Day 15: “We don’t know yet what a force We are, what a single force”: Happy Black History Month from Jacques Roumain

“We don’t know yet what a force we are, what a single force—all the peasants, all the Negroes of plan and hill, all united. Some day [sic], when we get wise to that, we’ll rise up from one end of the country to the other. Then we’ll call a General Assembly of the Masters of the Dew, a great big coumbite of farmers, and we’ll clear out poverty and plant a new life.”

–Manuel Jean-Joseph, Masters of the Dew

Day 15: “We don’t know yet what a force we are, what a single force”: Happy Black History Month from Jacques Roumain

Jacques Roumain

Jacques Roumain (4 June, 1907-18 August 1944) was a Haitian poet, novelist, anthropologist, scholar, professor, diplomat, activist, public intellectual, etc. Jean Baptiste (“Jacques”) Roumain was born on June 4, 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to a Haitian aristocratic family, the son of Auguste Roumain, a wealthy landowner, and Marie Émilie Auguste, the daughter of the Haitian President Jean Antoine “Tancrède Auguste” (1912-1913), who succeeded President Cincinnatus Leconte. The latter died in office in August 9, 1912, in a massive explosion that ruined Haiti’s presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.[1] Roumain’s grandfather-President suffered a devastating illness— “a victim of severe anemia caused by advanced untreated syphilis”[2]—leading to his untiming death in office on May 2, 1913. Shortly after the death of President Auguste, the Haitian National Assembly appointed Michel Oreste Lafontant as the “acting President.”

President Lafontant was a progressive leader and a reformer who attempted to modernize the country and unify various antagonistic political parties or groups. He initiated the rebuilding process of the former Presidential Palace that was vanquished. Because of internal political turmoil, he was forced to step down from public office, and ultimately died in exile in New York, U.S.A., on 28 October 1918. After the short tenure of Presidents Emmanuel Oreste Zamor (from February 8, 1914 to October 29, 1914), Joseph Davilmar Théodore (from November 7, 1914 to February 22, 1915), Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam (February 25, 1915 to July 28, 1915), Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave succeeded the office of next Presidency and became the first “official president” of the defacto American military occupation and cultural imperialism, beginning in July 1915 and ending in August 1934.  Nonetheless, American military troops invaded the independent and sovereign Caribbean nation on July 27, 1915, following the popular uprising leading to the ruthless death of President Sam, whose body parts were crushed, split, and thrown in the streets of Port-au-Prince. President Dartiguenave, who was chosen by the American government, would occupy the presidential post from August 12, 1915 to May 15, 1922. The American occupation is the pivotal event that explains the historical context in which Jacques Roumain emerged as a political activist, anti-occupation fighter, and public intellectual.  In 1934, the final year of the Occupation, Roumain founded the Haitian Communist Party (Parti Communiste Haïtien).

Jacques Roumain was one of the most influential public intellectuals and writers in twentieth-century Haiti.  He was a founding member of the literary and cultural movement known as Haitian indigénisme, which rejected the hegemony of French-Western values and culture in Haiti and reacted against the imperial culture of the American military occupation (1915-1934) in the Caribbean country. His idea for Haiti’s national (new) literature in the twentieth century was a marriage of his Marxist-Communist politics and proletarian-peasant literature. Unlike many Western Marxist intellectuals at that time who had suppressed race for class, Roumain’s race and class consciousness are blended and one. As he once remarked, “I believe that our literature must be Negro and largely proletarian.”

Roumain examined the Haitian condition from a Marxist perspective. He criticized the Haitian bourgeoisie class and the political charlatans for exploiting Haitian peasants and the working class, and for misusing their material production and resources for their own profit.  He exposed the dilemma of social classes, the problem of color and economic oppression, and the abuse of political power, which substantially accounted for Haiti’s underdevelopment and the poor living condition of the majority in the Haitian society. As an anti-imperialist and Marxist writer and a critic of Western colonialism and hegemonic domination in the world, Roumain advocated strongly for the decolonization of the peoples and countries in the developing world and championed the liberation and human rights of the oppressed. In 1934, in the final year of the U.S. Occupation, he founded the Parti Communiste Haitien (P.C.H) (the Haitian Communist Party) and spread the gospel of Marxism and Socialism through his prolific writings and intellectual activism. Roumain had authored three major novels: Les fantoches (931), La montagne ensorcelée (1931) and his masterpiece Gouverneurs de la rosée (1944); more than three dozen of poems, including the seminal poems «Bois d’ébène», «Nouveau Sermon nègre», «Sales nègres», «L’amour la mort», and a collection of poetry: Bois d’ébène. Bois d’ébène, suivi de Madrid (1945); several short stories, such as «Mon ami Alcibiade» (1927), La Veste (1927), «La Fin de Benoît Carrère» (1929), «Préface à la vie d’un bureaucrate” (1930), La proie et l’ombre (1930); numerous scientific studies and academic essays, including Analyse schématique 1932-1934 (1934), Contribution à l’ètude de l’ethnobotanique précolombienne des Grandes Antilles (1942), «L’outillage lithique des Ciboney d’Haïti» (1943), Le Sacrifice du tambour-assoto(r) (1943), «Le Musée du Bureau d’ethnologie» (1943); and a number of public opinions pieces in various Haitian and French journals and newspapers.

After spending some time in exile (1933-1941) from Haiti—travelling Europe—for political reasons and activism, immediately following his return to his native land in 1941, Roumain founded Haiti’s Bureau d’Ethnologie, an intellectual and cultural engine which would focus exclusively on the study of the culture, religion, and life of Haitian peasantry. In his various publications, he analyzed issues pertaining to the relationship between Haiti’s oppressive underclass peasants, the working class, and the ruling elite group minority. From a Marxist social theory, Roumain wrote about religion, social development, and the role of the oppressed people in history as agents of their own liberation. He relentlessly addressed the global problem of the capitalist world and its exploitation of those living underside of modernity. Due to his active engagement with the Communist Party and radicalism, in 1943, President Elie Lescot appointed Roumain as Haiti’s ambassador to Mexico, a gesture which could be called a “force exile.” It was during his sojourn in Mexico that Roumain would complete the manuscript for Masters of the Dew (English translation) in early 1944. Apparently, he began writing the novel perhaps in the late 1930s or in the 1940s, Gouverneurs de la rosée (the original French name) was published posthumorously, at Roumain’s unexpected death in Mexico in 1944. Upon its immediate publication, the novel was well received by international scholars and popular readers as a major literary intervention and success in world literature and particularly in Caribbean and Haitian literature. Masters of the Dew has been translated into more than dozen languages.

His Background

The Roumain family resided in Bois-Verna, an upper-class and segregated neighborhood in Port-au Prince. Jacques was the first of his parents’ eleven children including Lilian Nadel, Jehan Roumain, Marcelle Loubeau, Michel Roumain, Nicole Colon, Pierre Roumain, Raymon Roumain, Suzanne Mathon, etc. According to a genealogical source, Auguste Roumain, the father of Jacques Roumain, was probably born in Kingston, Jamaica on May 15, 1874.[3] Shortly, after the American occupation ended in 1934, Auguste died in May 23, 1935, in Port-au-Prince; whereas his mother Émilie Auguste, who was born in Cap-Haitien in June 3, 1885, survived the occupation and Haiti’s brutal Duvalier regimes (François Duvalier: 1957-1971; Jean-Claude Duvalier: 1971-1986), and subsequently died in the Capital city in June 11, 1978. 

