Last Sunday, amidst an array of picnickers squeezing out the last weeks of summer family fun, Haitians, Haitian-Americans, folklorists, and other Haitian culture enthusiasts gathered close to the banks of the Prospect Park’s six-acre lake near the Parkside park entrance. As they have for years at this spot, beginning in the afternoon, the community commemorated the ceremony among slaves that sparked the Haitian revolution.
Aug. 14 marked the 223rd anniversary of the Congress of Bwa Kayiman, where enslaved people in the French colony Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, planned a general insurrection in 1791.
Against apparent odds, they succeeded and went on to establish Haiti, the world’s first enduring Black republic.
Ougan Asogwe (High Priest) Deenps “Gran Bwa” Bazile led the five-hour ceremony in the park, along with Neg Gran Bwa Drummers, featuring traditional Vodou drumming and singing. Other local drummers filtered in and out during the daylong ceremony.
Two papier-mâché snakes representing the Vodou god Damballa entwined the poto mitan, the pole planted in the center of the space, around which most of the rites took place. There were also two altars that faced the center.
During the course of the afternoon, numerous rituals were observed, songs sung, and Vodou gods evoked, all in the observance of the gall and guts it took for the slaves, gathered in the northern part of the country, to launch the revolt.
Artist Ambroise Anderson participated in his own way, entering the park early on with a blank canvas, set up not far from the on-going rituals. The afternoon and evening’s drumming served as inspiration and backdrop while he created his interpretation of the Bwa Kayiman ceremony on canvas with paint.
The organizers for this event later wrote: “This is a celebration not just of Ayisyens (Haitians), yet for all oppressed peoples who appreciate the spirit of liberation.”
Center for Traditional Music and Dance (CTMD) and its Haitian Community Cultural Initiative, Verite sou Tanbou served as media sponsors for the all-day Haitian arts and culture celebration.