The Devil & King Christophe

Posted on January 21, 2010 by


Unfathomably swiftly speeded,
Earth’s pomp revolves in whirling flight,
As Eden’s brightness is succeeded
By deep and dread-inspired night
Goethe’s “Faust”, 1806 

Evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson says Haiti has been “cursed” because of what he called a “pact with the devil” in its history.
—Associated Press, January 13, 2010

Flower bundles are laid at the foot of an orange tree and the zombis stand around at their stations. When General Christophe signs to end the dancers, all clapping and the calabashes stop. The beads and talking drums fall silent. A negresse verte rubs the pig’s neck with herbs, then splits its throat with a cane knife and spills the blood in a ring about the clearing.

Christophe throws some ambergris in the fire, sending up a gleam of smokeless light, then draws out a string of spooky names and incantations:

CHRISTOPHE Azazel, Baphomet. Pluto…

The devil springs into the circle. He wears the outfit of one of the child soldiers and a thin twine of moustache on his lip.

CHRISTOPHE Is this a joke?

DEVIL You were expecting Tonton Macoute? Maybe Rumpelstiltskin?

The zombi guards constrict on the boy, swords to his chin. But their machetes break into many pieces that crawl away as worms.

DEVIL I’m a bad man. I’m pretty!

CHRISTOPHE You can’t mean—you are the demon?

DEVIL I’m part of the part that once was everything. I am the goat without horns. When the first wrong was done to the first Arawak, I was there. When the first slaver put out for Nigeria, I stood on her deck.

CHRISTOPHE But why show up as Sass, the flag-boy?

DEVIL (Curling his moustache with a finger) You trouble all this mumbo jumbo, Henri, then burn questions like tobacco. You like my red and gold attire? The little cloak. The rooster’s feather in my hat….

CHRISTOPHE Now listen here, squirmy chap, I don’t care if you’d stay for tea, or join your webby flock and fly to Île à Vache. We’re a hundred thousand murdered, starved. Toussaint dragged off to France. To liberate a rotten lot of sugar plants! If you’re who you say—you’re not holding up your part, is what I’m getting at.

DEVIL I’m not?

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CHRISTOPHE Twelve years ago my people called on you for freedom. Today Saint-Domingue’s up to her elbows in blood, with fighting, and every night we rest in a niche of skulls and skeletons and death.

DEVIL Go on.

CHRISTOPHE You promised victory over our tormentors! You promised glory!

DEVIL And did you not overthrow the grands blancs?

CHRISTOPHE We did, and since we’re overrun with conquerors.

DEVIL You knocked out the British. You threw back Spain.

CHRISTOPHE Like playing Whac-a-Mole! Today we run the jungles fighting Frenchmen who cut the heads off French we beat at the start.

DEVIL I’m sensing buyer’s remorse.

CHRISTOPHE To starve our enemy, we burn the fields. We bartered for freedom in our hands, and growing. Not traded for another curse!

DEVIL No offense to you and your lore, my agreement made at Bois Caiman was liberate your blacks from labor and lift you over your white chastisers. You slaves won your revolt. A deal’s a deal.

CHRISTOPHE And after, you clap your hands and watch the royal rumble?

The devil shrugs.

CHRISTOPHE If that’s the way it is, what are you doing here?

DEVIL You invited me, though. Didn’t you?

CHRISTOPHE I thought to collect (with interest added).

DEVIL What can love do, Henri, that dares not love attempt?

CHRISTOPHE Get out of here.

DEVIL You don’t want more?

CHRISTOPHE You’re on my nerves.

DEVIL My Henri, dear! Where is your famous ambition? I’ve got a thousand favors. We have a fine selection in damsels—all shades of course….

CHRISTOPHE I told you I’m not interested.

DEVIL The truth is, champ, the spell is sealed. I’m here. And once I’m here I’m bound to serve you. In whatever kind of bargain. There’s orders. I can’t leave to go, or say farewell, until I’m given pardon.

CHRISTOPHE Well then, piss off.

DEVIL You have to say it thrice.

Now Christophe walks all round the devil and looks him in the eyes. He even fakes a jab or two, to see what would happen. The devil cocks his head somewhat and keeps his eyelids steady.

CHRISTOPHE You’re in my power. The way I see it, phantom, that’s a chip.

DEVIL Only technically…

CHRISTOPHE We’ll make a new deal. I set you free—you do my asking in return. And then we’re square. No extra fees, no bothering, no wooden dolls. No hexes.

DEVIL Bad luck’s my favorite pastime.

CHRISTOPHE I understand. That’s always in the game.