At an early age, Roumain’s family had inculcated in him Christian values, the importance of compassion, and the love for the poor and the underprivileged.   As he grows to become more mature, the young Jacques also learned from his parents the importance of public service and the idea that individuals from privileged and prominent economic backgrounds had a responsibility to assist the less fortunate in society. Carolyn Fowler, an African American scholar who wrote the first biography on Jacques Roumain in the English language, writes, “Because the family-owned lands in the countryside, their visits often extended to several weeks. In this way, Jacques Roumain while still a small boy became acquainted with the Haitian countryside and with the Haitian peasants.”[4] Roumain would become an apologist for the Haitian underclass peasants and sternly criticize the Haitian bourgeoisie and political charlatans for exploiting the working class and the country’s peasant population and for misusing their material production and resources for their own profit. He would also expose the dilemma of social class conflict, the problem of color and economic oppression, and the abuse of political power by the bourgeoisie and ruling class minority, which substantially accounted (partly) for Haiti’s underdevelopment and the poor living condition of the majority of the population in the island.

About 1921 or 1922, Jacques Roumain begins his studies at the prestigious Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague, a Roman Catholic primary and secondary school run by French priests and friars. The school was founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction (FIC) (Frères de l ‘instruction Chrétien de Ploërmel)[5] on September 8, 1890 in Rue du Centre in downtown Port-au-Prince. As Fowler has observed, “Most people remember the turbulent side of the boy Jacques—full of life, aggressive, a leader, possessed of a sense of social justice. But there is another, reverse side of Roumain’s character. He was reflective, introspective, melancholy.”[6] At Saint-Louis de Gonzague, Roumain was exposed to traditional Christian faith and worldview, and nurtured in the Catholic theological catechism, social ethics, and social teaching.

Beyond the Christian-based education Roumain received at the Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague, he was concurrently taught to be proud of his French-Western civilization and intellectual heritage.  In an interview with the Haitian indigenist poet Antonio Vieux in 1927, Roumain reflects upon his life in Europe and describes his introduction to various European luminaries and major philosophers, and his intellectual development and itineraries in various European countries including Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, and later on the United States of America. At 16 years old, he relocated to Switzerland to attend the Institut Grunau where he completed his secondary school, and thereafter studied at Ecole Polytechnique in Zurich. He became fluent in the German language and was an avid reader of Henri Heine. In Europe, Roumain played all kinds of sports including boxing, track, etc. In Spain, he began his studies in agriculture but did not complete it; he eventually switched to zootechny.  Roumain’s European experience would have a great impact on his writing and vision of humanity.

In his formative academic years, Roumain was schooled in Western literary canon and educated in Western history of ideas, particularly was exposed to the philosophical writings of the nineteenth century German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrick Nietzsche; English naturalist biologist Charles Darwin; German Romanticist poets Christian Johann “Heinrich Heine” and Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau (“Nikolaus Lenau”). In a letter dated 1922, he reveals his intellectual zeal: “La seule chose que je fasse avec passion est la lecture de Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Darwin et les evers de Heine et de Lenau” (“The only thing that I do with passion is reading: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Darwin and the poems of Heine and Lenau”). Roumain’s intellectual enthusiasm and ambition would be expanded to other intellectual circles, Western thinkers, and a sea of ideas such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin; Marxism, socialism, communism, Hegelian, Nihilism, nationalism, negritude, the Harlem Renaissance, Cubanismo, Haitianity, Caribbeanness, cosmopolitanism; and non-European thinkers and religious texts such as the Qu’ran of Islam and the Vedas of Hinduism and Buddhist philosophy.

Nonetheless, as a brilliant intellectual and critical thinker, Roumain was not successful in harmonizing these often-contradictory schools of thought and movements even in his adolescence—as these ideologies, philosophies, or movements have sprung up in reaction to one another, and were birthed to counter socio-political structures and respond to historical events. From this perspective, we can infer that the intellectual life of Jacques Roumain could be characterized concurrently as a life of intellectual passion and intellectual tension. What underscores Roumain’s entire career and his ultimate zeal as an engaged public intellectual, a global thinker, and an advocate for the cause of the oppressed and the poor of the world, however, is his singular passion: how to “live together in this world,” a phrase that underscores Roumain’s relational anthropology and communitarian ethics. Roumain strove to actualize this communitarian project in his lifetime—until his death on August 18, 1944 in Mexico. 

While Roumain was deeply influenced by cosmopolitan and universal facets of various religious traditions and systems of thought or philosophies—both Western and non-Western, Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic, theistic and non-theistic, secular and sacred—he emphasized the supremacy of scientific reason over religious dogmas. Roumain’s life of faith, nonetheless, is not a life of faithlessness or unfaithfulness; it is certainly not an existence without religious piety in the sense of orthodox virtue or tradition. His religious sensibility is a different form of devotion—a secularist piety informed by a thick metissage of religious postmodernist culture and ideas.  Jacques Roumain would become the reigning secularist thinker of the Haitian secularist tradition in the twentieth-century.

Secularist humanism would serve as the guiding worldview from which Jacques Roumain operated and functioned as a public intellectual, social critic, essayist, novelist, poet, professor, ethnologist, politician, and diplomat. He used his pen efficiently as a weapon to defend certain causes on behalf of the Haitian people and to breathe new life and new life forms into the wretched souls of the oppressed of the world.  Undoubtedly, Roumain is rightly called a “man of letter,” a “man of culture,” and arguably a “daring intellectual,” that is, a man of thought. As a man of culture and thought, Roumain defended certain ideas, thought systems, moral principles, and certain particular (ideological) worldviews—such as Marxism, socialism, communism, and Hegelian dialectics.

Unquestionably, Jacques Roumain was the leading Haitian Marxist public intellectual in the twentieth century who challenged any discourse and idea that created power structures and class dynamics that isolated or divided the Haitian underclass, the poor, and the working class from the ruling class and the bourgeoisie-elite group in the Haitian society. These matters include the economic exploitation and political domination of the working class and peasant population by the grand bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie—both Black and mulattoe Haitian bourgeoisie—and the preservation of the separation between the Haitian dominant class and the underclass population. He challenged oppressive structures and stood firmly against political totalitarianism, repressive laws, the unemployment crisis, the country’s healthcare and poverty dilemma, and any social and political agent or force that defers the possibility of realizing a democratic life in the Caribbean nation.   Roumain’s ultimate goal as a public intellectual and social critic was to push the Haitian society forward towards greater justice and egalitarianism. In the Haitian public sphere, he provided incisive commentaries and voiced his opinions about the social problems and cultural matters affecting the country and its citizens. In his civic engagement and political activism, Roumain helped to re-orient the Haitian society towards a more progressive order and life in which everyone could live free and without oppression. As a radical Marxist and communist, Roumain labored assiduously until his death to foster an oppositional consciousness in the minds of the Haitian poor, the disheartened in society, and the wretched of the world to become social agents of transformation and champions of human dignity and freedom. He struggled along with the people and walked in solidarity with them so that they might become aware of their existential plight, the evil deeds of their oppressors, and ultimately what they should do to liberate themselves from these demonic forces and human domination.

