Ending the ‘I Don’t Knows’ of Haiti’s History

New Haiti Legacy Project preserves and passes on Haiti’s endangered history.

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UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (June 16, 2014) — While training teachers in the Akaye region of her native Haiti how to identify students with mental health needs, MarieGuerda Nicolas was dismayed by how little many of them knew about their own nation’s history, particularly the role the first independent black republic played in ending slavery around the world.

But in assembling history materials Haitian teachers could integrate into their lessons, Nicolas, associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami, discovered the knowledge gap extended far beyond Haiti’s borders. Contributors to her own projects to strengthen cultural identity through education would say, “I’ve never heard about that book. I have never seen that painting; I have never heard that song.’’

Hoping to make such statements a thing of the past, Nicolas officially launched the Haiti Legacy Project at a festive gathering Friday evening celebrating the one-stop virtual space where teachers, students, and anyone anywhere in the world can browse a wealth of information, articles, news, and other resources not only about Haiti’s slavery, colonization, revolution, and independence, but about the song, dance, music, art, and literature that is such a vital part of the beleaguered nation’s rich cultural heritage.

Members of the Haitian folklore dance troupe from the Multicultural Educational Center surround MarieGuerda Nicolas during the launch celebration of the Haiti Legacy Project.

Made possible by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Haiti Legacy Project is available in English, Spanish, Creole, and French, and is by no means complete. It is not intended to be. The website is and will remain a work in progress, a place that is designed to grow, expand, and evolve as more people learn about it and contribute to it.

“This is only the beginning,” Nicolas told a roomful of admirers who attended the launch party. “We are hoping that the ‘I don’t know statements’ will stop because the resources are clearly available and out there.”

“I think this in of itself is creating history,” added Guerline Sanon, coordinator of the legacy project team, who gave an overview of the website’s slavery domain.

Fittingly, a troupe of folklore dancers from the Multicultural Education Center of Miami, accompanied by the voodoo rhythms of a single bongo drummer, kicked off the Friday night festivities in a Student Activities Center ballroom, fitting because, as Alix Cantave, program officer for the Kellogg Foundation noted, much of Haiti’s history is passed on and preserved in voodoo songs and dances.

“However, a lot of it is getting lost because of the stigma attached to voodoo,” Cantave said. “Our society is losing that component of what we call the folklore narrative. That is the significance of this project.”

Song is also a vital component of the website itself. Visitors will hear “Linyon,” (Union), by one of Haiti’s most influential musicians, John Steve Brunache, or the National Anthem of Haiti from 1893-1904 as they browse the content. They also may play a number of other songs on the music domain.

In addition to Sanon, other key members of Nicolas’ legacy project team include UM research assistants Djevelyne Phileus, Guerdiana Thelomar, and Venise Predestin; Sarah Quessa, doctoral candidate in the higher education program at Northeastern University, who is developing the teachers’ curriculum; and web master Bertrand Fravien, of Tech Solution Innovation.

Maya Bell can be reached at 305-284-7972.

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