by Ati Max-G. Beauvoir - Houngan
Significance and Distinction
These straightforward answers led me to believe that the giving of a name to a place should never be regarded as if it had been a simple and a spontaneous exercise. For its realization, it required at least two fundamental conditions:
This is not sufficient, the scientists added with authority. In the view of logic, as a science, they say, a name becomes truly a name only, and whenever, it has no other connotation, no other meaning. A word starts to become a name only when it possesses such a meaning that can be explained only by saying that in a sentence, whenever that name is used, it is about something which only that name indicates. It then becomes a proper name only when it has a denotation and no other connotation. Proper names are singular names, they are singular in view of other meanings.
To illustrate better what is meant, they offered the following example: Let us assume a case where two English-speaking persons were wrecked on an island with several other persons of whose language and individual names they were totally ignorant of. At first, they were also ignorant of any individual qualities of the other except for gross external ones, and so they will be likely to speak in such terms as "that fellow with the limp." This, of course, may be called a description or a connotation which serves to distinguish an individual by means of a special quality. But this is not yet a name.
In a few days, however, the two will be undoubtedly referring to this same person by some handier expression, such as "Limpy", and such a word will at the same time have picked up individuality, bringing to mind many physical and mental characteristics of that whole person. It continues to indicate a special quality, but does not essentially do so since it calls to mind the complete individual, and has in fact come to be a handy formula for that very purpose.
After a while Limpy’s foot may heal so that he walks perfectly. His name, however, can remain unchanged, since it has ceased to be primarily a description and refers to him as a whole. That name, Limpy, then becomes a name, a proper name when it has only a denotation, and no other connotation. It becomes a singular name in view of other meanings.
Such a scientific way to reason brings out the intricacies that may exist when one tries to explain the formation of certain important names in our country, Haiti, for example, and would like to draw historical lessons from them. One should never reflect upon such names as the Massacre River or "Riviere du Massacre" which lays at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, certainly the name of a place where some very important massacres took place once upon a time, nor should one want to remember what kind of massacre took place there and when. Attempting to do so is looking for connotations. Likewise, would it be necessary to remember the reason, or reasons, behind the choice of the name of such an important historical site where the whole concept of Independence was born on the night of August 14th, 1791, the Bwa Kayiman? It should be indifferent to anyone that any cold blooded animals such as Caimans ever existed in those semi-desertic and arid places of the hinterland.
One may agree or disagree, after some hesitations, with the beautifully expressed theories of science and accept the fact that the name of that place should be of no indication that crocodile-like beasts were numerous there, nor that a single animal could have impressed himself upon the Vodou worshipers in that night of August 1791. But if the name "Bwa Kayiman" implies that the participants to that ceremony were all wearing a type of hat shaped like the snout of the caiman, such as the Mandingo people of West-Africa ordinarily wore after they had reached the age of sixty as a sign of wisdom, anyone like me will quickly prefer to accept the fact that the making of that name is probably still incomplete and that time will do the rest. As in the second case of Limpy, I will say that the name of that place still carries very valuable information or connotation for posterity, though it might still be somewhat descriptive and connotative.
The name of Haiti: "High Lands, Mountainous Lands?"
All such hesitations crumble when it comes to deciphering the puzzle that the name of our Country itself, Haiti, constitutes. As prescribed by the Constitution, it is not even an option to accept or to reject the fact that this name was officially given to the entire Island of Hispaniola on January 1, 1804 when Independence was proclaimed, and that the Indian name of Haiti was taken to the State. That was a decision promulgated by those who had the political power and authority to do so. In 1843, a revolution drove out the Haitian troops from the eastern part of the island, and in 1844, Santo Domingo or The Dominican Republic was founded. There have since been two nations on the island, Haiti occupying the western third.
But, why did African heroes, ex-slaves of a foreign and brutal aggression, who struggle so fiercely and desperately for thirteen long years to acquire the Independence of their Country, show as little imagination as finally to pick an Indian name, in a language they did not speak nor understand, to give to the nascent State? According to the best historians of the region, those Africans never had the opportunity of meeting any original inhabitant of the island, much less to speak with any of them. Tying in with this remark, the Indians or Native Haitians had completely disappeared from the island for almost three centuries, so they say, around the year 1530.