Roumain and the U.S. Occupation

The intellectual life and public activism of Jacques Roumain was terrifically marked by the shock of the American occupation and the mishap of American cultural imperialism, and the undemocratic nature of the Haitian state.   While Jacques Roumain was born on June 4, 1907 and died on August 18, 1944, as previously noted, the four Haitian administrations that marked his public career and intellectual life included dictatorial rulers Eustache Antoine Francois Joseph Louis Borno, commonly known as “Louis Borno,” the interim president Louis Eugène Roy, Sténio Joseph Vincent, and Antoine Louis Léocardie Élite Lescot, better known as “Élite Lescot.”  Borno, who was trained as a lawyer, was elected President of Haiti on May 15, 1922, replacing Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave (1915-1922), who was put in power by the American government.  In Haitian political history, he is better known as the client president of the American Occupation. As Haitian historian Georges Lucien has noted in his impressive two-volume study Une modernization manqué: “Louis Borno se montre dispose a tous les ‘compromis’ dans le cadre de la cooperation, laquelle, selon lui, est la seule politique qui, adapetee a la lettre du traite, se confirme aux interets de la Nation”  (“Louis Borno makes himself available to all ‘compromises’ in the context of cooperation, which, according to him, is the only policy that adopts to the letter of the treaty, is confirmed to the interests of the Nation”). The driven force that had led to his dwindling compromising attitude with the American occupation is grounded in the imperative of modernization in the face of the American empire within, as well as the necessity of urban development.  Laennec Hurbon has remarked that this peculiar modernization would facilitate the introduction of foreign (American) capitalism in agriculture by destroying the characteristic of Haitian peasantry in the twentieth century, and in promoting the economic profits to the center.

Roumain emerged as a public voice and an anti-imperial critic of the American occupation and American imperialism in the first third of the twentieth century. His anti-Occupation rhetoric summoned Haitian elite and the masses to unite under the banner of “collective suffering” to fight the foreign invaders in the Caribbean nation: “Soyons des frères unis, ‘Le peuple et l’elite; sans cela une mise plus cruelle que la mort physique nous attend. Brisons les barriers! (“Let us be brothers united, the people and the elite; without that, a death more cruel than physical death awaits us. Let us break the barriers! In particular, he calls the Haitian youth to be united under the common cause: the liberation of their native land: “Jeunesse, ou etes-vous? Ressaissons-nous! Jeunesse, vous êtes éparpille! Cela ne doit pas être. Groupez-vous! Nous avons donné le branle et nous espérons, après les rudes journées de lutte, entonner l’hymne de la délivrance!”  (“Youth, where are you? Group yourselves! Youth, you are scattered! That should not be. Consolidate yourselves! We have set in motion and we hope that, after the harsh days of struggle, we will sing the hymn of deliverance”).

As the President of the Ligue de la Jeunesse Patriote Haitienne, Roumain had exercised a vast influence on the Haitian youth of his generation. The Haitian Youth was committed to his leadership, inspired by his patriotic zeal, and influenced by his sharp cultural criticism and activism of the social and political order of his day. They followed him unreservedly. Jacques Roumain was a cultural critic and a cultural critic of everything in the present. He read across disciplines and his commitment to cultivating the life of the mind was contagious and ambitious.

Borno had stood against popular opposition, punished his political enemies, and incarcerated those who had challenged his administrative rule or authority.  His presidency, having been chosen by the Occupation, provoked a storm of protest among the general masses and the working-class individuals. His reelection in 1926 had generated popular protest among the Haitian people. Roumain was only eight years old when the United States invaded Haiti in 1915, and fifteen years old was Borno was elected President of Haiti. He left the country for Switzerland in 1921 to continue his education. Roumain would return to his native land in 1927, in the middle of the Borno administration; upon his arrival, in the same year, he cofounded the literary magazine, Revue Indigene. He was twenty years old.

While still living in Europe, the eighteen-year-old Haitian fervent nationalist Jacques Roumain had already sent an introductory letter to the director of the magazine Courier Haitien, Joseph Jolibois, dated July 15, 1925. In the letter, he made the following remarks, revealing his early commitment to national sovereignty and patriotic zeal:

            Mr. Director:

You will excuse my audacity in writing you, for I am completely unknown to you personally. You will excuse me surely when I tell you that I pride myself on being Haitian…forced, because of my studies in engineering, to prolong my exile in Europe for some time still, inaction is each day more and more unbearable. I am eager to return to Haiti, to aid in raising the courage of the masses and in easing the people’s burden.

I will perhaps seem extremely presumptuous to you if I tell you that I am only eighteen; but patriotism, just as valor, does not wait upon the accumulation of years, and you would overwhelm me if you consented to me the honor of considering among the number of your most faithful allies.

In an interview with Antonio Vieux, Roumain recounts to the crossexaminer that while living aboard, “Je gardais neanmoins des acces de tristesse profonde. Le mal du pays. D’autres choses aussi que je ne peux défier[7] (“I kept nevertheless profound sadness of access. Homesick. Other things also that I can definer.”). In the 1920s, Roumain’s intellectual resistance and rhetoric of protest, which is undoubtedly anti-Borno administration, anti-American economic imperialism, anti-American occupation, and anti-clerical domination was disseminated through the medium of protest literature and emancipative journalism; these include Revue Indigene, which I already mentioned; the reactionary journals La Trouillee founded in 1927 by Roumain and Richard Salnave, who served as its directors; and Le Petit Impartial, which Roumain founded in 1928 and dubbed it the “Organ of the Masses.”

Upon his return to Haiti in 1927 from Europe, Roumain became the most expressive Haitian public intellectual to rhetorically counter American imperialism and to resist the Occupation; he was instrumental in awakening both national and racial consciousness among the Haitian intelligentsia and the Haitian masses.Roumain opposed the American occupation in various forms and expressions: through radical journalism, public protest, interviews, public opinions pieces, fiction and non-fiction writings, etc. He mobilized the Haitian youths to counter American imperialism and racism in Haiti, and to oppose the internal forces that were supporting the occupation. He worked tiredly to unify Haitian of various social and economic classes to free Haiti from the United States and American capitalism, and for the country to regain its national sovereignty and independence.

Jacques Roumain used radical journalism as a venue to promote the work of democracy and to champion progressive public intellectualism and constructive social commentaries in the country’s public sphere. Popular journalism was a means for Roumain to think critically with the Haitian people as they were under the assault of American military occupation and Haiti’s despotic government.  Le Petit Impartial functioned primarily as the collective expression of a student organization known as Ligue de la Jeunesse Patriote Haitienne, which Roumain also established.  (Roumain served as the president of the Ligue, which was a “student organization embracing undergraduates of the schools of law, medicine, arts, and letters, the normal school for teachers, and the new agricultural school [Damien], all of which, as well as the bar association.”). With the young radical Placide David, Roumain joined the editing board of the daily newspaper La Presse, whose goal was to challenge the current administration and the American imperial forces in public.  The young Roumain, however, had already joined the French Communist Party before his return to Haiti.

For example, in an important article Roumain appeals to the concept of patriotism, collective suffering and solidary, and the example of the Indian liberator Gandhi to organize the Haitian people to fight the American occupation. He is interested in Gandhi’s politics of national peace and anti-violent activism. In the article, he focuses on the value of collective redemptive suffering, which he believes would bring the ultimate victory of the Haitian people over their American enemy: “Il faut que le peuple souffre afin de devenir pur et meriter la Liberte” (“It is necessary that the people should suffer in order to be clean and earn their liberation.”). Roumain appeals to the historic sufferings and struggles of Gandhi to heighten his thesis. At the end of his final article in the series, the Haitian activist compels  the brave Haitian men and women who were resisting the U.S. Occupation and American cultural imperialism to endure to the end, as Gandhi had endured British imperialism: “Dans sa sombre prison, je le vois, Le Mahatma, la grande Ame, qui a fait siennes toutes les souffrances, toutes les miseres de sa patrie”  (“In his somber prison, I see the Mahatma, the great-souled one, who has taken all sufferings, all the miseries of his country.”). Consequently, the stress is on collective and sacrificial suffering. There is a sense to infer that Roumain interprets his struggle against the American occupation and imperialism in the manner of Gandhi. He also contrues his own suffering for the freedom of the Haitian people and the sovereignty of the Haitian nation in the way Ghandi has suffered for the Indian people and for India’s independence and decolonization.

