Commentary: Artist Feels Solidarity with Haitian Quake Victims

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By Anoush Ter Taulian

After the 2010 Haitian earthquake, I thought of a friend who was under the rub- ble for three days before she was rescued during the 1988 Armenian earthquake in Spitak. In solidarity with the Haitian earth- quake victims, I wrote the poem “I Am Sailing On A Raft Of My Bones,” which I read at many Haitian benefits and on Haitian radio always mentioning how in 1915 while the US was invading Haiti, the Ottoman Turks were committing the 1915 Armenian Genocide. I also said that Armenians had nothing to do with slav- ery in America and in fact during the Genocide many Armenian women were forced to become slave brides of the Turks. When I mentioned that Turkey denies the Armenian Genocide and doesn’t want to pay repara- tions, many of the African-Americans I talked to felt the US denies the African Holocaust and does not want to pay reparations.

I started doing research on the African Holocaust (Maafa). I went to the Shomberg Library in Harlem where the librarian said the Maafa took place during the trans-Atlantic slave trade (1562-1807) with estimates of 40 to 100 million deaths. When I asked her how there really could have been 100 million deaths, she said that many Africans died during capturing or deportation and sometimes whole ships of slave cargo sank during the Middle Passage. Also, she said the numbers include the slave trade to Central and

South America and over hundreds of years it might even be more.

I also read this poem at “The Tribute To Our Ancestors Of The Middle Passage,” which takes place annually in Coney Island as a memorial to all the Africans that died during the slave trade in the Atlantic, which is the largest graveyard in the world. At the memorial after the cultural presentations everyone goes to the ocean to put flowers in the water while peo- ple drum and dance.

In 1791 the Haitians planted the seeds of the first successful slave rebellion in the Americas and in 1804 became the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world. But Haitian independence came at a high price because France demanded 150 million francs. It took Haiti more than120 years to pay off this debt, which greatly impoverished the country. Now many Haitians are demanding France return this extort- ed money. The Haitians have had little chance for self- determination because foreign powers have been sup- porting corrupt politicians to gain control over Haiti’s resources. The US boycotted Haiti and didn’t recognize the Haitian government from 1804 to 1865.The US invaded Haiti in 1915 because they wanted to dominate the region under the Monroe Doctrine. The US military stayed until 1934 after the US had taken over the bank- ing systems, stole the gold and changed the constitu- tion so foreigners could own property.

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Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since The Earthquake, edit- ed by Mark Schuller and Pablo Morales, discusses the impact of foreign intervention on Haiti. Now two years after the earthquake there are still over a mil- lion homeless living in squalid tent camps, while aid organizations like the Red Cross are not accountable to the aid recipients. Bill Clinton’s founda- tion contracted a company that was being sued for formaldehyde in trailers it sold FEMA after Hurricane Katrina instead of using a local firm to create job in Haiti. Grassroots Haitian organization like Ligue Feminine (Feminine League) and SOFA have orga- nized themselves to do things like distribute food and help protect women from violence in the camps, but they don’t have the funding they need. Meanwhile there needs to be a class action suit against the Red Cross to show where all the money has gone and there needs to be a system where the disaster victims themselves have a say in aid distribution.

Here is my poem:

I Am Sailing On A Raft Of My Bones

Quivering fingers are a sign

Quivering fingers are a sign of life

Stretching up through the concrete coffins

Pressing on my breasts

Come closer

Breathe your caring into me

So that I can inhale the sunrise

It is so hard for us to breathe

Mother Earth is also suffocating under millions of tons of real estate developers rape concrete

We are cracking, exploding, tumbling

Releasing into each other becoming

Scattered parts of an infinite universe

Inside my eyelids oceans roar

I am sailing on a raft of my bones

In the choppy sea I can see 250,000 Haitian bone rafts

Guided by the luminous skeleton parts

Sunk deep in the Atlantic, of the 100 million Africans killed in the Middle Passage

Our bones fuse together, the yearning, returning

Crashing on the shores of the motherland

While the daily unnatural disasters Caused by

Conquerors – Genocide, Slavery, Poverty continue In an instant your life can change for the worse

In an instant your life can change for the better Ayibobo Ayiti, Hail to the Spirits Successful slave rebellion, Voodoo Queen, 1st Black Republic Ayibobo Ayiti shackled to corrupt governments

Backed by US imperialism, but Ayiti you are still fragrant

With the spirit of justice and resistance

Ayibobo Ayiti Hail to the Spirits

Hail to the Spirits

(Born in California, the author is an artist who has also participated in Karabagh’s struggle for independence.)

 

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