À LA CHINOISE: in the Chinese manner
ABOLITION DU FOUET: abolition of the use of whips on field slaves; a negotiating point before and during the rebellion
AFFRANCHI: a person of color whose freedom was officially recognized. Most affranchis were of mixed blood but some were full-blood Africans.
AGOUTI: groundhog-sized animal, edible
AJOUPA: a temporary hut made of sticks and leaves
ALLÉE: a lane or drive lined with trees
LES AMIS DES NOIRS: an abolitionist society in France, interested in improving the conditions and ultimately in liberating the slaves of the French colonies
ANCIEN RÉGIME: old order of pre-revolutionary France
ANBA DLO: beneath the waters—the Vodou afterworld
ARISTOCRATES DE LA PEAU: aristocrats of the skin. Many of Sonthonax’s policies and proclamations were founded on the argument that white supremacy in Saint Domingue was analogous to the tyranny of the hereditary French nobility and must therefore be overthrown in its turn by revolution.
ARMOIRE: medicinal herb for fever
ASSON: a rattle made from a gourd, an instrument in Vodou ceremonies, and the hûngan’s badge of authority
ATELIER: idiomatically used to mean work gangs or the whole body of slaves on a given plantation
AU GRAND SEIGNEUR: in a proprietary manner
BAGASSE: remnants of sugarcane whose juice has been extracted in the mill—a dry, fast-burning fuel
BAGUETTE: bread loaf
BAMBOCHE: celebratory dance party
BANZA: African instrument with strings stretched over a skinhead; forerunner of the banjo
BARON SAMEDI: Vodou deity closely associated with Ghede and the dead, sometimes considered an aspect of Ghede
BATON: stick, rod. A martial art called l’art du baton, combining elements of African stick-fighting with elements of European swordsmanship, persists in Haiti to this day.
BATTERIE: drum orchestra
BÊTE DE CORNES: domestic animal with horns
BIENFAISANCE: philosophical proposition that all things work together for good
BITASYON: small settlement
BLANC: white man
BLANCHE: white woman
BOIS BANDER: tree whose bark was thought to be an aphrodisiac
BOIS CHANDEL: candle wood—a pitchy wood suitable for torches
BOKOR: Vodou magician of evil intent
BOSSALE: a newly imported slave, fresh off the boat, ignorant of the plantation ways and of the Creole dialect
BOUCANIERS: piratical drifters who settled Tortuga and parts of Haiti as Spanish rule there weakened. They derived their name from the word boucan —their manner of barbecuing hog meat.
BWA DLO: flowering aquatic plant
BWA FOUYÉ: dugout canoe
CACHOT: dungeon cell
CACIQUES: Amerindian chieftains of precolonial Haiti
CALENDA: a slave celebration distinguished by dancing. Calendas frequently had covert Vodou significance, but white masters who permitted them managed to regard them as secular.
CANAILLE: mob, rabble
CARMAGNOLES: derogatory expression of the English military for the French revolutionaries
CARRÉ: square, unit of measurement for cane fields and city blocks
CASQUES: feral dogs
CAY (CASE): rudimentary one-room house
LES CITOYENS DE QUATRE AVRIL: denoting persons of color awarded full political rights by the April Fourth decree, this phrase was either a legal formalism or a sneering euphemism, depending on the speaker
CLAIRIN: cane rum
COCOTTE: girlfriend, but one in a subordinate role
COMMANDEUR: overseer or work-gang leader on a plantation, usually himself a slave
CONCITOYEN: fellow citizen
CONGÉ: time off work
CONGO: African tribal designation. Thought to adapt well to many functions of slavery and more common than others in Saint Domingue.
CORDON DE L’EST: eastern cordon, a fortified line in the mountains organized by whites to prevent the northern insurrection from breaking through to other departments of the colony.
CORDON DE L’OUEST: western cordon, as above
CORPS-CADAVRE: in Vodou, the physical body, the flesh
COUP POUDRÉ: a Vodou attack requiring a material drug, as opposed to the coup á l’air, which needs only spiritual force
COUTELAS: broad-bladed cane knife or machete
CREOLE: any person born in the colony whether white, black or colored, whether slave or free. A dialect combining a primarily French vocabulary with primarily African syntax is also called Creole; this patois was not only the means of communication between whites and blacks but was often the sole common language among Africans of different tribal origins. Creole is still spoken in Haiti today.
