Dutty Boukman was a self-educated slave who was born on the island of Jamaica. After attempting to teach other slaves how to read, he was sold to a French plantation owner and placed as a commandeur(slave driver) and later a coach driver. His French name came from his English nickname “Bookman” based on his ability to read and write.
Boukman became a key leader in the slave revolt in the Le Cap-Francais in the north of the colony. According to some accounts, On August 14, 1791, Boukman proceeded over a ceremony at the Bois Caiman in the role of houngan(priest) together with priestess C’ecile Fatiman. Boukman prophesized that the slaves Jean Francois, Biassou, and Jeannot would be leaders of a revolt that would free the slaves of Saint-Dominque. At the ceremony, an animal was sacrificed, an oath was taken and Boukman and the priestess instructed everyone in attendance to take revenge against their French oppressors and to cast aside the image of a white god.
Boukman was killed by the French planters and colonial troops in November of 1791, just a few months after the uprising started. The French then publicly displayed Boukman’s head in an attempt to dispel the aura of invisibility that Boukman had cultivated. What they didn’t recognize was the damage had been done already. The spirit of Boukman was alive and well. Any fear the Haitians had was replaced by a level of courage and determination to free themselves. Ultimately, the Haitian Revolution was a success, not just ending slavery, but the French rule over the colony as well. It’s pivotal that we convey this story in the proper context.
Many historians claim the Haitians made a pact with the devil during the ceremony at Bois Caiman which gave them the strength to overthrow their oppressors. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, that ceremony allowed them to connect with their ancestors and create a spiritual awakening that removed their fear of death. Furthermore, they removed the idea of having a leader and allowed their overall mission to be the leader, not an individual. Therefore, as we celebrate black history month, make it a point to teach your family and friends about the Haitian Revolution and the individuals who inspired the insurrection.