Very distinguished historians from Baron Emile Nau to Jean Fouchard and so many others claimed that the name Haiti, in the Indian language of the Arawak or Taino Indians meant "High land, Mountainous land," but where are the supportive documents for such an assertion? They add with precision that the island at the time of the Indians bore three names: Ayiti, Kiskeya and Bohio. Why then did they select Ayiti among those three possibilities? When was the first official way to write the name Hayti changed to Haiti?
These very confusing questions are that much more baffling when one reads in the Constitution of 1805 for instance: "... all notions of color among the children of a same family whose the Head of State is the father must cease immediately, the Haitian people from now on will all be known under the same generic denomination of Blacks?" and, a few paragraph later they add that "... Blacks and Yellows, in the most perfect communion of sentiments, will be able to work to the evolution of their Homeland." Did they actually mean that there was still existing Indians on the island and that they were referring to them as being Yellows rather than Reds?
These are just a few questions that need to be considered before it may be said that the name of Haiti is mature in the scientific sense of the linguist. Though official a name, it may not have acquired yet the level of being the proper name that one would have wished it to be, that is with a single denotation, singular in view of meaning, and without any other connotation.
Not having found much clarification to any of these questions, I turned to some descendants of the Taino-Arawak people who were of Cuban origin. I believe this process is quite legitimate, thinking of the story of Hatuey, a Haitian cacique who went to Cuba around the year 1500, at the time of the Spanish settlement. He led the wars there against the early Spanish conquest and History reports that he was killed during that time of the Cuban resistance. Before being burnt at the stake, a Spanish friar, wanting to baptize him, informed him that if baptized as a Christian, he would go to heaven, Hatuey, who furiously despised the Spaniards, replied that he refused such a concession for he preferred to go to hell than to go where the Spaniards went.
Bohio : "Home or Nan Lakou La kay"
So, from the conversation I had with the Taino-Arawak descendants, I gathered that Bohio was indeed a bona fide Taino-Arawak word which in their language meant something similar to what is called in the English language, "Home", and in the Creole language "La Kay", Creole being the language spoken by all the Haitian people of today. It does not seem to me unthinkable that, by extension, that word Bohio became a name given to the entire island of Hispaniola as "Nan Lakou Lakay", though, literally translated, it only meant "a thatch-roof house".
Kiskeya : "The Mother of all Lands"
Reading the magazine published by The Association for Haitian - American Development, Inc (AHAD), on their website I came across an article written by Prof. Alan Belen Cambeira, Historical and Cultural Connections: La République d’Haiti and La Republica Dominicana. In this wonderful article, Prof Cambeira states very clearly that, way before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1492: "The Taino people called their island Quisqueya..." and according to him that word meant "The Mother of all Lands". Considering the credentials of Prof. Cambeira, I have no difficulty either to accept that affirmation in as much that one talks about the second largest island (after Cuba) of all the Caribbean and that Haiti, during the time of colonization, reached the unrivaled position of being crowned not just the richest colony in the Caribbean region, but the World’s richest colony.
But, with regard to the term Haiti itself, the descendants of the Taino-Arawak people affirm that their forefathers called:
Hispaniola - ATAITIJ
Ataitij..? Four letters out of seven may not be so bad an index to give a fingerprint of the word Haiti, but are they sufficient to lead one to a valid conclusion to the point that one should put an end to all such research?
The word "Ataitij" may sound closely enough to the one of "Haiti" or "Hayti", but wouldn’t it be wise to interrogate as well the descendants of the African people who speak today the same language as did our Ancestors and who probably share a same state of mind? I mean, shouldn’t someone interrogate The Fon, the Gu or the Ewe people of Danhonmen, a country which is known today as The Republic of Benin, and shouldn’t one speak also to the Nago people of Nigeria, the most populous nations of West Africa?
AYITI - "Our Country, Our Land, the Land that from now on belongs to us."
Following this idea, the Fon people of the Traditional Religion, Vodou, came up surprisingly with a complete text, a song, which they thought was century old and that was extremely well preserved by the Oral Tradition. In it, the word Haiti or Ayiti is used a dozen times. It reports the story of a trans-Atlantic journey of slaves on a slave ship and their arrival in Haiti, "a land which is ours." But first of all, allow me to present here my apologies to those who may feel offended because the transcription of this text does not follow the recommended way to write as prescribed by linguists. But, since the History that I had learned at school did not bother to relate a single word which came from the mouth of slaves to express their thoughts, their feelings and their anguish, I feel privileged to be able to offer to the public such a unique document.