CRÊTE: ridge or peak
DAMBALLAH: Vodou deity associated with snakes, one of the great loa
DÉSHABILLÉ: a house dress, apt in colonial Saint Domingue to be very revealing. White Creole women were famous for their daring in this regard.
DEVOIR: duty, chore
DOKTÈ-FEY: leaf doctor, expert in herbal medicine
DOUCEMENT: colloquially, “take it easy”
DOUCEMENT ALLÉ LOIN: “The softest way goes furthest”; a famously favorite proverb of Toussaint Louverture
ÉMIGRÉ: emigrant. In the political context of the time, émigré labeled fugitives from the French Revolution, suspected of royalism and support of the ancien régime if they returned to French territory, and often subject to legal penalty. Most former slave and propertyholders who returned to Saint Domingue between 1794 and 1801 were considered to be émigrés in this sense of the word, though technically the term did not apply to all of them.
ERZULIE: one of the great loa, a Vodou goddess roughly parallel to Aphrodite. As Erzulie-gé-Rouge she is maddened by suffering and grief.
ESPRIT: spirit; in Vodou it is, so to speak, fungible
FAIT ACCOMPLI: done deal
FAROUCHE: wild, unconventional
FATRAS-BATON: thrashing stick. Toussaint bore this stable name in youth because of his skinniness.
FEMME DE CONFIANCE: a lady’s quasi-professional female companion
FEMME DE COULEUR: woman of mixed blood
FILLE DE JOIE: prostitute
FLEUR DE LYS: stylistically rendered flower and a royalist emblem in France
FLIBUSTIER: pirate evolved from the wartime practice of privateering
GENS DE COULEUR: people of color, a reasonably polite designation for persons of mixed blood in Saint Domingue
GÉRANT: plantation manager or overseer
GHEDE: one of the great loa, the principal Vodou god of the underworld and of the dead
GIRAUMON: medicinal herb for cough
GOMBO: medicinal herb for cough
GOMMIER: gum tree
GOVI: clay vessels which may contain the spirits of the dead
GRAND BLANC: member of Saint Domingue’s white landed gentry, who were owners of large plantations and large numbers of slaves. The grand blancs were politically conservative and apt to align with royalist counterrevolutionary movements.
GRAND BOIS: Vodou deity, aspect of Legba more closely associated with the world of the dead
GRAND’CASE: the “big house,” residence of white owners or overseers on a plantation. These houses were often rather primitive despite the grandiose title.
GRAND CHEMIN: the big road or main road. In Vodou the term refers to the pathway opened between the human world and the world of the loa.
GRANN: old woman, grandmother
GRIFFE: term for a particular combination of African and European blood. A griffe would result from the congress of a full-blood black with a mulâtresse or a marabou.
GRIFFONNE: female griffe
GRIOT: fried pork
GROS-BON-ANGE: literally, the “big good angel,” an aspect of the Vodou soul. The gros-bon-ange is “the life force that all sentient beings share; it enters the individual at conception and functions only to keep the body alive. At clinical death, it returns immediately to God and becomes part of the great reservoir of energy that supports all life.”2
GUÉRIT-TROP-VITE: medicinal herb used in plasters to speed healing of wounds
GUINÉE EN BAS DE L’EAU: “Africa beneath the waters,” the Vodou afterlife
HABITANT: plantation owner
HERBE À CORNETTE: medicinal herb used in mixtures for coughing
HERBE À PIQUE: medicinal herb against fever
HOMME DE COULEUR: man of mixed blood; see gens de couleur
HOUNSI: Vodou acolytes
HÛNFOR: Vodou temple, often arranged in open air
HÛNGAN: Vodou priest
IBO: African tribal designation. Ibo slaves were thought to be especially prone to suicide, believing that through death they would return to Africa. Some masters discouraged this practice by lopping the ears and noses of slaves who had killed themselves, since presumably the suicides would not wish to be resurrected with these signs of dishonor.
INTENDANT: the highest civil authority in colonial Saint Domingue, as opposed to the Governor, who was the highest military authority. These conflicting and competing posts were deliberately arranged by the home government to make rebellion against the authority of the metropole less likely.
ISLAND BELOW SEA: Vodou belief construes that the souls of the dead inhabit a world beneath the ocean which reflects the living world above. Passage through this realm is the slave’s route of return to Africa.
