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“Before Darkness Falls, It Is Not Futile to Collect:” Responses to a Threatened Culture in the Creation of Ethnographies of Haiti, 1928-1937

Stewart, Antony (2016) “Before Darkness Falls, It Is Not Futile to Collect:” Responses to a Threatened Culture in the Creation of Ethnographies of Haiti, 1928-1937. In: First Postgraduate Conference on Caribbean In/securities and Creativity, 23 May 2016, University of Birmingham, UK. (Unpublished)

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The creation of North American anthropology was significantly driven by the attempt to collect what could be gathered of Native American culture before the horrors of Manifest Destiny consigned it to the ages (Stocking, 1982). During the US Occupation of Haiti and the years immediately following, Haitian popular culture, especially that which was connected to Haitian Vodou, became similarly threatened. Brutal military suppression on behalf of the US Marines, together with a hostile elite, meant that Haitian rural practice was increasingly marginalised. Ethnographic study once again became a tool of preservation, and also of resistance, in response to this threat.
Ramsey (2011) has looked in detail at the role of Haitian anthropology during the Campagne anti-superstiteuse of 1941, when the Church and government united in a kulturkampf against Vodou. Yet this was not the first time ethnography housed a response to increased insecurity of everyday Haitian life, and it manifested itself through various means within fieldwork and dissemination of research.

This paper will look at three specific examples wherein creative responses to a threatened culture are found within the creation of Haitian ethnography. The first will analyse the celebrated work of Haitian ethnographer Jean Price-Mars as a response to the “tragic uncertainty” of occupation life, before investigating the role of anthropological “informant” Galbert Constance, who emphasised the precariousness of Haitian existence to Melville and Frances Herskovits. Finally we shall look at the transformation of the Pont Beudet Insane Asylum, founded and administered by the US occupation, into a site of anthropological pilgrimage for those interested in Haitian Vodou. These examples shall furnish our understanding of how ethnographical work shaped and catalysed responses to external cultural threats in early-twentieth century Haiti.

Type of Work:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
School/Faculty:Schools (1998 to 2008) > School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences
Department:Department of Geography
Date:23 May 2016
Keywords:North American anthropology; Native American culture; Haity Occupation; Haitian popular culture; Campagne anti-superstiteuse; Caribbean insecurity; creative responses to insecurity; Haitian ethnography; early-twentieth century Haiti.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > D History (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
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Funders:Leverhulme Trust
Copyright Holders:Antony Stewart
ID Code:2197

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