In another article published on February 25, 1928, Roumain reiterates to the Haitian people that through a period of long-suffering, their ancestors fought valiantly three major wars against three European military forces: the French, British, and Spanish armies to ensure their independence and their freedom. He assures them that Haiti will not die under (“Cette terre ne saurait mourit”) the brutal American occupation, and that their collective sufferings, struggles, and our poured blood (“sang verse”) are not without meaning but would ultimately bring a better life for all of us (“Nos souffrances, nos luttes, notre sang verse pour vous assurer une vie meilleure seront-ils inutiles?”). Roumain, as a nationalist intellectual maintains that the true Haitian patriot is the one who struggles with the Haitian people and maintain solidarity through suffering until together, they will obtain radical freedom as a collective aim. He summons the Haitian people to resist their American invaders and to suffer together for national liberation and sovereignty: “Qu’est-ce que je propose? Le combat. Souffrir…Mais au bout de cette souffrance, étreindre la victoire” (“What do I propose? Fight.  Suffer…But, at the end of this suffering, we will have victory.”)

The optimistic Roumain holds that a nation that is divided in thought, action, and religion is too fragile to contest its enemy. He also reminds the Haitian youths of the Occupation era, like their beloved Haiti, they are a generation born in suffering, growing up in [foreign/American] humiliation, and continuing to fight vigorously the American forces and the institutionalized religion/Christianity that empowers the foreign enslavement of the Haitian people (“Et la jeunesse, nee dans la souffrance, grandie dans l’humilation et qui lutte avec ardeur…”). Elsewhere, in an article entitled “Le Martyrologie haitien” (“Haitian martyrdom”), Roumain accentuates the positive aspects of collective suffering, and equally articulates a vision of national suffering whose purpose is the transformation and redemption of the Haitian people struggling under the demons of social and political oppression, the ills of the American occupation and imperialism, and the woes of global capitalism.  Roumain’s idea of redemptive suffering is contextual; for him, first, “true redemptive suffering takes place only in the social and political arenas where justice is at stake.”   Second, “Redemptive suffering is the suffering that comes as a consequence of struggling for justice within an unjust system. In seeking to defeat an unjust system, suffering can be a most creative and powerful social force.”  

The Writings and Ideas of Roumain

The writings of Jacques Roumain were a turning point in Haitian history of emancipation and anti-imperialism in the twentieth century. Roumain lived a life characterized by public solidarity with the Haitian people; his whole career could be interprepted as a lived- experience of public intellectualism and public advocacy on behalf of the common people, and intellectual and cultural resistance with the people against both internal and external forces that attempted to demonize and reduce them to non-beings. In the line of thought, Jacques Roumain charges the Haitian public intellectual with the duty of constructing a liberative discourse and making the social question inextricably a national concern.

Jacques Roumain believes that political engagement would serve best his vocation as a writer and activist. As a politically conscious-intellectual, he engages in consistent reflection and thought analysis of the human condition in Haiti and other international frontiers. He was deeply committed to radical social change and anti-white supremacist and Western oppression in the same tradition of Black Atlantic Communists and Marxists like W.E.B. Dubois, Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Leon Damas, Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, George Padmore, C.L.R. James, Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, Anthony Lepes, Etienne Charlier, Christian Beaulieu, Rene Depestre, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Nicolas Guillen, and Langston Hughes. Roumain performed from the perspective of a global thinker who transgressed ethnic blackness, cultural purity, racial chauvinism, and national and geographical borders.

As a transnational intellectual, Roumain engaged in multiple borders, zones, and battles, and believed that his thought and practice had transnational and cross-cultural impact on different nation-states and peoples.  His intellectual trajectories also contravene disciplinary frame, democratic provincialism, and folk epistemology.  He weighed rigorously the Haitian society and culture, its institutional practices and systems from a polyphonic perspective, with the premise that culture and politics, thought and action, politics and power, power and the arts were closely connected. Roumain’s intellectual visibility and activity encompassed both national and transnational public sphere. On one hand, the work of Jacques Roumain is culturally sensitive and uplifting; on the other hand, Roumain inspired the vision of a universal culture…while maintaining a politically responsible position, he used the lived-worlds and lived-experiences of the oppressed of his own people and the transnationally outcast of the world to speak to the modern situation and the fragility of the human condition in modernity.

Finally, the writings of Jacques Roumain constitute two main aspects: a politico-literary and scientific aspect, with a liberative intent.[8]  Fundamentally, Roumain was a man of literature; in short, he was an interdisciplinary thinker and writer. As a literary man, he wrote novels, poetry, short stories (novellas), essays, etc. contributing to a new Haitian literary aesthetics and highlighting the folk culture, Haiti’s Africanisms (i.e., Afro-Haitian heritage, beliefs, traditions, practices, customs, etc.), as well as the universal themes of the human experience in the modern world.  Comparatively, Roumain was also a man of science, having published two extensive scientific studies on the Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou: Le sacrifice tambour Assotor (1943) and a rigorous scholarly essay on precolombian culture in the Greater Caribbean islands: “Contributions a l ’etude de l’ethnobotanique precolombienne des Grandes Antilles” (1942). Roumain has written two novels:  La montagne ensorcelée (1931) which is originally prefaced by Jean Price-Mars, and translated in English as The Bewitched Mountain (2007) by Frantz A. Leconte and Alfonso J. Garcia Osuna; and the posthumous Gouverneurs de la rosée (1944) translated in English as Masters of the Dew (1947) by Langston Hughes and Mercer Cook; two collection of short stories (novellas): La Proie et l’ombre (1930) constitutes four short stories and originally prefaced by Antonio Vieux, and translated in English as The Prey and Shadow (1995) by Ronald Sauer; and les fantoches (1931) which constitutes six short stories and translated in English as The Puppets.[9]

As a poet, Roumain has published a number of important poems throughout his life, ranging from 1927 to 1944.[10] Four earliest poems appeared in the September 1927 issue in the journal La Revue indigene (The Native Review). In Jacques Roumain: Oeuvres Completes, editor and literary critic Leon-Francois Hoffmann collected Roumain’s “poèmes publiés” (published poems), and “poèmes inédits” (unpublished poems), and “Poemes de prison” (prison poems), which had appeared in La Trouee, La Revue indigene, La Presse, and Haitian-Journal. He arranged them in the chronological order of publication. Roumain’s most provocative and radically protest poems, nonetheless, have appeared in the highly-praised collection called Bois-d’Ebene (Ebony Wood). Ebony Wood is a collection of five poems: “Bois d’Ebene,” “L’amour la mort,” “Sales Negres” (“Filthy Negroes”), “Nouveau Sermon Negre” (“New Negro Sermon”), and “Madrid.”[11] Roumain wrote these poems sometimes in 1938 while he was in exile in Brussels.

Shortly after his death, Roumain’s works were widely circulated in various international literary communities in the Francophone black Africa, the United States of America, France, Cuba, Mexico, Germany, and translated in various languages including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, etc.; they were also transmitted in various public spheres and forms of publications including anthologies, magazines, journals, and newspapers. Published in 1934, The Poets of Haiti, 1782-1934 edited by Edna Worthley Underwood was the first landmark anthology to publish in English several selected poets by Jacques Roumain and other writers of the Haitian Indigenism movement.

