Devil

Supposedly, the slaves of Haiti made a 200-year pact with the devil in order to gain their independence. On August 14, 1791, a voodoo doctor, Dutty Boukman, gathered together slaves to perform a Satanic black magic voodoo ritual in the woods at Bois Caiman, not too far from Cap-Haitien. Boukman lived in the mountains of La Selle, and le Cibao and knew how to read and write. The slaves vowed to kill all the white French on the island and destroy all they possessed. In this ritual, Boukman asked Satan for aid in liberating Haiti from the colonialists. The slaves sacrificed a domestic pig, drank the animal’s still-warm blood, and swore to serve the devil for about 200 years--or so. This agreement with Satan is the “Boukman Contract.”

Their revolution for freedom was fought for 13 years until at last they declared the new nation as Haiti on January 1, 1804. Indeed, Haiti was declared the first independent black republic. As a result of the Satanic alliance, the Christian God has placed a curse on the island. It’s never known peace since then, with one dictatorship succeeding another, including Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who supplied USA President Clinton with a voodoo sorcerer.

Haiti had flourished under Christian French rule and became invaluable as a resource for cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. By 1780, Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the world. Now, Haiti is in desperate poverty.

For more than 200 years, Bois-Caiman was a holy voodoo place, which could only be entered by the witch doctors during voodoo ceremonies. For more than 200 years, the voodoo doctors have been meeting there every August 14 to sacrifice to Satan.

A pastor in Haiti supposedly explained, “We believe that Haiti is poor, not because there are no resources in the country, but because we are under the curse of God.”

An iron statue of a black pig was erected by the Haitian government in Port-au-Prince to commemorate the “Boukman Contract” with the devil.

At least one variant of the Christian version of the legend stated the devil's rulership of Haiti ended in 2004--which was 200 years after independence was declared in 1804. For example, on August 14, 2003, Christians began a year-long prayer movement to take Haiti back from Satan in order to prevent the “Boukman contract” from being renewed in August 2004.

Another variant claimed that the contract had been canceled and the curse broken way back in 1997. Missionary David Schmidt.made this report from Haitian bishop Joel Jeune avail able. The report appears in the 1998 article "Haiti - God's country after a 'holy invasion'" This report is also quoted in Tom Barrett "Government Of The Devil, By The Devil, And For The Devil"(03/11/04) Also quoted in Who's voodoo is stronger: Gods or the Devils January 16, 2010

"Our church members started their march in front of the President's palace and marched for 6 hours to the place where the satanic ceremony took place 206 years ago. We had informed the government and media of our intentions weeks before the event, and were told that the witch doctors would be there, as they were every year. When we arrived, they had hidden themselves, unable to directly confront the Christians. It was a significant spiritual battle to reach the tree under which the pig was sacrificed in the original ceremony. We formed a Jericho march, circling the magic tree seven times. On the seventh time around, God gave many people a vision of the Devil fleeing from the area. The Christians were overjoyed. We cancelled the satanic contract and broke the curse, before celebrating communion and dedicating the area as a place of prayer. We also declared 14 August to be a national prayer day, on which people should pray that Haiti will return to God. "

"On the same day, several witch doctors were saved during the events in the capital. Three days after our holy invasion, the witch doctors returned to Bois-Caiman to bring their sacrifices and call on the spirits. After days of effort, nothing happened, because we had commanded the spirits never to return and dedicated the area to Christ."

"All Haitians now know that the country no longer has a pact with the devil; the contract has been cancelled, the curse broken. Churches who initially opposed us out of fear of persecution, have now joined us. Visitors to Haiti sense a fresh atmosphere in the country. God will completely change our country spiritually, economically and socially. We are already calling it 'Haiti G.C., Haiti, God's Country.'"

Robertson did not mention the part of the legend in which the pact was scheduled to last 200 years. Perhaps Robertson didn’t know it, or he decided that even though the devil’s rulership had ended, the Haitians were still under the curse of God because the LORD was still mad at them. (You know, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” Exodus 20:5 KJV) Or perhaps he believed the contract had indeed been renewed in 2004 by Aristide--in spite of other Christian claims to have vanquished Satan.

Are there any true facts behind this legend?

Many historians agree that voodoo, or more properly the religion of “Vodou,” played a unifying role in the revolution of Haiti. However, Vodou is not Satanism, and therefore it does not involve Satanic “pacts” or “contracts” with the Christian “devil.”

One of the “proofs” of the Christian version of the legend is the government statue relating to the Satanic pact involving a sacrifice of a domestic black pig. As is often the case with urban legends, this iron statue doesn’t exist.

All of Haiti’s struggles with poverty, over-population, AIDS/HIV, African Swine Fever, and other diseases prior to the earthquake can be clearly comprehended from a purely historical perspective.

Robertson, in his variant of the legend, said, “That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle, on the one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island.”

Apparently, Robertson also believes that the Dominican Republic, a nation that occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, has never been affected by any of the problems that historically effected Haiti.

