ABSTRACT

In 1995 President Jean-Bertrand Aristide formally disbanded the Haitian armed forces, marking the end of two centuries during which the army exercised extraordinary sway over government, labor, land use, the legal system, and the economy. In this essay, we suggest that the complex relationship between the Haitian people and their army—or, more exactly, between the people and militarism—stretches back to the colonial era and to the independence struggle, and that it has left an indelible mark on expressive cultural forms and practices, most notably in music. This approach may strike some as counterintuitive: researchers of African diasporan societies are perhaps more accustomed to viewing colonial and postcolonial armies in the role of repressive agents or adversaries of peoples of African descent. While we do not deny the importance of military repression, we argue that the experience of militarism for many peoples of the African diaspora has been more complex and textured and that it plays a more serious role in structuring African diasporic consciousness than is commonly attributed to it. 2