 The poet laureate of the “New Negro” movement (The Harlem Renaissance) Langston Hughes was the first major American writer to translate in English Roumain’s most striking protest poems “When the “Tom-Tom Beats,” “Langston Hughes,” and “Guinea.” These poems first appeared in the historic and cross-cultural 1949 Black anthology entitled The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949 edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps.[12] In addition, the poems of Jacques Roumain also appeared in internationally well-known anthologies in other languages such that of  Leopold Sedar Senghor’s milestone 1948 Negritude anthology, Anthologie de la nouvelle poesie negre et malgache de langue francaise, in which Senghor elected four of Roumain’s (Negritude and race-theme) poems: “Madrid,” “Bois-d’Ebene,” “L ’amour, la mort,” and “Nouveau sermon negre.”[13]  Lilyan Kestellot, the celebrated author of the most comprehensive historical study of the literature of the Negritude movement in French (Les ecrivains noirs de langue francaise: Naissance d’une literature) published in 1963, featured prominently the works of Roumain in her groundbreaking 1967 cross-cultural black anthology entitled Anthologie Negro-Africaine: Histoire et Textes de 1918 a nos Jours. She reproduces Roumain’s long poem “Bois d’Ebene” and excerpts from Masters of the Dew[14]in the book’s subheading called “L’Ecole haitienne, 1928-1932.”

Other renowned Haitian writers appeared in the 500 page-anthology alongside the writers and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance of the United States, the Negritude of Paris, and post-independent African literatures include Carl Brouard, Roger Dorsinville, Marie-T. Colimon, Jean-François Brière, René Depestre, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Jean-Claude Bajeux, etc.[15] Immediately, a year after the publication of Kesteloot’s literary masterpiece, translator and literary critic Ellen Conroy Kennedy, who rendered Kesteloot’s Les ecrivains noirs de langue francaise in English as Black Writers in French: A Literary History of Negritude in 1974, also provided considerable literary space to the poetic works of Jacques Roumain in her well-received 1975 anthology entitled The Negritude Poets: An Anthology of Translations from the French. Kennedy, who has included four English poems (“Guinea,” “When the Tom-Tom Beats,”  “Dirty Niggers,” “Ebony Wood” (excerpt), and “New Negro Sermon”) by Roumain, introduces the Haitian poet to her Anglophone audience as one who “soon became the ‘uncontested leader of general of Haitian intellectuals…Despite the vicissitudes of his career and his frequent absences from Haiti, Roumain retained a leadership role until his untimely death in 1944.”[16] Roumain the poet-intellectual and writer-activist would radically politicize the purpose of poetry and its relevance in society to harvest collective consciousness. For him, poetry should be used coincidedly with other forms of revolutionary writings to produce social transformation.

Roumain’s fictional narratives in the 1930s animated the Haitian indigenist movement throughout the twentieth century, given their emphasis on what Roumain has termed “recit paysan,” which canonically inaugurated the peasant novel as a new literary genre in Haitian literary tradition—as chronicled in La montagne ensorcelle (1931) and ultimately in his chef d’oeuvre Gouverneurs de rosée (1944). In his first novel, Roumain “reveals a penetrating insight into the tragic reality of rural Haiti. This particular work goes beyond romanticizing the folk to present a chilling vision of how superstition and fear can produce tragedy.”[17]  The peasants in this village live in a community in serious crisis; profound seclusion, extreme solitude, and stricken-poverty are characteristic of their daily existence:

A village presides over solitude. Its huts, clinging to the mountain, bring their stubble heads close together to watch life unfold below them. The village is poor. The chalky soil that surrounds it fractures like bark, opening its parched lips: the village is thirsty. The drought has lasted for many days, drying out the small millet harvest. The livestock, having lost much weight, has begun to whine in long, painful moos.[18]

Notice how Roumain portraits the everyday experience and the plight of the peasants in very vivid nature language:

Every birth brings sadness: the night gives way to the day and abandons it with its tired melancholy and its rugged, dirty mist in the depths of the valley. The Sun, when it rises behind the mountains, casts beams of false joy with its excessive glimmer and its red, constrained smile. For the peasant, the day that begins only verifies that the long, painful hours of fierce struggle with the unyielding soil in the torrid heat are about to begin.[19]

In a comparative manner, the deadly drought has disturbed the peace and fellowship of the peasant-farmers in Masters of the Dew; deep existential wound and unconceivable anguish are intrinsic to this peasant community in The Bewitched Mountain.  Giving the unbearable suffering waging the Haitian rural population in the aforementioned novels, a character in the latter narrative comes to the natural conclusion, ironically expressed in this manner: “So, then, one has to laugh, laugh because life is nothing but a meaningless joke.”[20]  Roumain’s underlying goal is to alert his readers and Haitians in general about an epidemic crisis—that has both rural and national dimension. This waging crisis pertains to the country’s underdevelopment conundrum.  He wants to stimulate the Haitian people to come together to alter the human condition in their homeland and to work collaboratively in the project of nation-building and cultural renewal.

The telos of Haitianism or the Indigenist school was radical self-reflection and the valorization of the Afro-Haitian cultural traditions and practices, the Haitian landscape, and the Haitian peasant experience as cultural models instead of France or Europe.  In a nutshell, Roumain and other writers of the Movement illustrate both the joy and disappointments of Haiti’s rural population, as well as emphasize “the historical African roots of Haitian culture by depicting the peasants, their misery, their suffering, their traditions and above all the grave injustices that they have suffered.”[21] The Marcelin brothers (Philippe Thoby-Marcelin and Pierre Marcelin) epitomize the Haitian anthropological reality and accentuate the high level of peasant culture, and the lived-worlds and lived-experiences of the secluded Haitian peasant population in the production of a number of Haitian classic peasant novels: Canapé-Vert (1943), La Bete de Musseau (1943) translated in English as The Beast of the Haitian Hills in 1946, Tous les hommes sont fous (1950) translated in English as All Men Are Mad in 1970, and Le Crayon de Dieu translated in English as The Pencil of God in 1951. In the same direction, other peasant stories include Jean-Baptiste Cineaste’s significant rural novels Le Drame de la Terre (1933), La Vengeance de la Terre (1940), and L’Héritage Sacré (1945); Milo Rigaud’s  Jesus ou Legba (1933); Jacques Stephen Alexis’s Compère Général Soleil (1955), Les Arbres Musiciens (1957), and L’Espace d’un Cillement (1959) all explore creatively the Haitian myth, the psychology of the Haitian peasant, and the Haitian landscape and peasant life in all their aspects and dimensions.  Largely, the peasant novel is a literary genre of social protest which seeks to awaken the consciousness of Haiti’s peasant population and the Haitian intelligentsia of the richness of the Haitian landscape and about the plight of the underclass peasants.

Masters of the Dew

Roumain’s 1944 peasant novel Gouverneurs de la roséé is not only a testament of stunning literary skill but also a masterwork of profound theological and philosophical reflections that articulate a robust humanistic and theo-political response to the problem of evil, suffering, pain, and poverty in the world. In the novel, Roumain explores the intersections of suffering, hope, and redemption. Masters of the Dew is a tapestry of stories woven around central literary themes of suffering, tragedy, sacrifice, hope and redemption. The land of Fonds Rouge in which most of the unfolding events in the narrative took place is desolate and stricken by drought and poverty, which in turn impacted the social existence of the peasants and their interactions. The consequences of the catastrophic drought increased the level of poverty, starvation, animosity, and disunity in the community between the frustrated peasants. The drought also caused many peasants to migrate to foreign lands like the neighboring countries Dominican Republic and Cuba. The drama of redemption begins with violent suffering and ends with redemptive hope and liberative possibilities in the future.

