Kongo – Haïti

Kongo - Haïti

Counter-History deep in time

Lakou de Souvenance, Haiti 2014


Le Nègre est un bien meuble.

Code Noir, 1685

The purpose of this research-started in Haiti in the fall winter 2014/2015 continued in Kongo in 2016/2018- is once again an effort to understand my time.

I did not have at my disposal any kind of signs system to decipher that world.

My research developed in a sharpening of my incomprehension, incorporating interdisciplinary perspectives across the archive, the ethnographic field and the symbolic textuality of sound and movements.

Note on Methodology

On Archives
In reading the archives, my concern has been primarily epistemological in deconstructing the politics of representation and the anthropology of imperial dominance, the condition of their production and their transformation in historical memory.
I have used archives against itself, not in order to find “alternative” sources that are more “right” or more “credible” to invalidate certain dominant narratives. It has been be instead a matter of juxtaposing different and alternatives types of sources to question the contradictions as generators of complexity. Aporias are themselves traces of conflicts or silences to deeply explore the complexity of history.

On Video-Ethnography
Since reality is always exceeding its representation and our understanding of it is always  differed (J.Derrida) and/or an act of epistemological violence (V.Y.Mudimbe), I have relied on lived, unpredictable, precognitive experience as a form of knowledge, and envisaged  video as a form of encounter, a dialogue beyond subject/object dualism: I see and I am seen by, I make an image and I am an image at the same time.   The visual essay does not represent or explain experience, but presents or/and evokes the immediacy of the encounter with the Other, the staccato of connections, the tension between order and disorder, the aesthetic of flows and rhythms, the imponderabilia of the field work. 

The camera as an embodied pan-optical perceptive extension generates an immersive, inter-subjective and fluid relationship between body, camera and subject without relying on voice-over, interviews or verbal explanation. The sound and noise of the environment is intended to be experienced as an acoustic, expressive language rather than a supportive device of the visual. Since video narrative is not scripted each temporal shot is recorded as a singular, unbroken flow of continuous movement. 

Ritual and Counter-Power (https://www.paris-iea.fr/regards-et-resistances) is an essay about the phenomenology of the ritual, the  raw material of my  ethnographic journal. In reading the archives, I tried to retrace the relation between Vaudou and the anti-colonial uprising (1791-1804) focusing on  the agency of  ritual, drum, expressive body and imaginary as a device of counter-power, source of identity, social cohesion, struggle and resistance against the plantation’s segregation. The recreation of African beliefs and rituality allowed individuals uprooted, condemned to social death -by capture, deportation, sale- to resist the oppression.

Ritual is envisaged as place of strategic contestation and the body as the only cultural capital as a support of representation. Its expressivity, musicality, orality produces a counter-imaginary. In the critical fonction of phantasy (Herbert Marcuse) resides the premises of liberation.

Embodied Archive: Nghembo Makaya and Petro Lemba the first part of the visual essay retraces the memory recorded in a resistance song of Makaya, a bossale slave from Kongo, the most important ally of Colonel Jean Baptiste Sans Soucis who played an important role  from the beginning of the 1791 uprising. While Christophe, Petion and Dessaline managed to subdue other foci of resistance, the extreme mobility of Sans Soucis‘s small units reversed the military situation in the northern part of Haiti.
What happened left traces in Rhythms, Songs, Gestures. The resistance songs, the embodied, living archive excluded by official historiography, represent the materiality of history, an alternative episteme to  western hegemonic model.

Chronologies of Silences explores the corpus of historical archives transformed in historical memory. Exploiting travellers and explorers writing, a colonial library begins to take shape, a body of knowledge to deciphering the African object (V.Y.Mudimbe).
It fulfilled a political project: slave trade and its politics since the XV century, colonialism and imperialism at the end of XIX century.
Archives reflects the entanglement of historicity with power.
Middle Passage, Slavery and Marronage haven’t left any written documents behind.
What happens now and the counter memory of the micro-politics of the slave trade and plantation society, as a foundation of both industrialisation and modernisation (E. Williams) lays as a meta-historical interpretative device to deconstruct domination and exploitation of our present, to navigate the hyper-contemporary, the political economy of extracting, mining, trading, harbouring, crossing, accumulating, dispossessing, segregating, ghettoising, ethnicising, gentrifying.