L’AFFAIRE GALBAUD: armed conflict which occurred at the northern port Le Cap, in 1794, between French royalists and republicans, as a result of which the royalist party, along with the remaining large property- and slave-owners, fled the colony
LAKOU: compound of dwellings of an extended family or inter-related families, often grouped around a central ceremonial area sacred to the ancestral spirits
LAMBI: conch shell, used as a horn among maroons and rebel slaves
LA-PLACE: Vodou celebrant with specific ritual functions second to that of the hûngan
LATANA: medicinal herb against colds
LEGBA: Vodou god of crossroads and of change, vaguely analogous to Hermes of the Greek pantheon. Because Legba controls the crossroads between the material and spiritual worlds, he must be invoked at the beginning of all ceremonies.
LES INVISIBLES: members of the world of the dead, roughly synonymous with les Morts et les Mystères.
LESPRI GINEN: spirit of Ginen
LIBERTÉ DE SAVANE: freedom, for a slave, to come and go at will within the borders of a plantation or some other defined area, sometimes the privilege of senior commandeurs
LOA: general term for a Vodou deity
LOI DE QUATRE AVRIL: Decree of April Fourth from the French National Assembly, granting full political rights to people of color in Saint Domingue
LOUP-GAROU: in Vodou, a sinister supernatural entity, something like a werewolf; a shape-changing, blood-sucking supernatural entity
MACANDAL: a charm, usually worn round the neck
MACOUTE: a straw sack used to carry food or goods
MAGOUYÉ: devious person, trickster, cheat
MAIN-D’ŒUVRE: work force
MAÏS MOULIN: cornmeal mush
MAIT’ KALFOU: Vodou deity closely associated with Ghede and the dead, sometimes considered an aspect of Ghede
MAÎT’TÊTE: literally, “master of the head.” The particular loa to whom the Vodou observer is devoted and by whom he is usually possessed (although the worshipper may sometimes be possessed by other gods as well).
MAL DE MÂCHOIRE: lockjaw
MAL DE SIAM: yellow fever
MALFINI: chicken hawk
MALNOMMÉE: medicinal herb used in tea against diarrhea
MAMBO: Vodou priestess
MAMÉLOUQUE: woman of mixed blood. The combination of blanc and métive produces a mamélouque.
MANCHINEEL: jungle tree with an extremely toxic sap
MANDINGUE: African tribe designation. Mandingue slaves had a reputation for cruelty and for a strong character difficult to subject to servitude.
MANICOU: Carribbean possum
MAPOU: sacred tree in Vodou, considered the habitation of Damballah
MARABOU: term for a particular combination of African and European blood. A griffe would result from the congress of a full-blood black with a quarterronné.
MARASSA: twins, often the sacred twin deities of Vodou
MARCHÉ DES NÈGRES: Negro market
MARÉCHAL DE CAMP: field marshal
MARÉCHAUSSÉE: paramilitary groups organized to recapture runaway slaves
MAROON: a runaway slave. There were numerous communities of maroons in the mountains of Saint Domingue, and in some cases they won battles with whites and negotiated treaties which recognized their freedom and their territory.
MARRONAGE: the state of being a maroon; maroon culture in general
MAUVAIS SUJET: bad guy, criminal
MONCHÈ: from the French “mon cher,” literally “my dear,” a casual form of address among friends
MONDONGUE: African tribal group, held in low esteem by slave masters. The Mondongues were known for their filed teeth and suspected of cannibalism.
MONPÈ: Father—the Creole address to a Catholic priest
LES MORTS ET LES MYSTÈRES: the aggregate of dead souls in Vodou, running the spectrum from personal ancestors to the great loa
MOUCHWA TÊT: headscarf
MOULIN DE BÊTES: mill powered by animals, as opposed to a water mill
MULATTO: person of mixed European and African blood, whether slave or free. Tables existed to define sixty-four different possible admixtures, with a specific name and social standing assigned to each.
NABOT: weighted leg iron used to restrain a runaway slave
NÈG: black person (from the French nègre)
NÉGOCIANT: businessman or broker involved in the export of plantation goods to France
NÈGRE CHASSEUR: slave trained as a huntsman
NÉGRILLON: small black child (c.f. pickaninny).
