"Kay + Iman" in Northern Haitian Creole


Origin of the Bwa Kay Iman lieBois Caïman and plant namesBoukman wasn't Jamaican
Origin of the Boukman nameBoukman wasn't named ZambaBoukman didn't know how to read
Cécile Fatiman wasn't muslimTamerlan wasn't muslimDédé Magrite wasn't muslim
Azaka is not muslim

                                                                                       (Li li an Kreyòl) (Version française)
Rodney Salnave
Dougan (Scribe)
September 16, 2016
(Updated: Sept. 22, 2016)

The greatest obstacle to Haitian history is that the majority of Haitians analyzing it have no respect for it. They feel no respect for people who have shaped their history. No respect for those to whom they tell that history. And lastly, they have no self-respect.
Thus, making it extremely rare to find a Haitian able to analyze historical facts without trying to hide parts that displease him; or exaggerate the appreciated portions beyond the limit of available historical evidence.
Historical chaos rules, since the Haitian "historian" knows that the majority of his compatriots will not engage in historical research capable of exposing his manipulations. Moreover, he knows that Haitians engaged in research are part of his circle of friends, or they belong to the same intellectual circles. So few are the chances that a colleague would counter him; in the same way that he will abstain from questioning a colleague's dodgy historical interpretation. And if it so happens that a brave soul dared contradict him, he will immediately protest being "attacked". Leaving the naysayer the narrow choice of either retracting or to fight; sometime physically.
Victim of a cohort of dishonest intellectuals, Haitian history has become a dumping ground for lies and fabulations, a rusty tool box for the political interests and personal ambitions of educated scums.
A glaring example of this lack of respect is that - from my own observation, and I could be wrong on that - so far no Haitian historian has given serious consideration to the linguistic difference existing between the North of Saint Domingue (Haiti) - seat of the ceremony of Bois Caiman - and the rest of that territory (West, South, Central and North-West). Nor has a Haitian historian took note of the lexical gap between Creole spoken in the colony and modern Creole.
Accuracy and respect are among the prerequisites missing in the Haitian historian. Basic tools that nevertheless would have helped him carry a discource more reflective of the linguistic reality of people who made history. Unfortunately, this is not the chosen path. Only among foreign historians (most, not all) that we find a care for historical accuracy. Although, as foreigners, certain aspects of the Haitian reality escape them.
It is, then, with respect for the Ancestors, for the history of Haiti, for the reader of this text, and for my own person, that, in my analysis of Bois Caiman and the general insurrection of 1791, I will incorporate the linguistic specificity of Northern Creole in relation to that of the rest of Saint Domingue (Haiti).
The linguistic evidence is unequivocal. It allows me to say that, in the Creole spoken in Northern Saint Domingue in 1791, to the present day, "Kay Iman" referred only to the reptile named "Kayiman" (Cayman). "Kay Iman" does not mean someone's home. So therefore, "Bwa Kay Iman", this so-called wood "Bwa" amid which would have been located a house "Kay" belonging to a Muslim "Iman", reportedly Boukman, the revolutionary, is pure fantasy.

We base our argument on one of the first-published French-Creole dictionaries (1) :

This dictionary was published in 1802, just 11 years after Bois Caiman. However, it was written quite some time before the year of publication. This dictionary was incorporated into a book titled : "Manuel des habitans de Saint-Domingue". Its author, S.J. DUCOEURJOLY, was a northern Saint Domingue settler so knowledgeable of the colonial life as to publish this guide to the new settlers.

1) Kay (Caye) or Kaz (Caze)
According to the dictionary, in Northern (and Eastern) Créole - spoken by Boukman and the revolutionary orchestrators of the Bois Caiman -  House was called "Kay" or "Caze".

"Maison, s.f. Logis, bâtiment pour y demeurer,
Caze ou Caye."
S.J. Ducoeurjoly. Manuel des habitans de Saint-Domingue. Tome 2. Paris, 1802. p.331.

