PAPA’S MAROON LINEAGE
It was pre-ordained, this tussle I was
having with these disembodied rays, these old customs, these migrated
but ever-present traditional forces. It had to come down to this because
Klebert, my father, my spiritual key, was from a Haitian maroon lineage,
born and raised in poverty and illiteracy. Fighting was a reflex for
my papa. He was the son of a Vodun priest called Jeantiville Jeanty;
this six-foot-six man, dark as midnight, with a gigantic black stallion
so in tune with him, his friends, they said my granpapa was a
centaur. Im told well-mounted Granpapa Jeantiville Jeanty, was
always soused, stamping around the Southern villages of Haiti with his
machete drawn out and his dueling roosters in tow. He made his own legendary
ruckus in the small hamlet of Jamais Vu located just a few miles outside
Fond Des Blancs. His son, my father Klebert was no joke and back in
childhood days when Papa said my name, that was a MASSIVE event. The
Richter scale of my being would tip over and slide to the ground in
one fell swoop. He wouldn't say "Marguerite" in any calm way. No. He
would holler "MA-GA-RETH" e nunciating each syllable in his deep peremptory,
precise and commanding bass tone. I knew I was in trouble and that was
always. Strict is too docile a word to associate with my father. Papa
worked very hard. Played even harder. Drank his Budweiser, smoked his
Marlboro cigarettes, spent nights away womanizing, rolling his hat around
to the song "Papa was a Rolling Stone" like any ol' good time hustler.
Papa took no mess and was a slave only to his hot temper.
Mother? Well, she was beautiful, tragic, dramatic, Catholic and apostolic;
the quintessential kitchen, church and children woman who liberated
herself 'cause being immigrant and Black in America meant one must work
and to work as domestic for white ladies and be successful at it, meant
one could NOT afford the luxury of competing with them in the needy,
reliant and pliant department.
Mama's station and work worked her. And when my mama's emotional muscles
grew, she then became unrecognizable to papa who needed to boss her
for the same patriarchal reasons white ladies needed to be needy and
pliant to be validated by their men.
When papa and mama's ties snapped, mama would matriculate, joining the
assembly line of African-American women, carbon-copied pious-but-disappointed
Black women, forever pregnant with no-outlets-for-love, most with PH.D.zzzz
in work, church, kitchen and children.
Starting out life with mama and papa was trip enough. I was the two,
except for one thing: they couldn't look authority in the face and live
long. "Police" and "government" had an eerie sound
to it for them, coming out of Duvalier's Haiti and all. Granmoun-yo
didn't want that destiny for me. I became a lawyer so never to feel
powerless like that.
Today papa, like the old Patriarch white boy, is old and hasn't scared
me like he used to in a long time. Now I always learn from conversations
with them. Papa is proud of his kids, a transformed mellow chief, and,
of course, he's very cool. I was 11 the last time I stood still for
any beating from him, verbal or mental. If I wouldn't be bowed by family,
y'all think some strange U.S. Ambassador or his Messrs Let's-Hoard-It-All
Western Culture is gonna push me around? Shush me up for long? Yeah
right! These old timers still carrying the Bartholemew De La Casas mindset
around don't know my papa Klebert who taught me how to fight, long ago.
Besides, the bright-eyed, full-of-jump powerful girl in me wouldn't
let the wounded woman shrink to the size of a mouse just to please people
"developing" my Haiti. To avoid conflict? Puhleeeeze.
Well, anyhow, what's self-evident Americanness anyway? If it's about
being free and struggling to stay free, then all Haitians are Americans
MORE than geographically. Yet, didn't a class of the status-quo minded
miss this identification entirely, finding it scurrilous that Black-like-me,
from the country that officially first put "liberty for all"
to application in the Western Hemisphere, with a Haitian Constitution
that didn't, even after 300 years of savage European enslavement, define
Caucasians as 3/5th human; with a heart big enough, even after 300 years
of white inflicted misery, to let action, not skin color define character,
allowing my granpapa's Fond Des Blancs, a "white valley",
to exist within its black borders, having equal rights and full Haitian
citizenship 'cause the Polish men there chose to flee Napoleon's army
to fight on the side of "justice and liberty for all."
Yes, these people, with a spirit that freed five Latin American countries
and sparked countless freedom movements down the annals of history;
with a language and culture based on the actual and symbolic psycho-spiritual
unification of the rainbow of captured African tribes and New World
peoples; these people known for the Vodun drums and dance which gave
birth to New Orleans Jazz, modern dance, part of the Katherine Dunham
method and the liberated beats that called forth U.S. Rock 'n Roll;
yes I’m gloating, yeah that country, their people couldn't possibly
represent any part of what's truly American......
The Red, Black & Moonlight Monologues,
excerpted from KENBE LA!: Crossings of a Vodun-Roots Woman.
(c) 1998 and 2000 by Èzili Dantò/formerly, colonially named Marguerite Laurent (unpublished). All rights reserved.