NOBLESSE DE L’ÉPÉE: French aristocracy deriving its status from the feudal military system, as opposed to newer bureaucratic orders of rank
OGÛN: one of the great loa, the Haitian god of war. Ogûn-Feraille is his most aggressive aspect.
OUANGA: a charm, magical talisman
PAILLASSE: a sleeping pallet, straw mattress
PARIADE: the wholesale rape of slave women by sailors on slave ships. The pariade had something of the status of a ritual. Any pregnancies that resulted were assumed to increase the value of the slave women to their eventual purchasers.
PARRAIN: godfather. In slave communities, the parrain was responsible for teaching a newly imported slave the appropriate ways of the new situation.
PAVÉ: paving stone
PAYSANNE: peasant woman
PETIT BLANC: member of Saint Domingue’s white artisan class, a group which lived mostly in the coastal cities, and which was not necessarily French in origin. The petit blancs sometimes owned small numbers of slaves but seldom owned land; most of them were aligned with French revolutionary politics.
PETIT MARRON: a runaway slave or maroon who intended to remain absent for only a short period—these escapees often returned to their owners of their own accord
LA PETITE VÉROLE: smallpox
PETRO: a particular set of Vodou rituals with some different deities—angry and more violent than rada
PIERRE TONNERRE: thunderstone. Believed by Vodouisants to be formed by lightning striking in the earth—in reality ancient Indian ax heads, pestles, and the like.
POMPONS BLANCS: Members of the royalist faction in post-1789 Saint Domingue; their name derives from the white cockade they wore to declare their political sentiments. The majority of grand blancs inclined in this direction.
POMPONS ROUGES: Members of the revolutionary faction in post-1789 Saint Domingue, so called for the red cockades they wore to identify themselves. Most of the colony’s petit blancs inclined in this direction.
POSSÉDÉ: believer possessed by his god
POTEAU MITAN: central post in a Vodou hûnfor, the metaphysical route of passage for the entrance of the loa into the human world
PRÊTRE SAVANE: bush priest
PWA ROUJ: red beans
PWEN: a focal point of spiritual energy with the power to do magical work. A pwen may be an object or even a word or a phrase.
QUARTERRONÉ: a particular combination of African and European blood: the result, for instance, of combining a full-blood white with a mamélouque
QUARTIER GÉNÉRAL: headquarters
RADA: the more pacific rite of Vodou, as opposed to petro
RADA BATTERIE: ensemble of drums for Vodou ceremony
RAMIER: wood pigeon
RAQUETTE: mesquite-sized tree sprouting cactus-like paddles in place of leaves
RATOONS: second-growth cane from plants already cut
REDINGOTE: a fashionable frock coat
RIZ AK PWA: rice and beans
RIZIÈ: rice paddy
SACATRA: a particular combination of African and European blood: the result, for instance, of combining a full-blood black with a griffe or griffonne
SALLE DE BAINS: washroom
SANG-MÊLÉ: a particular combination of African and European blood: the result, for instance, of combining a full-blood white with a quarterroné
SANS-CULOTTE: French revolutionary freedom fighter
SERVITEUR: Vodou observer, one who serves the loa
SI DYÉ VLÉ: If God so wills
SIFFLEUR MONTAGNE: literally mountain whistler, a night-singing bird
SONNETTE: medicinal herb
SOULÈVEMENT: popular uprising, rebellion
TABAC À JACQUOT: medicinal herb
THYM À MANGER: medicinal herb believed to cause miscarriage
TI-BON-ANGE: literally, the “little good angel,” an aspect of the Vodou soul. “The ti-bon-ange is that part of the soul directly associated with the individual. . . . It is one’s aura, and the source of all personality, character and willpower.”3
TREMBLEMENT DE TERRE: earthquake
VÉVÉ: diagram symbolizing and invoking a particular loa
VIVRES: life-stuff—roots and essential starchy foods
VODÛN: generic term for a god, also denotes the whole Haitian religion
YO DI: they say
Z’ÉTOILE: aspect of the Vodou soul. “The z’étoile is the one spiritual component that resides not in the body but in the sky. It is the individual’s star of destiny, and is viewed as a calabash that carries one’s hope and all the many ordered events for the next life of the soul.”4
ZOMBI: either the soul (zombi astrale) or the body (zombi cadavre) of a dead person enslaved to a Vodou magician