The problem of evil or pain is communicated through the metaphor of drought. Evil reaches its arrogant height in the everyday experience of the distressed villagers. Manuel Jean-Joseph is presented as the agent of communal peace, restoration, and reconciliation. He articulated and exemplified a life of unity, servant leadership, self-giving, and harmony to the villagers who have been separated for decades because of internal strife and land issue. More importantly, Manuel was decisive to finding a solution to the drought problem by mobilizing the peasants to cooperative communal labor and through the collective effort to bring down the water down from the mountains through the canals and to the entire village. As a community organizer, Manuel worked diligently for the social development, communal rebirth, and for the common good of every individual at Fonds Rouge. The life of the people at Fonds Rouge community is menaced, characterized, and aggravated by three great social evils: drought, poverty, and suffering. Social death and alienation are also characteristic of their condition.

On his return to Fonds Rouge from Cuba, Manuel lamented over the terrible drought that had plagued the community for decades, resulting in the worst of calamities the villagers had experienced in their lifetime. He stated, “When I left, there wasn’t any drought. Water ran in the ravine, not much, to tell the truth, but always enough to do, and sometimes even enough for a little overflow, if it ruined in the hills.”  Manuel looked around in the village and further observes, “Seems like it’s been cursed now.”   The return of Manuel marked a drastic shift in the narrative towards a life of freedom and redemption. His intervention is liberative and clearly signals the intrusion of the Christ-persona in the human experience at Fonds Rouge. Manuel is God with us in the despairing village named Fonds Rouge. God through Manuel invaded the people’s space and became a participant of their afflicted experience and the oppressive social conditions at Fonds Rouge in order to bring hope and liberation.

Manuel quickly finds out that a feud had split two families: his own family and that of his fiancée, Annaise, and in effect alienated the entire community in Fonds Rouge. He would soon find out that the solution to this crisis will not be easy. Collective salvation and communal restoration would involve the shed blood of a man, resulting in peace and reconciliation in the community. In fact, in several instances in the plot, the narrator deploys energetic rhetoric to describe the perpetuating decades of enmity and hostility between the peasants and between different family members in the village.

The thrust of Masters of the Dew is undeniably the underlying ideology that “hope returns with the return of Manuel,” and the representation of Manuel as the embodiment of hope, life, reconciliation, and redemption. Manuel foregrounds the rhetoric of optimism and looks forward to a redemptive future for the villagers. The novel underscores sustaining hope and redemption—in the midst of human tragedy and collective suffering—as the climax of the story, which Manuel Jean-Joseph emblematically achieved through his vicarious sufferings and death for the future good of Fonds Rouge. The novel interprets suffering as a terrific human dilemma that has conditioned the emancipative action of a foreseeable messiah-hero and redeemer. From a theological point of view, the narrative reinforces the substitutionary significance of Manuel’s death. The author presents Manuel’s life and death as a penalty and as a response to combat the tyranny of evil and suffering in their world. To put it another way, the passing of Manuel, like the death of Jesus as interpreted in Christian theology of salvation history, intends to set humanity free from the chaotic social order, oppressive rule, and ultimately form the problem of evil. 

Masters of the Dew articulates Roumain’s program of social development for Haiti based his ideas of communal love, human solidarity, selflessness, tolerance, reconciliation, and collective sacrifice for the common good. Jacques Roumain depicts Manuel’s death as the “wondrous exchange,” to appropriate a theoretical concept from the French reformer and theologian Jean Calvin. Manuel’s expiation is expressive in what Kevin Vanhoozer terms “the greatest act of reconciliation”—underscoring the saving significance of Jesus’ death on the cross—toward the real and permanent well-being of Fonds Rouge peasants.  It is Manuel’s death that will be the seal that binds the villagers in their new collaboratively endeavors, and the water as a symbol of new life in the community that responds to communal need and wholeness.  Masters of the Dew teaches us that without suffering, there will be no compassion, and without sacrificial death and selfless death, there will be no redemption and collective flourishing.

Brief Chronology of Roumain’s Life

Year 1907

  • Jacques Roumain was born on June 4, 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
  • 4 June :  First of the 12 children of Auguste Roumain—a famous land owner—and Émilie Auguste, the daughter of the Haitian President dont le père, Tancrède Auguste (1912-1913).
  • Roumain Belongs to Haiti’s most prestigious Aristocratic family.

The Family lives in the neighborhood, Bois-Verna, the capital of Haitian Aristocrats. 

« Je suis fier, en tant qu’individu et que citoyen d’Haïti, de ce qu’un de mes ancêtres, le général André Rigaud, combattit à Savannah en 1799 [sic pour 1779] pour l’indépendance de l’Amérique du Nord. Il fut l’un des huit cents hommes de couleur libres qui s’embarquèrent en Haïti sous les ordres du comte d’Estaing ». (J. Roumain, Discours au YMCA, 15 novembre 1939)

Year 1915

  • U.S. Marines invaded Haiti and occupied the country for the next 19 years (1915-1934)

Marines boarding the U.S.S. Connecticut at League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia, July 31, 1915 when 500 marines sailed for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to aid Admiral Caperton’s men in disarming the “unruly natives.”  

Year 1921 or 1922

  • Roumain begins his studies at the prestigious Collège Saint-Louis de Gonzague, a Catholic school:

« Il fut un enfant terrible à Saint-Louis de Gonzague : volontaire, aimant discuter avec le professeur, batailleur, brave jusqu’à la témérité ». (L. Garoute, Instantanés, 1942, p.33)

  • Roumain leaves Haiti for Switzerland to attend Boarding School.
  • At the institute of Grünau, Berne, then Zurich Polytechnic (where he became a university champion in the boxing competition and ran 100 meters en 11 seconds), Jacques Roumain began his studies.

 « La seule chose que je fasse avec passion est la lecture de Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Darwin et les vers de Heine et de Lenau ». (J. Roumain, Lettre de pension citée par Fowler, A Knot in the Thread, 1980, p.3)

Year 1927

  • December: Roumain returns to Haiti. He was twenty years old.
  • He founded the magazine, Petit Impartial.
  • He attacks the Haitian government Louis Borno and accused him for collaborating with the Occupants.
  • July 1 : First issue of Revue indigène published
  • Roumain also published an article in La Trouée.
  • Between July 27- September 1929, Roumain published twenty-two poems in various periodicals such as La Presse.

 « Ce qui caractérise les poèmes de jeunesse, […] c’est, pour la forme, un certain modernisme et une maîtrise déjà remarquable du vers libre, et pour le fond, l’individualisme et le pessimisme… » (P. Laraque, « La rosée de l’espoir », Rencontre, Port-au-Prince, n° 4, 1er trim. 1993, p.21)

 « Y eut-il jamais dans ce pays, excepté à la belle époque de l’Épopée révolutionnaire, un plus grand épanouissement de crânerie tel qu’en montrent un Jolibois fils, un Élie Guérin, un Jacques Roumain, un Georges J. Petit ?» (J. Price-Mars, Une étape…, 1929, p.87)

Year 1929

  • April 29: Jacques Roumain andGeorges Petit were condemned and jailed for a year.
  • Bail money : 5.000 gourdes chacun.

The 1930s

  • At the end of August, Roumain published La Proie et l’ombre (The Prey and the Shadow)
  • September 24: Jacques Roumain resigned as Ministère de l’intérieur to help with the presidential campaign of Sténio Vincent. Vincent was successful elected as President of Haiti in November 8. He was the last President of the Occupation.
  • Roumain’s son Daniel is born.