According to those Africans, the title of the text itself "Houenouho", just like the word "Heho", means an "Historical Transmission", "a Very Serious Narrative". The Houenouho are reported only by, and to, older persons who are initiated and they treat of subjects that are sensitive because of their religious and historic nature. Let us hear it:
Kabahoua Djénou dodo Houémé
O Danwomen to
E Houénouho mè
Houèdo Gba Isé
Houèdo Gba Isé
E Houénouho mè
Houèdo Gba Isé
Ayiti Toma :
"Our Country, Our Land, the Land
that from now on belongs to us,
The word Ayiti appears a dozen times in this text. I took the liberty to write it each time in capital letters and to put an asterisk after it, so that it can be spotted more easily by the reader. It is also worth noting that often it is accompanied by the expression "Tome" which comes here also as a happy surprise. It is a common joke in Haiti to say that Haitians are peculiar in their habits of giving names. They give their country a first name which is the official one: Haiti, and they also give it a family or last name which is Toma. The reason has never been really well understood. The translation of this text is as follows:
Houenouho or An Historical Narrative
Let me tell the story of the black race in a single song. I did not personally invent it, it was only reported to me by people who were very old. Listen. A long time ago, the black folks were quietly sitting in their home in Africa when one day, it was in the morning, a boat arrived along the coast. It was spitting fire.
The color of the skin of the people who came down from that boat was white and they started to run behind us. It became a real hunt. So, we ran away. We went hiding into the forest. They succeeded to catch many, many of us and to put us in chains. They tied us up in their boat.
And the boat was rolling from side to side, left and right, and our bellies were going up and down. Starting from our sexual organs, it was going up to our mouth. No water stayed in our bodies, we vomited and urinated, we thought we were going to die. Some of us indeed died in fact. They just took them and threw them away in the sea. Thus ended in the sea the bodies of those who died in that journey.
Finally, we disembarked. We landed in a place where there was sunshine just like home. There was the Ocean that resembled very much like the sea back home and there was also the land that looked just like home. There was everything, just like back home. It might still have been home, in reality, "Our Land" (Ayiti) ... it was still "Our Land" (Ayiti). Have we just been turning round and round on that Ocean? How did we managed to come back here again on "Our Land" (Ayiti)? Have we arrived here the two feet first (meaning dead)? Are we still alive? I wonder.
Everything seems somewhat destroyed, but it is still on "Our Land" that we are. We thank the God of the Sea, Agweta Oyo, to have preserved us and not to have allowed these people to lose us along the way. We thank again God who made these people bring us back on what is still "Our Land" (Ayiti) safely.
We are finally back home (Ayiti Tome), we are finally home again (Ayiti Tome). Everything seems a bit broken down, destroyed. But this Country is Home(Ayiti Tome), this Country is really, really Home (Ayiti Tome), everything which is in the interior of the boundary lines of our Country (Ayiti Tome).
In conclusion, and in the most unpretentious manner, I believe the word Ayiti found here must agree more with what might have been meant by our founding Fathers:
"Our Country, Our Land, the Land that from now on belongs to us"
and the meaning of the word Tome or Toma also must be more conform to their conception:
"(Every peace of Land which lays ) in the interior of the boundary lines of our Country."
Personally, I can only hear a slight difference of pronunciation between the words Tomè and Toma but, this may be totally understandable since there exist upon them the effect of centuries and many, many thousand miles ž
© Copyright 2000 (Max G. Beauvoir / The Créole Connection)
© Max G. Beauvoir - 1998 - 2006
all reproduction is strictly forbidden without express authorization
Author : Max-G Beauvoir
Tel : (509) 458 1500
Le Péristyle de Mariani, Mariani, Haiti
The Temple of Yehwe: President
Nicole Miller, Tel : ( 516) 932-2331, THETEMPLEY1@aol.com
Visit the Haitian WebRing
Want to join the Haitian WebRing?
[Skip Prev] [Prev] [Next] [Skip Next] [Random] [Next 5] [List Sites]