Wikipedia stated, “After three centuries of Spanish rule, with French and Haitian interludes, the country [Dominican Republic] became independent in 1821 but was quickly taken over by Haiti. It regained independence in 1844, but mostly suffered political turmoil and tyranny, and as well a brief return to Spanish rule, over the next 72 years. United States occupation 1916-24 and a subsequent, calm six-year period under Horacio Vásquez Lajara were followed by the military dictatorship of Rafae Leonidas Trujillo Molina to 1961. The last civil war, in 1965, was ended by U.S intervention, and was followed by the authoritarian rule of Joaquin Balaguer, 1966-1978. Since 1978, the Dominican Republic has moved toward representative democracy, and has been led by Leonel Fernández most of the period since 1996.”
Wikipeida: Dominican Republic accessed 1/15/10.

Robertson is correct that the Dominican Republic has tourist resorts. The nation’s year-round golf courses are among the top attractions making this country the Caribbean’s largest tourist destination.

However as Wikipedia stated: “Nevertheless, unemployment, government corruption, and inconsistent electric service remain major Dominican problems. According to the CIA Factbook ‘The country suffers from marked income inequality’ and has a Gini coefficient for income distribution of 49.9

“International migration greatly affects the country, as it receives and sends large flows of migrants. Haitian immigration and the integration of Dominicans of Haitian descent are major issues; the total population of Haitian origin is estimated to be 800,000. A large Dominican diaspora exists, most of it in the United States, where it comprises 1.3 million. They aid national development as they send billions of dollars to their families, accounting for one-tenth of the Dominican GDP.”
Wikipedia:Dominican Republic accessed 1/15/10.

The Dominican Republic was not unaffected by AIDS/HIV. The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates that 66,000 Dominicans are HIV-positive. The adult prevalence of HIV in the Dominican Republic is 1.1 percent. The Dominican Republic was also affected by the African Swine Fever which had spread in the 1970’s from Europe to the Dominican Republic and then into Haiti via the Artibonite River which straddles the two countries. (In the early 1980’s the native Creole pig was eradicated by humans due to fears of an epidemic.)

Of course, Robertson seems also unaware that a form of Vodou, known as Dominican Vodou, is practiced in the Dominican Republic. Therefore, the only sign of God’s blessing on the Dominican Republic is the resorts and they didn’t suffer as much damage from the earthquake.

Do the Vodou practitioners have any knowledge of this legend?

I also decided to look for information on the Vodou version of the legend about the beginning of the Haitian revolution.

The Vodou version of this legend is retold in the following paragraphs, indented to clarify that I am retelling a story from a particular point of view.

According to Vodou legend, Bois Caiman (French), Bwa Kayiman (Haitian Creole) [Alligator Woods (English)] was the site of a historic nighttime meeting in August 1791. It is this meeting which led to a successful slave revolt, that ended colonialism, and eventually created the Western Hemisphere’s first independent black republic after many years of fighting and hardship.

During the meeting, there was a traditional Vodou ritual led by Houngan Boukman Dutty. (Supposedly his name, Boukman, meant “Book-man,” because he could read and write.) Boukman offered a prayer to the Good God hidden in the clouds. Mambo Marinette sacrificed a domestic Haitian black pig.

Ezili Dantor, the Petro lwa of motherhood, is associated with the “Haitian black pig” or “Creole pig,” which is this lwa’s favorite animal sacrifice.

The lwa Ezili Dantor is viewed as having an important spiritual role in the history of Haiti. The powerful spirit of Ezili Dantor possessed Mambo Marinette during the ritual at Bois Caiman in August 1791. She is also known as Ezili Danto, and Erzulie Dantor. One of Ezili Dantor's lovers is Ogun Feraille, the warrior lwa. Also known as Ogoun Feraille, Ogou Feraille, or Ogoun Fer, this lwa was invoked with Ezili Dantor at the meeting at Bois Caiman. Ezili Dantor, the Petro lwa of motherhood, is therefore the mother of the Haitian republic. She is frequently honored on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, but has other feast days as well. Ezili Dantor’s special days are Tuesday and Saturday. A favorite food for feasts honoring Ezili Dantor is fried pork.

Ezili Dantor’s Creole pig was a breed of native black swine, “cochon planche.” These Creole pigs were well adapted to the rugged terrain and sparse vegetation of Haiti. [This hardy breed could eat almost anything, consuming weeds, human food trash, etc. It did not sunburn like the modern light-skinned European/American breeds of pigs do.]

The lwa Ezili Dantor is most commonly represented by the image of the Black Madonna of Czstochowa. According to Judika Illes in the Encyclopedia of Spirits, the revolutionaries of Haiti adopted this representation for Ezili Dantor after they came into contact with copies of the Polish icon of the Black Madonna of Czstochowa. Some Polish soldiers, who joined forces with the indigenous army during Haiti’s Revolutionary War, must have brought the image of the Black Madonna of Czstochowa with them. Doubtless, the dark skinned Haitians identified with the dark skinned Black Madonna, and likewise identified the protective spirit of Ezili Dantor with this Black Madonna.

For those unfamiliar with Vodou religious terminology, a priest in Vodou is often known as a Houngan or Paploi (Papa lwa). A priestess of Vodou is often known as a Mambo or Mamloi (Mama lwa). A lwa or loa is a powerful spirit. The term, lwa, is often erroneously translated into English as meaning “Vodou god.” (Practitioners of Vodou believe in many lwa, but actually only recognize one High God, Bondye, who rules over the many lwa. Bondye created the world and is similar to the Dahomey High God, Mawu-Lisa, or the Yaounde High God, Zamba.)