Year 1932

  • Beginning of the Year : Roumain travelled to New York and Washington with Christian Beaulieu, to study Zoology—in particular « la traction animale » (according to R. Gaillard), and to be connected American communist Party (according to his biography, Carolyn Fowler, A Knot in the Thread : The Life and Works of Jacques Roumain).
  • July 17 : Roumain writes from Dewey Square Hotel in New York To Alain Locke (Professor at Howard University) to thank him for his warm welcome to Washington.
  • December 24 : Roumain returns to Haiti and is called for his subversive activities by the Government.
  • End of December : Afraid of getting arrested for his communist activities in the country, Roumain goes to hide.

Roumain’s Letter to Rémy Tristan (1932)

Je suis communiste. Non militant pour l’instant, parce que les cadres d’une lutte politique n’existent pas encore en Haïti. Je m’applique à préparer…

Fils de grands propriétaires terriens, j’ai renié mes origines bourgeoisies. J’ai beaucoup vécu avec les paysans. Je connais leur vie, leur mentalité, leur réligion – ce mélange étonnant de catholicisme et de vaudou.

            Je ne considère pas le prolétariat paysan comme une valeur sentimentale. Le paysan haïtien est notre seul producteur et il ne produit que pour être exploité, de la manière la plus effroyable, par une minorité…politicienne qui s’intitule l’Elite. Toutes mes publications ont combattu cette prétendue élite.

Je travaille au renouvellement de notre littérature par l’étude de notre très riche folklore…J’estime que notre littérature doit être nègre et largement prolétarienne.

            Je travaille également au rapprochement des écrivains nègres de tous les pays.

[I am a Communist. Not a militant one for the moment, because the cadres of a political struggle do not yet exist in Haiti. I am applying myself to this end…

            The son of owners of great land holdings, I have disavowed my bourgeois origins. I have lived a lot among the peasants. I know their life, mentality, religion—that surprising fusion of Catholicism and Vodou.

            I do not regard the peasant proletariat as a sentimental value. The Haitian peasant is our only producer, and he only produces only to be exploited, in the most gruesome manner, by a minority.… politicians known as the Elite. All of my publications have fought against this so-called elite.

            I am working for the renewal of our literature through the study of our rich folklore … I believe that our literature must be Negro and largely proletarian.
I am working equally for the bringing together of Negro writers of all countries.]

Year 1933

« Je suis communiste. Aucune puissance au monde ne peut m’enlever ce droit… » (J. Roumain, Lettre [à Léon Laleau], 5 janvier 1933)

“I am a communist.” No power in the world can take away this right from me …” (J. Roumain, Letter [to Léon Laleau], January 5, 1933)

Year 1934

  • June : Roumain published l’Analyse schématique 1932-1934, A Marxist study of the problem of class in Haiti and the U.S.
  • In collaboration with Christian Beaulieu and Étienne Charlier, Roumain founded the Parti Communiste Haïtien.
  • Roumain served as the secretary general of the Party.
  • « Le Parti communiste haïtien appliquant son mot d’ordre : « La couleur n’est rien, la classe est tout », appelle les masses à la lutte sous sa bannière ». (J. Roumain, Analyse schématique 1932-1934, p.VI
  • Beginning August : Jacques Roumain is arrested.
  • October 15-17 : Roumain on Trial. 
  • October 23 : Was condemened to 3 years in prison.
  • December 1934-June 1936 : Roumain in prison, begins an unfinished novel in the prison, Le Champ du potier.

Year 1935: Langston Hughes Writes a Letter to Free Roumain

« As a fellow writer of color, I call upon all writers and artists of whatever race who believe in the freedom of words and of the human spirit, to immediately protest to the President of Haiti and to the nearest Haitian Consulate the uncalled for and unmerited sentence to prison of Jacques Roumain, one of the few, and by far the most talented of the literary men of Haiti ».

(L. Hughes, « Free Jacques Roumain », Dynamo, New York, mai-juin 1935, p.1)

Year 1936

  • June 8 : Jacques Roumain is free, but was in close surveillance by the Haitian Police force
  • Endured terrible health
  • August 15 : Roumain leaves Haiti for Brussell, where he rejoins his brother Michel. He is accompanied with his wife Nicole and son Daniel.

« À ma libération, j’ai été placé sous la plus stricte surveillance de la police. Cette vigilance […] signifie être réduit à l’impuissance. […] C’est ainsi que je me suis vu forcé de prendre, avec l’assentiment du C.C. la décision de m’exiler momentanément d’Haïti ». (J. Roumain, Lettre au Committee to Free Jacques Roumain, 16 août 1936)

Year 1937

  • Roumain Moves to Paris with Family
  • April 4 : Her daughter Carine Born in Brussel
  • July 16 and 17 : Roumain, and his friends and poets (Cuban) Nicolas Guillén and (American) Langston Hughes attend the Congrès des écrivains pour la défense de la culture in Paris. Roumain is the keynote speaker.
  • September : Roumain’s Family leaves Belgium for Paris
  • January 20 : Roumain writes a letter to his wife :

« Je regrette Bruxelles, cette ville qui ne m’est rien et qui pourtant m’est devenue chère, puisque nous y vivons, que nous essayons d’y être heureux ». 

Year 1940

  • November 13 : Roumain participates in à Symposium in Harlem at the Newspaper Guild Club of New York. The theme is « The Frustrated Harlem Renaissance »
  • His speech, « Is Poetry Dead ? » would be published in New Masses in January 1941.
  • With the advise of his doctor, Roumain leaves New York for Havana, Cuba.

« Je croyais que je n’aimais pas beaucoup cette ville [New York] mais je me trompais. Il y a des rues, des endroits que je n’oublierai pas ». (Lettre à Nicole, 20 décembre 1940)

  • His friend and Cuban poet Nicolas Guillén welcomes Roumain to Cuba.

 « Les amis de Cuba, ainsi que bon nombre d’écrivains, d’artistes m’ont fait un accueil des plus cordial [sic] ». (Lettre à Nicole, 22 janvier 1941).

Year 1941

May :  Élie Lescot is named President of Haiti.

  1. Roumain wants to return to Haiti.
  2. May 18 : He lands in Port-au-Prince after almost six years in exile.

« Quand je retournerai en Haïti, je serai entouré de visages étrangers. Une génération naît et une autre a grandi depuis mon dernier emprisonnement et ces jours d’exil ». (Lettre à Nicole, 21 mars 1941)

July 17: Roumain meets French anthropologist Alfred Métraux.

« Dans ma vie d’homme de science, je n’ai connu que très peu de collègues capables d’apporter à leurs recherches une passion aussi jeune et aussi forte ». (A. Métraux, « Jacques Roumain, archéologue et ethnographe », Cahier d’Haïti 4 novembre 1944, p.25)

  • October 31 octobre : Roumain founded Le Bureau d’Ethnologie de la République d’Haïti.
  • As a Professor, Roumain would offer courses in Precolumbian Archeology and Prehistoric Anthropology at l’Institut d’Ethnologie—which was founded by Jean Price-Mars.

« Quand je revins en Haïti, en 1944, le Bureau d’Ethnologie, fondé par Jacques Roumain, avait sauvé des flammes d’importantes collections, et entrepris diverses enquêtes sur des aspects peu connus du vaudou ». (A. Métraux, Itinéraires I, 1978, p.124)

Year 1942

Roumain and the Vodou Religion

  • March: Roumain opposes the anti-Vodou campaign (la «Campagne anti-superstitieuse») supported by the Haitian Catholic Church and the Haitian President Elie Lescot.
  • Roumain publishes a series of scholarly articles titled «Sur les superstitions» in response to Father Foisset’s opposition to the Vodou religion.
  • Later was published as “Réplique au Révérend Père Foisset. »
  • June : He publishes « Réplique finale au R. p. Foisset. »
  • September 24 :  Le Nouvelliste announces the appointment of Jacques Roumain a Haitian Ambassador (Chargé d’affaires d’Haïti) in Mexico.

