The King, a Queen, and an Oath Sealed in Blood: A Cultural Re-Evaluation of the Bois-Caiman Ceremony and its Impact on the Early Haitian Revolution

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ABSTRACT

Historical studies have set up a paradox where religious practices are discussed as socially important to enslaved people while simultaneously are described as peripheral to the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution. Yet at the heart of the lead up to the 1791 insurgency was an Afro-Caribbean religious event called the Bois-Caiman ceremony. The timing of that ceremony in conjunction with a cultural analysis of its religious leadership and its religious practices, primarily dance and blood-oath, lead to a reading of the sources that stresses that religion played a more central role to the insurgency than previously argued. By employing recent anthropological methodologies and insights about the active role of culture in slave life, this study finds that the religious practices of enslaved people in Saint-Domingue were necessary to the organization and mobilization of the 1791 insurgency. The Bois-Caiman ceremony was a crucial moment in the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution.

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