Why are there these two different versions of the legend about the Bois Caiman meeting?

A comparison of the accounts of the Christian version of the legend and the Vodou version of the legend shows important similarities and differences.

The Vodou version of the legend, as it is often recounted, focuses upon the lwa, Ezili Dantor and how this lwa was involved in the people of Haiti eventually gaining independence. Boukman is represented as a Houngan. Marinette is called a Mambo. The Vodou version does not mention a pact with the Christian devil nor a Satanic “Boukman contract” lasting 200 years.

The point of the Vodou version is to celebrate the success of Haitian independence and the role of Ezili Dantor, Mambo Marinette, and Boukman.

On the other hand, the Christian version of the legend focuses upon the island’s prosperity prior to the escaped slaves making a contract with Satan and points to Haiti’s continued problems as evidence of the reality of the “Boukman contract.”

In the Christian version, there is no mention of a Mambo at the meeting Bois Caiman.

The purpose of the Christian version of the legend is to motivate Haitians to repent and return to Jesus, their true lord and master.

Unwittingly, the Christian version of this legend sadly also implies the people of Haiti were spiritually and economically better off under the Christian institution of colonial slavery.

Disclaimer: For any Christians reading this article, I apologize. It is not my intention to equate the practice of slavery with Christianity. In the USA South, numerous Christians, such as the Quakers, were part of the Underground Railroad. Nevertheless, the Christian version of the legend often harps on the theme that all the government officials of Haiti have been corrupt because of their Satanic and voodoo connections. The subtext of the story is clear, even if it is not intended by those Christians retelling it.

There is something else that discredits the Christian version of the legend, which frequently insists the veracity of the story exists due to an iron statue of a domestic pig commemorating the “Boukman contract.” There is no iron statue of a domestic pig in Port-au-Prince.

It is interesting that both the Christian version of the legend and the Vodou version of the legend agree that one of the leaders of the revolt and the one who presided over the religious portion of the meeting at Bois Caiman was Boukman. Both legends also agree that Boukman was literate. This point is highly significant, because many slave owners thought slaves ought not to be allowed to learn to read.

One other thing that both versions of the legend agree upon is that there was a sacrifice of a black domestic pig.

Who was Boukman? What exactly did happen at that meeting with Boukman at Bois Caiman?

Historians confirm that Boukman Dutty was one of the leaders of the 1791 slave uprising. According to reports, he was a large man with an imposing appearance.

Boukman Dutty was brought as a slave to Jamaica from Africa. In Jamaica, he acquired the name, “Bookman,” because he learned to read and write. Eventually, his British owner sold him to a Frenchman, who brought him to the section of the island later known as Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue. In Haiti/Saint-Domingue, his name became “Boukman.” As a slave in Haiti/Saint-Domingue, Boukman supervised other slaves as the headman for his owner. Ultimately, he escaped to the mountains of the island and became one of the Maroons. It is obvious Boukman was skilled at both commanding and inspiring those under him.

It is also clear that Boukman, in August 1791, presided at the meeting at Bois Caiman. In two months, the rebel slaves killed 2,000 whites and destroyed their mansions on French plantations on Haiti/Saint-Domingue.

Later in 1791, Boukman was captured and beheaded by the French. Some sources say late in August; some say November. In an attempt to squash the rebellion, the French Colonial Assembly displayed his head on a pike in the city of Le Cap. A placard beneath the severed head identified it: “This is the head of Boukman--Chief of the Rebels.” However, the momentum of the slave rebellion had already kindled the Haitian revolution.

Thus, historians agree that a meeting did take place in August 1791 and that Boukman was an important leader.

So what did take place at the Bois Caiman meeting--inquiring minds want to know?

Though most historians agree there was some sort of ceremony--if nothing but a prayer for success--they argue about the details. The first published account of the ceremony was in 1814 in a book penned by the French doctor, Antoine Dalmas. (more about Dalmas later.)

For example, there are some questions about the date and whether there was one meeting in August 1791 or two. Some historians believe the two meetings were held about a week apart.

It is possible that the Sunday, August 14, 1791 meeting took place at Normand de Mezy plantation. If that is true, the second meeting took place at Bois Caiman about a week later (either Saturday, August 21, Sunday, August 22, or Monday, August 23).

Some historians suggest that accounts of two separate meeting simply got merged into an account of one event in later oral retellings. Both meetings were assigned the date of Sunday, August 14, 1791.

Indeed, a few historians, notably Leon-Francois Hoffmannn, believe the entire incident at Bois Caiman was a falsehood created by Anton Dalmas, who served as the medical examiner at some of the interrogations of the prisoners.

There are other reports of the uprising that make no reference to the ceremony at Bois Caiman.

However, there are reports about those arrested and interrogated, which are dated August 17, 1791. These reports indicated that plans to burn the colony and slaughter all the French colonists had been made at Bois Caiman. These reports indicate that the meeting at Bois Caiman took place on August 14, 1791.

Historians argue passionately over the details.

OK, so what “probably” happened at Bois Caiman in August 1791?

Boukman probably set up the meeting at Bois Caiman to jump-start the uprising.

There probably was a religious ceremony. It probably was a Vodou ritual, which Boukman and Mambo Cécile Fatiman presided over. It probably involved the slaughter of a domestic black pig. The ritual probably also involved drumming and spirit dancing.