« J’ai accepté ce poste comme un grand sacrifice, un service à rendre à la cause de mon pays ». (Lettre à Nicole, 29 mars 1943)

October 28 :  In collaboration with Nicola Guillen, La Société haïtiano-cubaine de relations culturelles is founded.

Year 1943

  • August 2-3: Le Matin announces the return of the mother of Roumain’s wife, Michel, with his son Daniel from Mexico.
  • They report that Roumain was very ill (tombé gravement malade)

 « Jacques Roumain est maintenant en pleine convalescence. Mme Jacques Roumain est restée auprès de son mari. Ils rentreront bientôt en Haïti, où Jacques Roumain achèvera de rétablir complètement sa santé »

August 6 : Jacques Roumain and Nicole return to Port-au-Prince

« […] il y passera environ un mois, pour se remettre de sa grave maladie ». (Le Matin)

  • Septembre 23 : The same newspaper announces that Roumain will preside over a conference and represent Hait at the Congrès démographique international, which will take place in Mexico in October 11.
  •  Octobre 2 :  Accompanied by his wife Nicole, Roumain boards the plane to Panama in order to regain or resume his diplomatic post in Mexico.

Year 1944: The Year of Gouverneurs de la rosée (Masters of the Dew)

  • July 7 : Roumain finishes in Mexico Gouverneurs de la rosée.
  • July 24 :  Roumain writes to Guillen to inform him that he is coming to Havana in August 3.
  • August 6 : Jacques Roumain and his wife go to Haiti for a brief visit. 
  • August 18 : Roumain dies at 10 :00 AM in Mexico.

« […] son médecin m’a affirmé que Roumain est mort d’une cirrhose du foie… » (G. Gouraige, La Technique de Jacques Roumain…, 1971, p.218)

  • December : The posthumous Gouverneurs de la rosée is published.

Year 1945

  • Posthumous publication of Bois d’ébène, a collection of poems.

Year 1946: Gouverneurs de la Rosee Translated in English

  • The African American poet and novelist Langston Hughes and Translator Mercer Cook translate Gouverneurs de la Rosée as Masters of the Dew in English.

Selected Bibliography by Jacques Roumain

Oeuvres complètes. (Édition établie par Léon-François Hoffmann). Madrid : ALLCA XX (Collection Archivos), 2003.

  • Les fantoches. Port-au-Prince : Imprimerie de l’État, 1931 ; Port-au-Prince : Fardin, 1977.
  • La montagne ensorcelée. Préface de Jean Price-Mars. Imprimerie E. Chassaing, 1931 ; Paris : Éditeurs français réunis, 1972 ; Port-au-Prince : Fardin, 1976 ; Montréal : Mémoire d’encrier, 2005.
  • Gouverneurs de la rosée. Port-au-Prince : Imprimerie de l’État, 1944 ; Paris : La Bibliothèque Française, 1946 ; Paris : Les Éditeurs Français Réunis, 1961 ; Pantin : Le Temps des Cerises, 2000 ; Montréal : Mémoire d’encrier, 2004.
  • Bois d’ébène. Port-au-Prince : Imprimerie Henri Deschamps, 1945 ; Bois d’ébène, suivi de Madrid. Montréal : Mémoire d’encrier, 2003 ; Port-au-Prince : Presses Nationales d’Haïti, 2005.
  • Contribution à l’ètude de l’ethnobotanique précolombienne des Grandes Antilles. Port-au-Prince : Imprimerie de l’État, 1942.
  • La proie et l’ombre. Port-au-Prince : Éditions La Presse, 1930 ; Port-au-Prince : Fardin, 1977.
  • Analyse schématique 1932-1934 (1934)
  • «L’outillage lithique des Ciboney d’Haïti» (1943)
  • Le Sacrifice du tambour-assoto(r) (1943)
  •  «Le Musée du Bureau d’ethnologie» (1943)
  • « Sur la Campagne anti-superstitieuse» (1942)
  • «Sur les superstitions» (1942)
  •  “Réplique au Révérend Père Foisset» (1942)
  •  « Réplique finale au R. p. Foisset » (1942)

[1] For helpful biographical information about Jacques Roumain, see “Jacques Roumain,” in Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Writing Encyclopedia, edited by Herdeck and Lubin, 480-493; “Jacques Roumain,” in Caribbeans and Caribbean Americans, edited by Mendez, Cueto, and Deynes, 379-381. French and literary scholar Francois Leon-Hoffmann, the editor of Jacques Roumain: Oeuvres Completes, 2003, has written the most comprehensive biographical and literary chronology on Roumain, Hoffmann, “Chronologie,” 1209-1225.

[2] Abbott, Haiti: A Shattered Nation, 50.

[3] “Auguste Roumain.” Geni.  Accessed April 18, 2015. To explore the interesting relationships and interplays between Haiti and Jamaica in the nineteenth century and reciprocal immigration in both countries, see Smith’s excellent text, Liberty, Fraternity, Exile, 2014.

[4] Fowler, A Knot in the Thread, 2. Fowler’s text is the only biography available in English on Roumain. To my knowledge, there is no existing intellectual biography on him.  Hence, this book is an attempt to bridge the missing link or the intellectual gap.

[5] Frères de l ‘instruction Chrétien de Ploërmel was originally founded in France On June 16, 1819 by the Catholic Priests, Gabriel Deshayes and Jean-Marie de la Mennais for the instruction of youth.

[6] Fowler, A Knot in the Thread, 3.

[7]Roumain, “Entre Nous : Jacques Roumain,” 439. The interview appeared in the September, 1927 issue of the journal.

[8] For a detailed chronology of Roumain’s oeuvre, see Hoffmann, ed, Roumain: Oeuvres Completes, 1209-1225; 1654-1661. It simply divides the work of Roumain in two aspects: a literary aspect and a scientific aspect, Makouta-Mboukou, Jacques Roumain. Essai sur la signification spirituelle et religieuse de son oeuvre, 5-24.

[9]  I recommend these noted English translations of Roumain’s work because of the attempt of the noted translators to attain proximity to the message and literary aesthetics of Jacques Roumain; there are, however, other important English translations of Roumain’s works.  In this book, we give more emphasis to Roumain’s masterpiece, Masters of the Dew, and cursory references will be made to Roumain’s other novels.

[10] For more information about Roumain’s collected poems, see Hoffmann, Roumain: Oeuvres Completes, 5-94. “L’amour la mort” is excluded in Roumain’s protest poems collection.

[11] Roumain, Bois-d’ebene suivi de Madrid (2003).

[12] Hughes and Bontemps, The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949, 364-366.

[13] Senghor, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie negre, 112-120. Senghor also selected the poems of Jean-F.Briere’s “Me revoici, Harlem,” “Quand nous sommes-nous separes?” and “Black Soul;” Leon Laleau’s “Trahison,” “Silhouette,” “Sacrifice,” “Cannibale, and “Vaudou;” and Rene Belance’s “Couvercle,” and “Vertige.” For more information about these poetic verses, see Senghor, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie negre, 107-132.

[14]Kesteloot, Anthologie Négro-Africaine, 50-67.

[15] Ibid., 20-39, 40-74, 75-130, 164-166, 185-190, 403-404, 444-445, 472-473.

[16] Kennedy, The Negritude Poets, 18.

[17] Dash, “Introduction,” 6 , in Masters of the Dew by Roumain.

[18] Roumain, The Bewitched Mountain, 43.

[19] Ibid., 51.

[20] Roumain, The Bewitched Mountain, 55.

[21] Leconte and Osuna, ed., “Introduction,” 8-9.

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