The Concept of Human Dignity
also takes a special significance for the African people. It is understood to be a mental state or a particular quality of the soul bestowed upon all human beings. This conception implies that as a person, one is automatically Worthy and Honorable, this honor being an innate right second only to the Right of Existence. No one has the right to "pile diyite you moun" (a Creole expression putting forward the right for an individual's dignity or sense of worthiness and honor not to be violated or encroached upon). This then compels the recognition of these rights, not only towards individuals, but also with respect to communities.
For, the individual's participation in a community should by no means deny that person of his or her sense of dignity or intrinsic value, which is a fundamental and inalienable attribute he or she possesses as a human being. However, it is obviously recognized that the community also has rights, rights to honor and rights to worthiness, values and qualities that results from the sum of those rights of the individuals that compose that society.
Individuals should never consider themselves self-sufficient, for, in isolation, no one can function adequately within the Haitian or Vodoun social context. This means that the human person cannot, and should not, live in isolation from other persons. Social life is considered natural to the human being because every human being is born into a pre-existing human society.
The community is then defined as a group of persons feeling linked to it by inter-personal bonds, bonds which are not necessarily biological. All these people share common values, interests and goals. What distinguishes a community from a mere association of individuals is the sharing of an overall way of life.
In the social context of a community, each member acknowledges the existence of common values, obligations, and understandings and feels loyalty and commitments to the development of that community. Such feelings are expressed through the desire and willingness one has to advance the community's interests.
Consequently, members of a same community are expected to demonstrate concern for fellow members' well being, to do whatever they can to advance the common good, and generally to participate in the community's life. So each community member's participation is considered essential, in fact intrinsic, to a human society and this membership is viewed as natural.
This yields rights to the community that precede individual rights. These community rights do not absorb individualities, causing them to disappear; rather, they accommodate them, engendering a state of co-existence. In reality, it is the exercise of individual rights, including the individual rights to put forward one's own unique qualities, dispositions and talents, that enhances cultural development and ensures the community material and political success.
The differences I am bringing to light here by no means aim at emphasizing ethnic divisions within our societies. They are geared, rather, at inducing, if at all possible, a new consciousness, a new awareness that alone may allow a novel Ethical Code of pluralistic and democratic socio-economic and cultural relationships.
Historians have already amply confirmed what seems obvious by bringing out a wealth of information on what may be termed the shocking of the New World by the African slave trade. For more than three centuries, between the years 1492 and 1840, the slave boats disembarked more than twenty million men and women from Africa to the shores of the Americas.
Once caught and sold, our forefathers were forced to undergo a systematic process of acculturation. No effort of persuasion was spared to induce the desired result. A new Code of Morality was then developed by the settlers and rendered obligatory in order to bring about a change in the mind and in the will of those slaves. The power exerted upon them aimed at justifying what was considered the "the Moment's Imperative".
Missionaries, one of the elements that contributed to produce such results, were part of the the Europeans' three "M's policy" and they acted as Trojan Horse to the Conquistadors. The two other "M" were the "Merchants" and the "Militaries", the latter to protect the first two. Isabel the Catholic and Ferdinand of Castille, the "Very Christian Majesties" of Spain and later on those of France and of England, settled the terms for evangelization. The title for that, "The Black Code", is more than significative:
"Ordinance concerning the
which I personally translated from the French title. In that language, it says:
la discipline de l'Eglise et de l'Etat
But after ample reflection commanded by such a subject, I believe I can confidently state that despite of the European settlers' impressive efforts to completely remove all traces of African elements among the population of the Americas, one cannot call it a true success.
The "kumbit", for instance, has remained in Haiti a principal means by which the people organize their economy. This is a cooperative type of organization in which neighbors lend their day of work and expect the same in return. Of an original design, it is very African. The word "kumbit" itself comes from o'Ku-m-vi-tò, a condensed expression from the Fon language spoken in Benin (Africa) to simply mean:
"The children of the Ancestors (must) work together the land of their Ancestors!"
In closing, amongst these major cultural traits revealing African origins in the New World, one must cite the African World vision and the way one defines one's place within it. Traditional Medicine and the African Traditional Religion, Vodoun, are real landmarks and without any doubt, the most prominent features of that landscape. Deep rooted, they are widely spread throughout the entire New World.
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The Temple of Yehwe: President