Kingdom of This World: Exploring the History Behind Haitian Revolution

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Haiti is a country that has gone through tremendous amounts of struggle and pain throughout its history. One of the most defying events in Haitian history is the Haitian revolution of 1791. Alejo Carpentier’s novel, The Kingdom of This World shows the true struggle that the Haitian people had to endure. They were challenged by a government that had no respect for them and wanted to strip them of their human rights and traditions. The only action that could have been taken was to fight a bloody war that would define who the Haitian people wanted to be. Alejo Carpentier accurately represents in the book, The Kingdom of This World, how the Haitian people struggled to overthrow a corrupt government system that would infringe on their religion, traditions, and their way of life.

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The Kingdom of This World is a novel that follows the life of a Haitian slave named Ti Noël. He works on a plantation in northern Haiti with another slave named Macandal. While working on the plantation, Macandal got his arm cut off, up to his shoulder, in an accident with the plantation’s machinery. After realizing that he has no more value, the plantation owner made him walk the cattle to let them graze. This allowed him to find a wide array of different plants that he later would turn into poison. Macandal then began to poison the plantation’s livestock as well as the French owners causing them to fear the power of the slaves. They eventually catch Macandal and burn him for his actions. However, using the power of Vodou, he escapes death by turning himself into a cricket. After his death, the French tried to calm the slaves, but they ended up making the situation worse for themselves. This sparked the other slaves on neighboring plantations to start a revolt to try and overthrow the French rule on the island. Ti Noël’s owner eventually flees Haiti, in fear of being killed, and takes his slaves with him. While he was drunk and playing a card game, Ti Noël’s owner lost him to a Cuban plantation owner. Ti eventually saves up enough money to travel back to what he thought was a free Haiti, only to find out that slavery was brought back under the rule of King Henri Christophe. Ti Noël is eventually put back into slavery where he is forced to build a series of castles for King Henri Christophe. Another rebellion breaks out because of the poor leadership of the king. The king ends up shooting himself in order to not risk being captured. As everything seems to be going well for the newly freed slaves, a new form of leadership takes over. This new leadership is composed of light skinned colonists that start to enslave the darker skinned population of Haiti. The novel ends with Ti Noël looking up into the sky and letting out a yell to start a new rebellion, just before he collapses to his death.

As stated above, the Haitian natives had to deal with the constant threat of slavery from many different forms of leadership. This caused them to start a war with whoever thought they could impose their rule over the people of Haiti. In the novel, the first revolution was sparked by a slave named Macandal. After a failed attempt to kill him, the slaves became angry with the French rulers. The French tried to calm the situation down, but the slaves ended up revolting. The slaves armed themselves with sticks and waited for a signal to begin the attacks. Once the signal was given, they started their first attack. During the following nights, the slaves went to each plantation one by one to murder the plantation owners. The revolt is extremely violent and many people are killed. In reality, during this time period, the novel’s description is pretty accurate to what really occurred but misses some key points of the revolution. The Haitian revolution is described as a series of conflicts between 1791 and 1804 between Haitian slaves, colonists, the armies of the British and French colonizers, and a number of other parties (“Haitian Revolution”). The revolution did begin because of how the French treated the Haitian population. The revolution started in northern Haiti and the slaves went to each plantation along their path, killing everyone and burning them down (Haitian Revolution 1791). Eventually, the main group of revolting slaves became so big that they split into smaller groups. Each small group used tactics similar to guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla warfare is a tactic where small groups of soldiers conduct small, fast raids to disrupt the opposing army’s position. However, they did not just fight against the French colonist that were on the island. The French government realized how important the island of Haiti was to them, so they sent in the French army to try and put an end to the revolution. The fighting went on for months causing the French to need backup. The British ended up sending troops over to try and help France to end the revolt. This ultimately failed and the French allowed the Haitians to become free, for now. A freed slave named Toussaint Louverture eventually stepped in to create a uniform army composed of the freed Haitian slaves. France eventually wanted to impose their old rule over the island, so they sent in their army again to try and take back what they previously owned. Louverture’s army ended up battling the invading French for months. However, his army was overwhelmed, and he was defeated. Some of Toussaint’s old lieutenants ended up forming their own army to push back the French again. They ended up succeeding and the revolution ended causing Haiti to become a free country in 1804 (“Haitian Revolution”).