The meeting is reported to have included about 300 slaves. Many spoke in turn about their grievances with their French masters and the oppression they were under.

Boukman is believed to have been of Dahomey extract, although his followers were known to have called him “Zamba” Boukman. (A curious name, because Zamba was also the name that the Yaounde people of the Cameroons called their High God.)

Boukman was also known as a powerful Houngan or priest of Vodou. He may have been familiar with the Jamaican practice of Cumina, but was certainly familiar with some of the religious practices of the Dahomey people and others from around the Gold Coast.

Boukman, probably acting as a Houngan, offered an invocation to the Good God.

There is something commonly referred to as the "Boukman prayer," published in Haitian Creole by Herad Dumesle in 1824.

Bon Dje ki fè la tè. Ki fè soley ki klere nou enro. Bon Dje ki soulve lanmè. Ki fè gronde loray. Bon Dje nou ki gen zorey pou tande. Ou ki kache nan niaj. Kap gade nou kote ou ye la. Ou we tout sa blan fè nou sibi. Dje blan yo mande krim. Bon Dje ki nan nou an vle byen fè. Bon Dje nou an ki si bon, ki si jis, li ordone vanjans. Se li kap kondui branou pou nou ranpote la viktwa. Se li kap ba nou asistans. Nou tout fet pou nou jete potre dje Blan yo ki swaf dlo lan zye. Koute vwa la Libète kap chante lan kè nou.
"Bon Dje" means the "Good God." Likely, "Bon Dje" would be "Bondye" (from the French Bon Dieu, meaning “Good God”) or “Papa Bon Dieu.” In Vodou, "Bondye" is the High God, over all the lwa. (Bondye is said to be like the Dahomey High God "Mawu-Lisa.")

"Libète" means "Liberty."

Here is a translation of the prayer into contemporary English:

Bon Dje [Good God] who created the earth, who created the sun that gives us light. Bon Dje [Good God] who holds up the ocean, who makes the thunder roar. Bon Dje [Good God] who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds, who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man's god asks him to commit crimes. Bon Dje [Good God] within us wants to do good. Bon Dje [Good God], who is so good, so just, He orders us to avenge our wrongs. It's He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It's He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white man's god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice of Libète [Liberty] that sings in all our hearts.
The historian Hoffmannn discounted the possibility that Boukman delivered this prayer. Yet, others have found it credible that Boukman did. Rachel Beavior-Domaque, for example, has pointed out that the “Boukman Prayer” described a heightening of political consciousness. The prayer can be broken into several key concepts: It’s a brilliant invocation of a deity. I don’t see why Boukman couldn’t have composed and recited it. Prior to being a slave in French Catholic Haiti/Saint-Domingue, Boukman was a slave in British Protestant Jamaica. He certainly would have been exposed to the British Anglican dislike of Catholic images, in particular a preference for the unadorned cross as opposed to the crucifix.

There are some historians who believe Boukman was an African Muslim, because he was literate and the Boukman prayer advises his followers to “throw away the image of the white man’s god.” An interesting theory, not totally impossible, except that if Boukman were Muslim, it would mean that he could read and write Arabic, not that he would learn to read and write English in Jamaica and French in Haiti/Saint-Domingue. Besides, if Boukman was a Muslim, it is unlikely he would have participated in a ritual that involved a pig. (More about the pig later.)

I wonder if Boukman had heard of the allegorical personifications of "Marianne" and/or "Liberté"? In France, Liberté was often conflated with Marianne, the personification of the "Triumph of the Republic." The female figure of Marianne, wearing her Liberty Cap, was used earlier on iconography promoting the French Revolution. Marianne's iconography was adopted from the Roman Libertas, who wore a Liberty Cap as well, and with overtones of the Greek Athena. Most agree Boukman was literate. Had he read something about the political situation in France? Had he overheard French colonists discussing politics? Was he aware this might be an excellent time for an uprising, because France was busy with its own internal political struggles? Certainly he had heard of the storming of the Bastille in Paris, France on July 14, 1789.

After the ritual drumming began, a mambo, probably Cécile Fatiman, led the chants.

Another woman, known as Mambo Marinette, was often named as the one who sacrificed the pig.

Many accounts repeat that Boukman and the slaves assembled, took a blood oath vowing to drive out the French or die trying, by drinking the slaughtered pig’s blood.

It is true that ritual oaths involving imbibing animal blood do not seem to have survived in either the Petro or Rada tradition in modern Hatian Vodou.

One might be tempted to dismiss the report of the blood oath as something from Christian propaganda--visualize the image of slaves drinking pig blood as a diabolical parody of the Christian mass.

Except the African Dahomey culture has a well-tested traditions of such a “blood oath.” In Dahomey, a king often “drank Vodun,” which was a mixture comprised of blood, water, and other ingredients, with his warriors to secure their loyalty. Husbands in Dahomey “drank Vodun” with their wives for the same reason. Versions of this practice were known from Dahomey to Kenya. Many of the slaves assembled there would have been familiar with it. Hence, it is possible that in the Bois Caiman ritual the pig’s blood could have been mixed with water and other ingredients, such as ashes. The “blood oath” would have encouraged solidarity, magical strength, and acted as an oath of fidelity to Boukman and to the greater cause of liberty.

