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Boukman (also Boukmann, Dutty Boukman or Zamba Boukman) was a leader of the rebellion in its initial stages, he is reputed to have led a vodou ceremony together with the mambo Cecile Fatiman at Bois Caïman on August 22, 1791 which signaled the start of the rebellion.1 He had come to Saint-Domingue by way of Jamaica, then to become a maroon in the forest of Morne Rouge. Giant, powerful, "grotesque-looking man... with a 'terrible countenance', a face like an exaggerated African carving." (Parkinson, p. 39) Fierce and fearsome, he was an inspiring leader.

While Boukman was not the first to lead a slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue, as he was preceded by others such as Padrejean in 1676 and François Mackandal in 1757, he delivered the spark that helped to ignite the Haitian Revolution.

"He had been a commandeur (slave driver) and later a coachman on the Clément plantation, among the first to go up in flames once the revolt began. While his experience as commandeur provided him with certain organizational and leadership qualities, the post as coachman no doubt enabled him to follow the ongoing political developments in the colony, as well as to facilitate communication links and establish contacts among the slaves of different plantations. Reputedly, Boukman was also a Vodou priest and, as such, exercised an undisputed influence and command over his followers, who knew him as "Zamba" Boukman. His authority was only enhanced by the overpowering impression projected by his gigantic size." (Flick p.92)

"Boukman Dutty (said to have been called "Book Man" in Jamaica because he could read) was sold by his British master to a Frenchman (and his name became "Boukman" in Haiti). A giant with imposing stature, with courage to match, he was a Vodou priest, exercising an undisputed influence and command over his followers, who knew him as "Zamba" Boukman." (Espeut)

Note that Geggus doubts Boukman was a houngan, as no reference to this exists before accounts of the Bois Caïman ceremony appear. (Geggus, p. 89)

The French publicly displayed Boukman's head after his execution.

Boukman's prayer

This prayer, from the ceremony at Bwa Kayiman, has been traditionally been ascribed to Boukman: "The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light.The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man's god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It's He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It's He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men's god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that sings in all our hearts."

Boukman's prayer in Kréyol

Bon Dje ki fè la tè. Ki fè soley ki klere nou enro. Bon Dje ki soulve lanmè. Ki fè gronde loray. Bon Dje nou ki gen zorey pou tande. Ou ki kache nan niaj. Kap gade nou kote ou ye la. Ou we tout sa blan fè nou sibi. Dje blan yo mande krim. Bon Dje ki nan nou an vle byen fè. Bon Dje nou an ki si bon, ki si jis, li ordone vanjans. Se li kap kondui branou pou nou ranpote la viktwa. Se li kap ba nou asistans. Nou tout fet pou nou jete potre dje Blan yo ki swaf dlo lan zye. Koute vwa la libète kap chante lan kè nou.

Note 1: Other participants at the Bois Caïman ceremony were Georges Biassou, Jeannot Bullet and Jean François Papillon, all of which were leaders of the early Haitian Revolution.

See also


  • Geggus, David Patrick (2002). Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Blacks in the Diaspora). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34104-3.
  • Parkinson, Wenda (1978). This Gilded African. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-2187-4
  • Espeut, Peter (Dec. 31, 2003). Two hundred years later. Jamaica Gleaner.
  • Fick, Carolyn E. (1990). The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-667-0.

External link

  • Haïti Progrès: Exorcizing Boukman - Boukman and the effort by some to destroy the memory of Bois Caïman.