Engaging Girard’s “Toussaint Loverture: A Revolutionary Life” (Part I)
I’m working my way slowly and patiently through Philippe Girard’s biography on Toussaint Louverture, “Toussaint Loverture: A Revolutionary Life” (2016).
Here’s my brief and preliminary evaluation of the book (I’m still reading the text):
The strength of Girard’s work lies on his critical assessment of the archival material on colonial Saint-Domingue and his attempt to present a balanced interpretation of Toussaint’s life, the colonial order, and the Haitian Revolution.
Many of Girard’s claims and inferences about Toussaint and colonial Saint-Domingue are not new and groundbreaking, but they could be construed as recycled material and information; his creative (re-) interpretation on previous and current studies on Toussaint and the Haitian Revolution is quite stunning and brilliant. This is an important work!
1. First of all, for Girard, Haitian oral history and stories about Toussaint and the Haitian Revolution are not reliable historical sources.
2. The first black church, although short-lived, probably started in Saint-Domingue not in the United States as traditional maintained in contemporary scholarship on black religion, by newly-slave converts to Catholic Christianity, and it is probable that Toussaint Louverture occasionally delivered sermons there.
3. Girard presents Toussaint Louverture as a man of faith and devout Christian.
4. Toussaint has intentionally abandoned the Fon language, and his African customs and traditions in which he was reared in colonial Saint-Domingue to accommodate with the new culture (French) and civilization (Western).
5. Toward the process of assimilation, Toussaint rejected his ancestral identity because he aspired to be French, White, and Western. He never referred himself as a son of Africa or an individual of African descent. He was ashamed of Africa and his African identity.
Consider Girard’s paradoxical statement below:
“Loverture is regarded today as a hero by the people of Benin in West Africa, where his parents were born, but having African roots was considered shameful in eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue. Louverture purposely left behind much of his African cultural heritage as he grew up, from the Fon language to the Vodou religion, so as to embrace the dominant French cultural model. He was no black nationalist: he was trying to fit into a colony where everything African was deemed uncivilized, and lived much of his life as a Creole and an aspiring Frenchman” (pp. 23-4).
Do look forward for Part II.