'Cannibals of the Terrible Republic': Representation and the Haitian Revolution

Date of Completion

January 2010


Language, Modern|Literature, Modern|Literature, Romance|Literature, Caribbean|Caribbean Studies|Literature, American




Among the widely disparate political, cultural, artistic, and historical paradigms that fall under the portmanteau category of “postcolonial studies,” the island nation of Haiti stands alone. It is here, after all, and for the first time in humanity's history, that an army of ill-equipped, undernourished, and untrained slaves successfully prosecuted a revolutionary war, and did so against the most powerful military machine then in existence. Haiti was likewise the world's first black republic, the first modern nation to abolish slavery definitively, invented guerrilla warfare as we know it today, and according to the Haiti scholar Nick Nesbitt, Haitians even “invented the process of decolonization that would only take hold in the majority of European colonies a century and a half later” (Reading Revolution 28). The facts I have listed thus far are incontrovertible. In the present study it is my intention to examine the representational and discursive strategies that would seek to expunge—and for quite some time, successfully—the Haitian Revolution from the historical record, to determine how they operated, when, and why. What I plan to examine here is not, however, merely the fact that Haiti's remarkable revolution has been given short historical shrift, but rather, in a much broader context, how a historically, factually unique event such as the Haitian Revolution is metabolized by the various discourses—European, American, Carribean—which did not quite know what to make of it. ^