DEVIL Hot dog! Now what can I do for you? Mansa Musa’s gold? Helen of Troy?

CHRISTOPHE I want everybody to be free men. And Saint-Domingue rid of all her worries. Now till fin du temps, you understand?

DEVIL Haha! You have a chip. I’m talking seashells baby! Beside, it doesn’t work like that. A carefree freedom, sans-souci like you insist, needs freedom from attackers. I can smite the whites, but it’s up to you to hold your own. I can’t keep them from fighting you forever. Not any more than you’d submit for long (or did, when tables were reversed). Anyway that sort of thing could put me out of business.

CHRISTOPHE More like “Que Sera, Sera” than tables turning….

DEVIL Look, it doesn’t happen as a magic trick—

CHRISTOPHE Then what good are you, infernal menace?

DEVIL —unless you want your new conditions so suspended, where, you grasp one wrong corner, and all the air goes out the other end. It’s rock paper scissors. Order of operations. I’ve got something up my sleeve, but it’s still not presto-change-o. We’ve got to get in there with the bolts and rods and take the cylinders all to pieces.

CHRISTOPHE What did you have in mind?

DEVIL First thing I see is you’re in need of some re-branding.

CHRISTOPHE (Rubs a mark of puffy skin scored underneath his shoulder) Branding?

DEVIL “Saint-Domingue”? Too many syllables. Stinks of Europe’s interference. When this land was last left alone its natives called it Hayti.

CHRISTOPHE Didn’t work so well for them, though.

DEVIL They didn’t have me as their guide! Notice how an umlaut civilizes, makes a little crown above the word. I’ll make you king, and be your chief advisor. We’ll build a reservoir of power so well dammed, its waters flow on Haïti for centuries.

CHRISTOPHE Ridiculous. I can’t be despot. I reject monarchy. Same as her sisters, slavery and tyranny.

DEVIL You want a sovereign nation or don’t you? I need a strong executive or else my labor falls apart. Maybe Dessalines would rather, or Alexandre Pétion …?

CHRISTOPHE Alright, alright. So what’s the price of all of this?

DEVIL Just sign in blood. I’ll be delightedly all yours, and serve your majesty, but when we meet again beyond, you do the same for me.

CHRISTOPHE (Aside) What we been though, when hell’s on earth, what difference does it make if one’s below or one’s above?

He dots the parchment with a pricked finger.

CHRISTOPHE It feels good now, doesn’t it? I feel a beating like a drum. The tree of liberty grows again, just as L’Ouverture believed, now the roots are replenished with fresh blood. Forgive me devil, this is a sublime moment! I scarce trusted I’d live to see Saint-Domingue’s rebels freed of this diabolical machine.

DEVIL “Haïti’s.” But anyway, suit yourself, you’re in the end just what you are! Put wigs on with a million locks and put your foot in Chinese socks, you still remain just what you are.

They start walking along a trail, where the sun is rising.

CHRISTOPHE What do you mean?

DEVIL (Again twirling his little moustache) The people of Haïti are a population that has no national conscience, only an agglomeration of tittle-tattle! As insurgents they are swell. But Haïti’s enemy now is indolence. Her playfulness of spirit.

CHRISTOPHE I’ll say to Haïti: “Go, work hard.”

DEVIL Yes, flatten mountains.

CHRISTOPHE Haïti shall see great movements of her earth. We’ll drain the swamps, engineer the rivers…

DEVIL And harvest stone…

CHRISTOPHE …turn the soil clod by clod. More farmsteads, and more. I see Haïti, thick in world currency, her men treated as equal in European courts. I see a bloom of educators and commerce, gifted black men writing letters. Science, and ingenuity. A revised version of heaven.

DEVIL I was thinking build a giiiant fortress

Links in this post:

Goethe’s “Faust”
Pat Robertson’s comments on Haiti’s “pact with the devil”
Hamilton Morris’s “Nzambi” on
Review of “Black Majesty” in TIME
Tonton Macoute
“Toussaint L’Ouverture is Betrayed by the French” at L’Ouverture Project
“Bois Caiman” at L’Ouverture Project
Sans-Souci Palace at Google Timeline
Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera” on YouTube
“Human Branding at Wikipedia
“Name Change of St.-Domingue” at L’Ouverture Project
Christophe v Petion
“The Tragedy of Haiti” by Noam Chomsky on Africa Speaks
Scene II, “Le Tragedie du Roi Christophe” by Aimé Césaire
“Haiti’s Turbulent Birth Haunts Crumbling Fortress” in the Washington Post

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