“Understanding Price-Mars: Africa First not Haiti” (Part 2)
The single passion of Jean Price-Mars was to become “a great man for his nation (Haiti) and race (black people).” In his (45-page) controversial response to René Piquion (“Lettre ouverte au Dr. René Piquion, directeur de l’École normale supérieure, sur son Manuel de la négritude”: Le préjugé de couleur est-il la question sociale?” 1967), he informed us that was his mother’s driven vision for him: to be an exemplary man of valor to the Haitian people, the people of Africa, and those of African ancestry in the Black Diaspora. Because of this obsessive childhood dream (or a dream driven by a passion for Haiti and Africa), in his scholarship and public intellectual activism, Price-Mars resisted the separation of Africa, Haiti, and the black diaspora.
Unlike other Haitian intellectuals (i.e. Baron de Vastey, Joseph Antenor Firmin, Hannibal Price, Louis Joseph Janvier, etc.) who portrayed Haiti and interpreted the history of Haiti, by the virtue of its existence as the first postcolonial state and Black Republic, and its successful revolution and tremendous contributions to universal emancipation, human rights, and the end of slavery (as the rehabilitation of the black race in modernity), Price-Mars constructed an alternative narrative of Haitian history and Haitian society premised on the history of Africa and the Old Continent’s contributions to universal civilization in human history.
On one hand, Price-Mars would not use African traditional society and life, or the culture of Haitian peasants, which is African in content and practice, as a model to “build” the contemporary Haitian society. On the other hand, he would urge Haitian intellectuals and the country’s elite-minority to reconsider the African retentions on Haitian soil and Haiti’s indebtedness to Africa. The Price-Marsian clarion call to affirm the African presence in Haiti does not mean that Price-Mars has undermined Haiti’s triple heritage: Africa, Native American, and Western. It does convey, however, Africa is first, and that the “Black Continent” should shape and occupy the Haitian imagination.