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

ABUELITA: grandmother

ACAJOU: mahogany

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

BEAU-PÈRE: father-in-law

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.

BOUNDA: rectum

BOURG: town

BOURIK: donkey

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

CASERNES: barracks

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

COLON: colonist

COMMANDEUR: overseer or work-gang leader on a plantation, usually himself a slave

COMMERÇANT: businessman

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

DJAB: demon

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.

ENCEINTE: pregnant

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

FAIENCE: crockery

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

GILET: waistcoat

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

GROSSESSE: pregnancy

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

HABITATION: plantation

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.

JOURNAL: newspaper

KALFOU: crossroads

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 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.

MARAIS: swamp

MARASSA: twins, often the sacred twin deities of Vodou


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

MATANT: aunt

MAUVAIS SUJET: bad guy, criminal

MÉNAGÈRE: housekeeper

MITRAILLE: grapeshot

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

MORNE: mountain

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.

ORDONNATEUR: accountant

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.

PATOIS: dialect

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


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

PWASÔ: fish

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

REQUIN: shark

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

TAFIA: rum

TAMBOU: drum

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


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

ZAMAN: almond

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

ZORAY: ears

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