Therefore, it seems as though the “blood oath” using the blood of a black pig probably did take place. However, this ritual drink would have been part of an oath to each other. If Boukman did drink the mixture with the others, he couldn't have been a Muslim.

There doesn’t seem to be any mention of what happened to the slaughtered pig after the blood was drained for the “blood oath.” I imagine some of the blood may have been offered to Elizi Dantor. I think it likely that the pig was cooked. As I said, neither the articles by historians nor the Vodou version of the legend, nor the Christian version of the legend, which I’ve read, mention the pig being butchered and cooked. I simply find it hard to believe that the carcass of the animal would be discarded.

According to historians, Cécile Fatiman (Haitian Creole: Sesil Fatima) was a green-eyed woman of mixed race, the daughter of a Corsican and an African. She was sold into slavery with her African mother in Saint-Domingue. (She had two brothers, who were also sold into slavery, whom she never saw again.) According to historian Etienne Charlier, this woman was the same Cécile Fatiman who became the wife of President Louis Michel Pierrot, and lived on the Cape until age 112.

Mambo Cécile Fatiman probably did preside over the ceremony with Boukman, because as some historians have noted, it was common to work together, male and female, in the Ginen tradition.

It has been reported that Boukman made prophecies about the success of other leaders. In order for a large scale uprising to succeed, it would have to be organized under several different leaders. Doubtless, Boukman would have prophecized the success of his fellow leaders in the conspiracy. There were probably female slaves besides Cécile Fatiman and Mambo Marinette who participated in the Bois Caiman meeting. It is also probable that Mambo Marinette offered the domestic Creole pig to the lwa Ezili Dantor and that subsequently Mambo Marinette experienced a trance possession by Ezili Dantor during the drumming and spirit dancing. Another Vodou tradtion manintained that Ogun Feraille also possessed a woman at Bois Caiman. As Vodou ceremonies usually involve more than one lwa manifesting in worshiper(s), the tradtion involving other lwa, especially Ogun Feraille, isn't surprising.

Creole pigs were often offered to the Petro lwas, but they are particularly associated with Ezili Dantor, the angry, aggressive Petro lwa of motherhood. Ezili Dantor is syncretized to two aspects of the Virgin Mary, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and Mater Salvators.

I also think that Ezili Dantor was the lwa who possessed the mambo presiding over the sacrifice of the pig. Numerous Vodou practitioners do maintain an oral tradition that it was Ezili Dantor, but aside from that, the Bois Caiman meeting was held late in August. Ezil Dantor’s feast day is August 15, which is the Assumption of Virgin Mary into Heaven. I likewise think it is probable that one of the worshippers could have been possessed by Ogun Feraille, the Petro lwa of war. There is a Vodou tradition that claims he also possessed a woman during the spirit dancing. Likewise, Ogun Feraille is one of Ezili Dantor's lovers, though they do not always get along.

As I’ve said before, there is no iron statue of a black domestic Creole pig in Port-au-Prince, honoring Boukman or the Bois-Caïman ritual. There is a statue in Port-au-Prince of “Neg Mawon,” the freed slave. This 1968 statue is by architect and sculptor Albert Mangones, which was erected in honor of the women and men who fought for their freedom. This statue stands adjacent to the Palais National in the Haitian capitol. The photo of Neg Mawon does not show a pig.

There was a report of a statue of a razorback boar, "cochon marron," located in Port-au-Prince, "across from the old Legislative palace." However, this statue was not an ordinary Creole pig, “cochon planche.” Apparently, this boar statue disappeared during the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier.

My personal opinion is that the Vodou version of the legend, even with variants about who said and did what when, is probably more historically accurate than the Christian version of the legend.

Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique wrote in 2002 about information collected in 1999 during a historical and anthropological investigation into the Bois Caiman meeting. According to Beauvoir-Dominique "Memory of the Bois Caiman is vivid amongst the population who remembers the exact points where events took place. Here is a song, for instance, one 84-year-old was able to sing for us; he holds it from his grand-father:

'Revni lwa yo, Sanble lwa yo, Nan Bwa Kayiman nou ye, Nou tande fizi tire Apre Bondye, Se nou sa l ki chèf la ye, Apre Bondye, Se nou chaf, Nan Bwa Kayiman a'
I contacted Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique and she sent me this translation:
Bring back the spirits (lwa), Group together the spirits, We're at the Bwa Kayiman, We hear the rifles shooting. After Bondye, It's we the chiefs, After Bondye, It's we the chiefs, At the Bwa Kayiman.
The meaning of history

Haitians are proud of their history and rightfully so. They established the first black republic in the Western hemisphere. Haiti was the second republic in the New World. They abolished the practice of slavery in their republic, which the USA republic had not yet done in 1791. They defied Napoleon Bonaparte when he sent troops to retake this French colony and re-establish slavery. Who did these slaves think they were anyway? They thought they had an inalienable right to be free men and women. The Haitians knew that they had a right to be free.

The Haitians persevered through all the hardships and suffering of the revolution. They persevered through all the trials and tribulations, such as most European nations as well as the USA refused to recognize this fledgling nation. They continued to struggle and survive through whatever troubles they experienced. They survive and continue. Anyone should be proud of that.

The meaning of legends

My initial interest in compiling and organizing these materials I had found in two coherent form was in order to study and compare the two versions of the legend of the 1791 Bois Caiman meeting. I have been studying all sorts of legends and contemporary legends for years.