During the long fight for their freedom, the Haitian people had to deal with many different forms of government that imposed their will among the natives of the island. In the beginning of the novel, the Haitian islands are under rule by the French government. Ti Noël and the other slaves are eventually fed up with how they are ruling, so they start a revolution to overthrow the French. They eventually succeed and become free. As stated in the summary, Ti Noël’s owner flees the island, taking his slaves with him. As Ti returns, thinking the island is free, he finds out that a man named Henri Christophe declared himself king and brought back slavery. Christophe forced the slaves to build castles and statues of him while he rested in peace. Not being pleased with this, Ti Noël and the other slaves start another uprising to overthrow his rule. They eventually succeed with Henri committing suicide after he realized he lost. Everything was going well in the novel until another group decided to take power. The group that took power was a group of light skinned colonists that believed themselves to be better than the rest of the population. They eventually restarted the cycle and brought back slavery. The novel discussed that three different groups controlled the government of Haiti and that the cycle would never end of having a new group take over. This is not very accurate compared to what groups actually were in control during this time. The novel did accurately describe that French were initially in control of the islands. However, the novel did not do a good job of describing how the French ruled over the island. In reality, the French had a stronger military presence than what was described in the novel. They were constantly sending troops from the mainland to impose their control over the people. Once the slaves successfully revolted the first time, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to continue to fight to regain control of the island. Napoleon sent a general over who was able to defeat Louverture in battle (“Haitian Revolution”). With the island under French control again, a new man took over. That man was named Henri Christophe. Henri Christophe was a freed slave that escaped to America but came back once he heard of the revolution. In the novel, Henri was described as a head chef that eventually declared himself king over the whole island. This is completely inaccurate compared to how he actually took power. Once he came over from America, he joined Toussaint Louverture’s army and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Once Louverture was defeated, he later joined the opposing French army where he gained control of the northern side of Haiti (“Henry Christophe”). He tried to destroy a rival to take control of the whole island but eventually failed. Christophe did, however, force the slaves to build castles and statues of him which was described in the novel. The novel also accurately described how Christophe shot himself once the slaves revolted against him. In reality, this was the end of strict government rule in Haiti. The novel, however, described that a group of light skinned colonists took over after Christophe. This never occurred in reality.

When the French tried to convert the Haitian population to Catholicism, they led the Haitians to create a new religion that played a major part in the revolution. The religion that was created was Vodou. In the Novel, Vodou was first introduced when Macandal got his arm cut off and came across the poisonous plants. He used the power of Vodou to create different poisons from these plants that killed many of the plantation’s livestock and owners. Macandal also masters a power of Vodou that allows him to transform into different animals and insects. He uses this ability to avoid capture and to travel between plantations. This ability also allowed him to escape his own execution. Henri Christophe’s downfall in the novel is also contributed to his lack of faith in the power of Vodou. The novel also described that the slaves had Vodou drums that they would smack before an act of war. Vodou played an important role in the novel and in the real revolution that took place. However, the use of Vodou described in the book was not at all accurate compared to how it was used in real life. The novel failed to describe how Vodou was created and how it became popular amongst the slave population. The French tried to force the Haitians to convert to Catholicism, which failed. The Haitians ended up combining some parts of the Catholic faith with some parts of an African religion to form Vodou. Slaves would hold secret Vodou gatherings which the French despised. If the French caught a slave participating in any act of Vodou, they would have them executed on the spot. Vodou also helped to unite the slaves against the French. It became a sign of resistance which caused it to quickly spread among the slaves (“History”). Before each battle, secret rituals were held to improve the strength of the Haitian warriors (“History”). The novel does do a good job of accurately representing the use of the Vodou drums before each battle took place.

Throughout the novel, the author incorporates different traditions that helped the Haitians push back the oppressive rulers. In the novel, one of the Haitian traditions that is shown is the use of a conch shell. While on the plantation, the owner Lenormand de Mezy heard a conch shell in the distance. Throughout the island, he heard the sound of the conch and before he knew what happened, the attacks on the plantations began. Another tradition shown in the novel is the Haitian’s tradition of the use of plants. In this case, they used their knowledge of plants to poison the plantation’s livestock and owners. Macandal discovered the plethora of poisonous plants, while walking the cows, that he used to craft the deadly poisons. The novel does a great job of accurately describing how the conch shell was used during the Haitian revolution. Before battles, the Haitians would blow a conch shell to signify their attack (Kingdom). The conch was also a symbol of resistance and unity, like Vodou. The use of plants was also a Haitian tradition that was described well in the novel. Macandal was a real-life resistance leader that used poisonous plants to help fight against the French. He would enlist the help of well trusted slaves to aid him with placing the poisons in different spots around different plantations. Macandal would plant the poison crafted from the plants in the livestock’s feed, killing them and sending the French plantation owners into a panic (Francois). They would also use the poison to kill the plantation owners. The house slaves would slip the poison in the owners and the their family’s food causing a great deal of death among plantation owners. After the French realized they were being poisoned, they began to fear everyday tasks knowing that it could be their last. After Macandal was captured and thought to be killed, the use of poison significantly decreases throughout the rest of the revolution.

Alejo Carpentier showed the true horrors that were created for the Haitian people by the French and other forms of government. However, they were able to unite together through the way they lived before the long war would begin. The Haitians kept their religion alive even though they would be executed if they were caught practicing it. New traditions were formed to help unify them during a time of war, and they kept old traditions alive through the use of poison. Although the novel depicted that they went to war, it failed to show the different tactics used to push out any government that infringed on their personal freedoms. Overall, The Kingdom of This World did a pretty good job of describing what actually occurred during this time period.  

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