When I open my eyes in the grey light that filters through my window slats just before dawn, I usually hear a few hummingbirds buzzing past my shutters. The noise of their tiny wings is surprisingly loud, a rich hum that sounds mechanical in its loopy whirring. These birds — the “Hispaniolan emerald,” or wanga nègès mòn — are tiny, the smallest hummingbirds I have ever seen, and they are drawn to the small yellow flowers outside my window. Like everything on MPP’s campus, they are mostly green. Often I confuse them with the “Antillean mango,” or wanga nègès fran, a sapsucker with appetites akin to those of the Hispaniolan emerald. The similar nomenclature suggests that I’m not the only one to do so.
“Rache manyok, ba nou te-a blanch”
“Pull up your manioc to give us a clear field.”
Legislative elections – 5 years overdue – were held in Haiti last Sunday, the 10th of August. Heated debates continue as citizens wait for the results of the vote. More than 1,000 candidates were running for deputy, the lower house of Haiti’s Parliament, and nearly 200 for senate. After the dissolution of Parliament earlier this year, a provisional electoral council (CEP) was convened to oversee the elections. As reports of “irregularities” in the voting process, as well some incidents of violence and intimidation circulate, I am thinking about what rache manyok might offer to Haitians, and in particular the rural poor, who have been pushed to the political margins for so long.
This is the creole pig, or kochon kreyol, a small, hardy, long-snouted animal introduced to the island of Hispaniola in the Columbian exchange, and now prevalent across Haiti. Between 1984 and 1987, however, the species did not exist in the country.
One of the central explorations of my dissertation research is how plants and animals do political work in rural Haiti. Stories of failure, killing, and expropriation brought my attention to the political life of Haiti’s agrarian ecosystems, but not in the way that I had expected. The replication of the kinds of stories — of suffering, violence, and insecurity — that so often focus public attention on this tiny crescent of mountainous land troubled me, and clashed with what I know of rural Haiti’s anti-colonial agrarian history. Although most Northerners know little of what Haiti’s peasants grow, they know that their fields are pitifully small, the soil degraded, and the crops prone to failure when buffeted by the latest hurricane or gummed with mud sliding down the treeless mountainsides. While ‘we’ in the global North hear of Haitians’ hunger, their poverty, and their dogged survival within a massively unequal global political economy, this litany of lack offers little towards understanding how rural Haitians — long termed the moun andeyo or ‘people outside’ — have nonetheless made and unmade political worlds on local and global scales.