To refer to something as a “legend” or “contemporary legend” in the practice of folklore does not mean the story behind it isn’t true.

A contemporary legend is a narrative often spread orally among a certain group. Sometimes legends, or pieces of them, have been reported in news stories. In fact, folklorists often track the persistence of a legend by finding reference to it in written sources. In recent years, the narratives have been distributed via the World Wide Web, email and blogs.

Though a contemporary legend can be pure fabrication, it often isn’t. Sometimes the oral lore or legend repeats an entire tale correctly. Frequently there is some detail(s) in the legend that might be repeated incorrectly, or exaggerated--usually to make a point. The “moral of the story”--so to speak. Different versions of different legends may have different points or morals, depending on which points have been exaggerated.

In some cases, some versions will have details invented to stress the point or the “moral of the story” or a detail to provide veracity to the narrative that is no longer being repeated correctly. The inclusion of the non-existent iron pig statute, supposedly in Port-au-Prince, is an example of an invented detail to provide veracity for the narrative.

Pat Robertson’s variant of the Christian version of the legend has several incorrect details. Robertson refers to Napoleon III as the French “prince” whom the Haitians wanted to get free from when the Haitians actually wanted to be freed from enslavement. Sorry, this is no small historical error on Pat Robertson’s part.

The Haitians began their uprising during the end of the reign of King Louis XVI. They continued it during the French Revolution. They finished it under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had established a French empire and expanded France’s holdings.

Robertson’s variant also implied that the Haitians themselves could not have gotten out from “under the heel of the French” without the aid of the Christian devil. According to Pat Robertson, “The devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’” His variant implies if the Haitians couldn’t have prayed to the Christian Good God, otherwise they would all now be Southern Baptists. Furthermore, Robertson’s variation of the Christian version of the legend implies that the tectonic plates would not have shifted on the afternoon of January 12, 2010 in Haiti if they hadn’t made the “pact to the devil.” Thus, there would have been no devastating earthquake with 200,000 dead and more than one million estimated homeless.

I am certain that Pat Robertson’s “Operation Blessing,” using those solicited donations will provide a lot of food and drinking water along with a lot of proselytizing to encourage those whom they help to be baptized in Jesus Christ as Southern Baptist Christians. Robertson’s variant implies that the Dominican Republic has not had its share of troubles. Like other variants of the Christian version of the legend, Robertson’s variant focuses upon getting the locals to abandon the “devil” for “Jesus” and conflates the Christian “devil” with Haitian Vodou. Here is the moral or point of Robertson’s variant of the legend: “I’m optimistic something good may come,” which is “a great turning to God.”

The moral or point of the Vodou version of the legend is quite different. The Vodou version focused on the lwa Ezili Dantor and various lore connected with her--what images, feast days, and animals are associated with her.

The Vodou version also does focus on Ezili Dantor as the Mother of the Haitian republic and in doing so also reaffirms the local history, which includes the Bois Caiman meeting and the beginning of the Haitian revolution.

The spirituality of the Haitian people is reaffirmed by the Vodou version of the legend as well. The Haitian revolution did not involve mindless violence. It involved a plea to “Bon Dje,” who is “Bondye” or “Papa Bon Dieu” for justice. This Father Good God is not unlike the God the Father of the Catholic Church.

copyright 2010 Myth Woodling

Myth Woodling has been studying legends, tales, and folklore since the late 1970's and is fascinated with urban legends and contemporary legends. She is not a Vodouisant and does not have in depth knowledge of the religion of Haitian Vodou. She welcomes more information and insights from historians, practitioners, etc. Please provide permission if you are willing for her to attach your comments and name.

Comments are listed below sources.

References and Sources

Links to Christian version of the legend

Haiti - God's country after a 'holy invasion'

John Mark Ministries
Haiti: Boukman, Aristide, Voodoo and the Church
In April 2003, President Aristide made voodoo an official religion in Haiti. Christian Aid's 'Mission Insider' reported on August 14, 2003, "While some witch doctors want to renew the 200-year commitment to Voodoo, Christians are spear-heading a year-long prayer movement to 'take Haiti back from Satan', according to the HAVIDEC website.

Government Of The Devil, By The Devil, And For The Devil

Haiti: Victim of Clinton's Old Black Magic,, February 20, 2004
Bill Clinton beat President George Bush in 1992 because then-exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide supplied a"houngan" or sorcerer. "Christians in Haiti held their breath on New Year’s Day 2004. That day marked the end of Boukman’s 200-year “Deal with the Devil,” the day his Voodoo gods were said to have kept their end of his Free-us-from-the-French bargain and started the 200-year clock running."

(These political pages on the site are either an elaborate tongue in cheek joke or the creator is dead serious
PAPILLON'S ART PALACE is the site of an artist. BOB SCHATAN, RN, Papillon's "Husband Bob" seems to be the one with the political views"

Exorcizing Boukman
Haiti Progres. This Week in Haiti,, Vol.16 no.20, 5-12;11 August 1998

God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
2005 article debunking the legend. "Although Haiti’s free fall can easily be understood from a strictly historical perspective, religious arguments have been used by many to follow and explain the demise of this tiny nation," wrote Dr. Jean R. Gelin. Gelin is a licensed minister of the Church of God and holds a Ph.D. in plant sciences and works as a scientist in agricultural research. He serves as an assistant pastor for a young Haitian-American church in the United States.

