One morning, I set off early from Papaye to visit a friend’s garden in Mirebalais, about an hour’s moto ride down Route Nationale #3. Heading down the muddy hill from the farm where I live, the air is still slightly cool with the night’s moisture, the sun shining through a fine mist that hasn’t yet burned off. We pass through the already crowded, grey-dusted streets of Hinche, vendors edging out into the road with plantain- and charcoal-laden donkeys and wooden carts, the moto-taxi station packed with rows of drivers leaning on their rides, the line at the gas pumps 30 or 40 deep with moto drivers waiting to fill up. After passing Hinche’s leaning gingerbread edge, we cross the rutted bridge that spans the Guayamouc River. We are now on the delightfully wide, smoothly paved National Route #3, heading South towards Mirebalais, the biggest town between Hinche, the provincial capital, and Port-au-Prince. I can see far across the rolling low hills of the Central Plateau, ringed with the mountain ranges that form Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic and that separate the rural Center region from the “Republic of Port-au-Prince.”
When I arrived on Haiti’s Central Plateau on the 1st of August, maize fields were already full of sharp spears as high as my shoulders, and a friend came to visit with his backpack full of celadon-green ears of mayi. After the end of the rain-soaked month of August, crisp brown leaves rustle in the fields, and sharp spears dry brown on the stalk or hung in bunches from trees and rafters. Now, near the end of the rainy season, feathery pwa kongo (pigeon pea) plants are waving tall as the maize stalks wither. A few weeks ago, when you could count on rain by sundown, children gnawed on ears of sweet boiled corn; now the ears are grilled until the kernels are sweet and chewy – mayi boukane. The hard kernels will feed chickens, pigs, and people alike throughout the year, grilled or ground into mayi moulen, a coarse cornmeal served with bean sauce and, sometimes, spinach – my favorite Haitian dish.
Although Haitians do not share a territorial and cultural unity as “maize people” with indigenous Latin Americans, they are nonetheless a people in part because of maize. Ecological relations linking revolutionary maize to “Miami rice” are profoundly significant to rural Haiti’s tradition of self-reliance, and these relations begin in the 15th century.
“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.