Slavery has existed in almost every century of recorded human history and for much of the time in many regions around the world. In all the diverse forms that slavery has assumed in different contexts, it has been synonymous with extreme degradation and often with brutality wherever it appeared. The brutalities begin from the time of the acquisition of slaves by their masters and continue until the moment when the slaves get their freedom. Violent resistance has been one of the typical tactics employed by slaves to gain their freedom. This paper gives the reasons that caused the Haitian revolution and the aspects that led to their success as depicted in Guy Endore’s novel, Babouk.
There are several reasons that led to the Haiti revolution. The oppression of the slaves by their masters was the basic reason that led to the Haitian revolution. The slaves not only wanted to be free from the yoke of slavery but also to get their revenge on their oppressors. They needed freedom from physical abuse, forced labor as well as psychological torture.
The success of any event that calls for the participation of many people requires some crucial organizational factors. The slaves were grouped in large units. One of the factors is the ease of communication from the leaders (of the revolt) to all the concerned parties. This is evident in the incidence where Babouk mentions the king who would come to the rescue of the slaves, “Those at the edge could not hear and had to ask their neighbors, who in turn asked those ahead” (111).
The large numbers also necessitated the recruitment of trustworthy conspirators to facilitate the revolution. Additionally, the groupings increased the degree of cultural as well as psychological autonomy resulting from the slaves spatial distance from the master class or to the harsh and impersonal regimes associated with large estates, which tended to be run by a resident owner. There were large sugar plantations. In the North America, the major slave rebellions and conspiracies took place in sugar-growing Louisiana and in ice-growing South Carolina where plantations were larger than in the regions of cotton and tobacco cultivation.
The involvement of the ruling class in war or integral struggles also played a pivotal role in propagating the revolution. War clearly did on occasion lead to insurrections among slaves who hoped for foreign assistance or who were encouraged by the departure of troops and militia. One of the conflicts within the ruling class was the fight for slaves in most of the regions. This had a detrimental effect on the unity of the various slave owners. Sometimes, these conflicts brought new slaves new opportunities for flight and for manumission through the military service.
Economic depression is also another aspect that fueled the Haitian revolt. The low prices for staple crops brought bankruptcies, the sale or leasing of slaves, and no doubt the cost-cutting and frayed tempers as well. The Brazilian and Carribbean slaves, , who often were responsible for growing their own food, were less vulnerable than the U.S slaves to market conditions but were more exposed to climatic hazards such as drought:
For it was famine time, one of those ever-recurring periods when the white masters miscalculated on the amount of food needed But for a while the governor hesitated, inasmuch as food prices were high and purveyors with stocks on hand wanted to make as much money as they could before prices dropped with the advent of an English or Dutch ship (97).
The slaves in the U.S. were dependent on their masters for much of their food, which was in small amounts, but were better fed than slaves elsewhere. Both the planters as well as the slaves suffered due the capitalist nature of the community and they needed a change.
Urbanization is another factor that played a pivotal role in the Haitian revolt. City-dwelling slaves enjoyed more independence than those on the farms and plantations. They had more opportunities to not only meet and organize. They were also more exposed to news and ideas from the outside world. Another privilege that they enjoyed was that they were less likely to be strained by family ties. Although towns were not common venues for conspiracies, several of the most important conspiracies occurred in some of the major cities e.g. in New York. Additionally, the high concentration of whites and free individuals in towns and the presence of urban garrisons constituted formidable barrier to mobilization of insurgents. Urban slave conspiracies were perhaps less common in the Carribean than in the American mainland. As slaves made up a larger proportion of the urban population in the British and French Carribbeans were more likely to be domestics living under the eye and roof of the master than independent craftsmen and laborers. The movement to the urban centers was also crucial in spreading information within the slave community: “Those who, in the afternoon, went to the marketbrought the news to the town and from there it had spread to the whole district by nightfall” (113). Additionally, the slaves remained optimistic about their freedom although at the beginning they were not sure about when it would begin.
The proportion of the recently enslaved individuals was significantly high. The slaves most prone to running away were scattered everywhere. This was particularly true for the Africans especially the newly arrived African slaves as opposed to the locally born slaves-the Creoles. Many early rebellions and the nineteenth-century revolts in Brazil were staged by Africans and were organized along ethnic lines (Geggus 61). The case of the U.S. similarly suggests that socialization within the system and a reduced cultural distance between the master and the slave were powerful antidotes to insurrection.
Maroon activity is also a factor to consider when studying the aspects that led to the revolt. It is sometimes stated that the existence of communities of fugitive slaves encouraged insurrections and many have argued that maroons played a special role in the Haitian revolution (ibid). Not only can the presence of maroons be seen as an alternative to rebellion, a safety valve, but in becoming maroons, slaves also took on new identities and interests that often set them apart from the slave population in general. Successful maroon communities maneuvered as third parties between the mass of slaves and the planters and the colonial Endoreities. When asked about the source of information about the savior of the slaves (King Jatleek), Babouk said that he had received the information from the maroons. Although many people did not believe him, the Endore highlights the relationship between Babouk and the maroons. Additionally, he explains how he managed to get the information he has revealed to the slaves as the Endore notes “Babouk and the maroons were secret friends. One often saw Babouk wandering away at the fall of night and not returning until morning” (112). Successful maroons were a symbol of resistance and most rebels continued to look on them not only as role models but also as potential allies.
In some of the regions, the proximity of the forest or mountain terrain encouraged rebellions. The terrains provided some rather hidden places where the slave would meet to plan for the activities. It also necessitated the delivery of information form one group to the other. As aforementioned, Babouk collected information from the slaves in the neighboring plantations by ‘sneaking’ into the forests at night. The meetings were also fundamental in clarifying some of the aspects that were not clear or rather, which were not easily understandable. For instance, Babouk met with the slave who was once a priest in the forests. The priest, being familiar with the Arabic language, could interpret the messages that the other slaves could not understand (112).
The oppression of the slaves by their masters led to the Haiti revolution. Several factors enhanced their success. They were grouped in large populations an aspect that played a pivotal role in boosting the unity of the slave community. There were conflicts between different plantation owners, which worked for the advantage of the slaves. The aspect of urbanization was also important since it acted as a center for relaying information to the slaves in different plantations. Other factors that enhanced the success of the revolution include the presence and activity of maroon groups, favorable terrain, the involvement of the ruling class as well as the large numbers of new slaves.
Geggus, David Patrick. Haitian Revolutionary Studies. Bloomingtom, IN: Indiana University
Press, 2002. Print.