Who's voodoo is stronger: Gods or the Devils, January 16, 2010

Where is the Iron Pig Statue?
a general forum discussion site

Links to the Vodou version of the legend:

Three Haitian Protestant Pastors Arrested for Violating Court Order Against Disruptions at Bois Caiman.
The VODOU Page.
Scroll down to "Danto in History" "Mambo Ezili Danto is known to have played a huge role in the history of Haiti, mother of the country."

Ezili Danto: Single Mother with a Knife

The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803

Music & Dance of Brazil & the Caribbean

Judika Illes. Encyclopedia of Spirits (2009), (pp. 398-399, 783).

Black Creole Pig links:

The Tale of the Creole Pig

Saving Haiti's bacon: Ten years ago Haitian peasants had to look on in horror as the black pigs central to their economy and culture were slaughtered . . .

Kiskeya Aqua Ferme-Bringing the Creole pig back (or its sister)

Links on Urban legend

Haiti Made a Pact with the Devil-Disputed!


Bob Corbett, The Spelling Voodoo
Bob Corbett provides an in-depth discussion involving the spelling of the Haitian religion, which is well worth a visit to this page. He spells the religion, "Voodoo," with a capital "V." Many other spellings have been used by scholars including Vodou, Voudun, Vodun, Vodoun, Vaudou, Vaudoux, etc. In my article, "Comparing the Legends of Bois Caiman," I have chosen the spelling, "Vodou," to indicate the genuine religious practices and beliefs in Haiti. I used the spelling, "voodoo," to indicate perceptions from outsiders which may or may not be eroneous. I decided to use this method, because on most of the Christian websites, I found the word spelled, "voodoo." The sources I initially found more accurately describing the religion tended to use an alternate spelling. "Vodou" was the spelling used in at least two different sources.

Bob Corbett pointed out in his article, "Actually the word ["voodoo," "Vodou," or by any other spelling] is seldom even used by Haitians. They do not refer to the religion by the name Voodoo, but speak of people 'following the loa,' or 'serving the loa.'"

Bob Corbett, Selected Voodoo terms

Historical links

Centuries of folly scar Haiti

There were actually two separate slave gatherings in August 1791. The first on Sunday, Aug. 14, 1791. the second was about a week later. Toussaint actually lead the indigenous army.

Timeline of Events
"August 1791…Toussaint L' Ouverture leads a black army against the French. Many plantations and towns are destroyed."

National Library of Jamaica Boukman Dutty

Shunpiking the Discovery Magazine

The Savvy Sista, Did You Know: The Origin of Pat Robertson's 'Pact With the Devil' Comment?

On the African background to the slave insurrection in Saint-Domingue (Haïti) in 1791: The Bois Caiman ceremony and the Dahomian ‘blood pact’

"Neg Mawon", The Freed Slave, statue by Albert Mangones, 1968.

Haiti August 14th 1791

Alternate translation of the Boukman prayer:

Good Lord who hath made the sun that shines upon us, that riseth from the sea, who maketh the storm to roar; and governeth the thunders, The Lord is hidden in the heavens, and there He watcheth over us. The Lord seeth what the blancs have done. Their god commandeth crimes, ours giveth blessings upon us. The Good Lord hath ordained vengeance. He will give strength to our arms and courage to our hearts. He shall sustain us. Cast down the image of the god of the blancs, because he maketh the tears to flow from our eyes. Hearken unto Liberty that speaketh now in all your hearts.
Heinl, Robert Debs, Jr; Heinl, Nancy Gordon; & Heinl, Michael (Rev. & Exp) (1996). Written In Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1995 (Revised edition). Lanham, MD: University Press of American (Heinl p. 43)
The earliest written sources which I found mention of about the August meeting prior to the uprising were:

Antoine Dalmas. Historie de la revolution de Saint-Dominique. 1814.

Herad Dumesle. Voyage dans Le Norde d’Haiti. 1824.

Etienne Charlier. Apercu sur la formation historique de la nation haitienne. 1954.


This is an excellent article, very well researched and thought provoking.
February 2010

I read with pleasure the excellent, well-documented article of Myth Woodling. It is indeed necessary to point out that Pat Robertson got all dates wrong, those of the Bois Caiman meeting and the reigns of the two Napoleons I and III. On the other hand, the portrait presented as that of Boukman Dutty is that of rebel general Biassou (J.-C. Dorsainvil, Histoire d'Haiti, Henri Deschamps, Port-au-Prince, 1934 ff, p. 78).

Here is a Haitian description of the Bois Caiman ceremony.
Source: Journal-Post

Boukman’s Ceremony
H. Pauléus Sannon, Histoire de Toussant L’Ouverture, 1920, vol. 1, p. 89 (Impr. A.A. Héraux, Port-au-Prince)

Mixing fact and legend, Haitian historian Pauleus Sannon wrote the following account of the Bois Caiman ceremony where Boukman Dutty, a Vodoo priest, made the sacred pact of the general slave revolt. The ceremony remains a seminal event in the minds of many Haitians. This version is the one taught to most Haitian schoolchildren.

