By Onz Chery
Beken Petit-Homme, a cultural promoter based in Gonaïves, can’t help but raise his voice in excitement as he discussed ideas for celebrating Haiti’s Independence Day. Most are experiences he enjoyed as a child growing up in the Cradle of Independence — including skits replicating Haitian independence the public can take part in, dancing performances, numerous parades, an Independence Day ball… and so on.
This year, such thoughts of festive performers in folkloric clothes will only remain just that. Ideas locked in Petit-Homme’s mind as, yet again, Gonaïves’s streets will not see the fanfare of yore. Between rising insecurity, political controversies and government officials’ lack of interest, Petit Homme said, nothing major is planned.
Instead, residents of Gonaïves, the very city where Haiti declared its independence on that momentous day in 1804, will commemorate the day in the lower-key manner Haitians overseas mark the day: with a bowl of soup joumou.
“Soup joumou is a tradition,” said Petit-Homme. “But recently there haven’t been celebrations for Independence Day in Haiti. [The city] is supposed to be animated everywhere and have cultural, traditional activities that take us back to January First, 1804.”
Except for 2017 and 2018, when children dressed up as independence heroes marched through the streets of Gonaïves, the past eight years have come and gone with no major cultural celebrations, Petit-Homme said. Only a church mass, the president’s visit to the delegation building and his speech took place.
In 2021, even those three activities won’t happen. President Jovenel Moïse will speak from the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, according to a Protocol Office letter.
In 2020, Moïse first broke tradition by skipping the visit to Gonaïves after opposition parties warned him not to come. That year, opposition groups attended the funeral of an anti-government protester, then carried his coffin in a procession through the streets.
“For over eight years, they [opposition leaders] boycotted dates that showcase Haiti’s value,” Petit-Homme said. “Politics broke the cultural and social aspect of Independence Day in Haiti. They broke it.”
Jude Charles Faustin, a political advisor of the president, views the political turmoil on Independence Day as completely out of place.
“January First is a national holiday that deserves to be celebrated throughout,” Faustin announced in Dec. 2019, according to St. Kitts and Nevis Observer. “This is not the time to enter into confrontations.”
Opposition groups have not announced whether they will protest in Gonaïves this Friday. But on Dec. 10, they did take it to the streets of the commune to denounce Moïse and the insecurity across the country.
As a result, the fear of further protests still looms over the heads of Gonaïves residents, Petit-Homme said. Plus, with the kidnapping crisis, anxiety is running through the city as well.
With such news as 163 residents shot dead in three months making the rounds, insecurity is the top concern for many residents, experts have said. While such killings and other violent acts occur mainly around the capital city, the mood of fear runs throughout the country.
In Gonaïves, based on recent media reports, there are already indications this year’s January First may not be apolitical. According to news site Rezo Nodwes, Jacques Ader, Gonaïves’ chief police officer, plans to avenge Moïse against the people who forbade him from visiting the town.
Even if it were safe to hold large events, the government has not provided the funds Petit-Homme added.
“They [government officials] never have money for anything that has to do with Haiti’s culture,” Petit-Homme said. “We will never know what Haiti’s independence is about then.”