Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

The Franco-African Peoples of Haiti and Louisiana

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

The Franco-African Peoples of Haiti and Louisiana

Article excerpt

There are important similarities and differences between the creative, vibrant and indomitable peoples who created the cultures of Saint-Domingue/Haiti and Louisiana. Both places were colonized by France. Some of the colonizers of both places were pirates. Although Saint-Domingue/Haiti remained a French colony until it achieved its independence in 1804, Spain took effective control of Louisiana by 1769 and the United States did the same by 1 804. Despite these changes in administration, Louisiana's population remained largely French, Cajun1 and Creole. The French language survived widely in rural areas until the mid-twentieth century and is still spoken today in some places in southwest Louisiana.

The colonizing population of Saint-Domingue/Haiti and Louisiana was both similar and different. Saint-Domingue 's Native American population, the Arawak, had developed an extraordinarily just, productive, spiritual, and artistic civilization. The first Africans were introduced in 1502 by the Spanish. During the first few decades of Spanish colonization, the Arawak and enslaved Africans - initially Ladinos who were Africans born or socialized in Spain, and then mainly Africans of the Wolof ethnicity brought directly from Senegal - cooperated in revolts against Spanish rule. First the Ladinos and then the Wolof taught the Arawak how to revolt effectively against the Spanish and the Arawak helped the Africans escape to the mountains and create runaway slave communities.2 But before French rule began in Saint-Domingue/Haiti, the Arawak population had been utterly destroyed as corporate groups by the Spanish conquerors and colonizers.

In sharp contrast, in Louisiana the first slaves were Native Americans, and several of these nations, including Alabama, Attakapas, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Mobile, Natchez, Natchitoches, and Tunica remained powerful throughout the eighteenth century. While some colonizers of Louisiana were born in France, many of them were Canadian courreurs du bois [fur traders] who lived among and merged with Native Americans both biologically and culturally. Africans often allied and merged with Native Americans as well, following the same pattern as in early Saint-Domingue. Africans taught Native Americans in Louisiana how to combat Spanish and French methods of warfare and Native Americans helped Africans escape to the forests and swamps and create runaway slave communities.3 Whites with deep roots in Louisiana often have ancestors who were African slaves as well as Native Americans, but they were rarely acknowledged after a few generations, especially the Africans. Thus, Louisiana was a frontier society where peoples of various racial designations and cultures mingled freely.4 In contrast, in Saint-Domingue, the vast majority of the population was enslaved Africans and their descendants, slave and free, black and mixed-race. Both Saint-Domingue and Louisiana had a very competent and wealthy mulatto or mixed-race free Creole elite.5

Both Saint-Domingue and Louisiana had slave systems, but large-scale commercial agriculture geared towards the export of crops developed much earlier in Saint-Domingue/Haiti than in Louisiana.6 Two distinctive Franco-African Creole languages were created in Haiti and in Louisiana. Louisiana Creole developed within the first decade of the arrival of the first trans-Atlantic slave-trade ships in 1719.7 Two-thirds of these first Africans were brought from Senegambia. As a result, the Louisiana Creole language is closest to the Creole of Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean, where Senegambians were also the formative African population. Folktales and proverbs in Louisiana Creole, most notably the Bouki/Lapin stories, are mainly Wolof in origin. But terms for religious amulets, for example gris-gris and zinzin, derive from Mande languages which were the lingua franca in Senegambia throughout the Atlantic slave trade.8

Both Haiti and Louisiana were deeply influenced by massive imports of new Africans. …

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