“He exercised over all the slaves who came near him in inexplicable influence. In order to wash away all hesitation and to secure absolute devotion he brought together on the night of 14 August 1791 a great number of slaves in a glade in Bois Caiman near Morne-Rouge. They were all assembled when a storm broke. Jagged lightning in blinding flashes illuminated a sky of low and sombre clouds. In seconds a torrential rain floods the soil while under repeated assaults by a furious wind the forest trees twist and weep and their largest branches, violently ripped off, fall noisly away. In the centre of this impressive setting those present, transfixed, gripped by an inspired dread see an old dark woman arise. Her body quivers in lengthy spasms; she sings, pirouettes and brandishes a larges cutlass overhead. An even greater immobility, the shallow scarcely audible breathing, the burning eyes fixed on the black woman soon indicate that the spectators are spellbound.

Then a black pig is brought forward, its squalls lost in the raging of the storm. With a swift stroke, the inspired priestess plunges he cutlass into the animal’s throats…The hot, spurting blood is caught and passed among the slaves; they all sip of it, all swearing to carry out Boukman’s orders. The old woman of the strange eyes and shaggy hair invokes the gods of the ancestors while chanting mysterious words in African dialect.

Suddenly Boukman stands up and in an inspired voice kris out, “God who made the sun that shines on us from above, who makes the sea to rage and the thunder roll, this same great God from his hiding place on a cloud, hear me, all of you, is looking down upon us. He sees what the whites are doing. The God of the whites asks for crime; our desires only blessings. But this God who is good directs you to vengeance! He will direct our arms, he will help us. Cast aside the image of the God of the whites who thirsts for our tears and pay heed to the voice of liberty speaking in our hearts…”

A French version may be found in the book of the Haitian historian, Jean Fouchard (Les marrons de la liberté, Henri Deschamps, Port-au-Prince, 1988, p. 412).

My comments:

1. We totally ignore which lwa were invoked at Bois Caiman. The pig sacrifice may be the first manifestation of the Petwo cult. Although Boukman is usually presented as a houngan, even in the Dorsainvil book, we do not know.

2. The Devil (this is for Pat Robertson) is not part of Vodou. I mean the Devil in the Christian sense, the Prince of Darkness and principle of Evil. Vodou has a number of minor lwa-dyab, that is evil, dangerous spirits much akin to the ogre. In Haitian folklore, such a dyab may enjoy the evening in front of his home in company of his wife and children. There is a lwa "Lucifer" in Vodou, but he is not more than a name.

--Hans-Wolfgang Ackermann, MD, Professor
February 2010

M. Woodling: Thank you for the correction about the portrait. I have adjusted the caption on the images page and have removed the picture from the main article.

My name is Carine Robert. I am a Christian. Thank you, for allowing me to give my opinion on this matter. A lot of people feel the need to justify what happened 200+ years ago with our poor forefathers. I beg to differ; The white men went to Africa and brought them here by force, sold them as slaves, called grown men, "boys", changed their names to suit them. So, when they came here, they didn't know anything about, "Jesus" It was only normal, for them to use what they were accustomed to, which was, "voodoo"; I bet you it wasn't called voodoo then. If I were in their place, I would have definitely done the same thing; Why would I accept a religion from the same monsters, who are enslaving me. So, considering the situation, the era, the awful wrong that was done unto them; I say, they used what they had!

Thank you, for allowing to vent.

--Carine Robert
February 2010

I'm glad you enjoyed my research. Thank you also for your very thorough article. The song translates as follows: "Bring back the spirits (lwa), Group together the spirits, We're at the Bwa Kayiman, We hear the rifles shooting. After Bondye, It's we the chiefs, After Bondye, It's we the chiefs, At the Bwa Kayiman." Please note a typo, it shouldn't be chaf but chèf.

--Best regards, Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique
February 2010

M. Woodling: Thank you very much for the translation. I've inserted it into the main article and corrected the typo I originally included in the chant.


Thanks for your article on what Pat Robertson called Haiti's deal with with the devil! It struck me that you might really enjoy reading a book called Haiti, History, and the Gods by Joan Dayan. She writes beautifully of vodoun as a philosophy and about the workings of history and myth.


Angela Naimou
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Clemson University
Clemson, SC 29634
July 2010

M. Woodling: When I contacted Angela Naimou for verification to share her email, she suggested two more books: Search for the Spirit by Laennec Hurbon, and famous Voodoo in Haiti by anthropologist Alfred Métraux. The book Voodoo in Haiti is a classic, written back in the 1950's.

"One year ago this month, the world turned upside down for Haiti. An estimated 300,000 people died and 1.5 million became homeless after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island nation." Edwidge Danticat, "Turning the Page on Disaster," Good Housekeeping, January 2011.

After visting with the survivors of the 2010 earthquake, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat wrote an article which appeared in the January issue of Good Housekeeping. At the end of the article, Libby Golden provides contact information for three organizations:

Li, Li, Li! Reading Out Loud to Haiti's Displaced Children
Reading out loud program in Creole for Haiti's children who became displaced because of the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. "Everybody poops and someone has to deal with it." SOIL believes that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy and pollution into valuable resources.

Haiti Outreach H.O.P.E. for Haiti. We are a grassroots community development organization supporting a population of 80,000 people on Haiti's North Coast. As an independent volunteer organization, our sole purpose is to assist the people of Borgne in achieving sustainable living conditions and building for a better future.

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