Editor’s Note: PhD candidate Erin Zavitz was in Haiti for a week in November conducting dissertation research. Her study examines commemorations of the Haitian Revolution to elucidate the contested processes of nation and state formation in the first post-slavery and second post-colonial society in the Americas. She provided the following account of Saint Martin’s Feast Day in Dondon, Haiti.
Dondon, Haiti, Saint Martin’s Feast Day
The most challenging aspect of my dissertation research has been collecting oral histories in Haiti. This past November, however, I received the most wonderful reward for my hard work. Members of the Bibliothèque (library) Oswald Durand in Dondon, Haiti, invited me to attend and present at the feast day in honor of the town’s patron saint, St. Martin, in November. An honored guest presenter, I participated in a conference launching the July 2014 Ecotourism Festival.
Traveling up from Port-au-Prince on November 9th, I knew little about what was planned for the weekend. Nervous and excited, this would be my first presentation in Haitian Creole; I bounced along on the back of my moto-taxi up to the mountain town of Dondon. The central square was buzzing with activity for the saint’s day, and I quickly met up with my contacts whom I had interviewed last summer. We spent the afternoon walking around town taking in the sights. They also gave me the official schedule for the next day’s festivities. Because the day would start early, I headed back to the town’s agricultural school that doubled as a hostel to get some sleep.
Sunday morning, November 10th, began with mass at 7am, where I was announced to the congregation as a visiting scholar. With a short break for breakfast, crowds headed over to the agricultural school for the conference and official launch of the Ecotourism Festival. Father Bernard Antoine (pictured) gave an engaging talk on Dondon’s history and development, emphasizing the community’s assets that the Ecotourism Festival would only enhance. Slightly modifying my topic of similarities between Africa and Haiti, I gave a brief historical overview of West and Central Africa on the eve of European contact, a subject with which I was more familiar. Afterwards, we had time for a Q&A and then an afternoon of festivities including a parade and ceremonial tree planting in honor of the Ecotourism Festival.
The trip was a great success and I had the honor to be accepted into the community of Dondon. I look forward to returning for more interviews and hopefully next year’s Ecotourism Festival.