This was also the case in the rest of the colony (West, South, Central and North-West). But apart from that, these two Creoles differ significantly in their formulation of the possessive form. The Creole of the rest of the colony is one of the simplest languages as regards to its possessive form. In most cases, two words placed one in front of the other establish that the first is the property of the latter. For example, "Kay Iman" meant, in the Creole spoken in the rest of the colony :
  • a) a house "Kay" owned by "Iman", without him necessarily residing in it;
  • b) a house "Kay" where resides "Iman" without him necessarily be its owner;
  • c) and finally, a house "Kay" owned by "Iman" who also lives in it.
Northern Saint-Domingue Creole is way harder to grasp. In fact, it is one of the most difficult languages in the world, regarding its possessive form. So much so that the majority of those who propagate the "Bwa Kay Iman" fabulation, though Haitian born, are utterly ignorant of the possessive form in the language of Boukman. Moreover, the word "Kay" they use to signify Boukman's property, is one of the words for which the possessive form is the most complex in Northern Creole. In other words, the revisionists, born in the wrong part of the country, were doomed from the get-go.

2) "Kay a Iman" or "Kaz a Iman"
They did not say "Kay Iman" in the North of the colony, to indicate that a house "Kay" belonged to a "Iman". To formulate that a House (Caye or Caze) belonged to "Iman", it would have required, what I call a "marker of possession", in-between those 2 words "Kay" and "Iman". In other words, if, in the rest of the colony we can say "Kay Iman" in reference to a house "Kay" in which an "Iman" lived, in the North, such linguistic form is impossible without the presence of "a" (sounds like "ah"- one of eleven possessive markers) (2) between "Kay" and "Iman". Hence, in Northern Creole, we wouldn't have "Kay Iman", but rather "Kay a Iman" or "Kaz a Iman" :

"Affermer, v.a. donner à ferme, - j’ai affermé ma terrema maison.
Fermer, - mo fermé terre a moué, - caze à moué."
S.J. Ducoeurjoly. Op. Cit. p.288

3) "Bwa Kote Kay a Iman" or "Bwa Kote Kaz a Iman"
This means that "Kay Iman" does not fit the grammatical structure of the Creole spoken in the North both in 1791 and in the present. However, several revisionists claim that "Bwa Kay Iman," would be a distortion of "Bò Kay Iman" or the House near the Wooden area that belongs to an "Iman". This form does not conform to Northern Saint Domingue Creole either, since they did not say "bò". To designate "Near", the word used was "Côté" (Kote, akote or arebò in modern Northern Creole) :

"Auprès, préposition de lieu, - sa maison est auprès de la mienne, - la rivière passe auprès de cette ville, - il vient d'auprès de la place, - votre mal n'est rien auprès du sien.
Coté, - caze a ly coté quien à moué, - rivière la passé coté la ville, - ly sorti côté la place, - mal à vou ly a rien coté tien à ly." 
S.J. Ducoeurjoly. Op. cit. p.294

4) "Bwa LaKay a Iman" or "Bwa LaKaz a Iman"
Even if "Bwa Kay Iman" or "Bwa Kaz Iman" were linguistically valid, this expression wouldn't designate a home in Northern Creole. For if, in the Creole of the rest of the colony, "Caye" or "Caze" described the residence of a person, in the north, the word referred only to a house as a property. (As in: 1 House, 2 Houses, 3 Houses.) The word "Caye" or "Case" does not indicate where somebody lived. That is why the French word "Maison" for "House" was simply translated to "Caze" or "Caye" by S.J. Ducoeurjoly. But as he referred to a place of residence as "Chez vous", meaning "Your home", the author chose "La Caze" or "The caye" (Lakay in modern Creole) :

"Maison, s.f. logis, bâtiment pour y demeurer, - j’ai fait faire deux maisons pour les Nègres, - il y à une maison principale, - va t’en à la maison, - je m’en vais chez moi, à la maison.
Caze ou Caye, - mo fai yo fair deux caze à nègre, - l’y en a nion grande caze, - alé là caze, - mo alé là caze à moué."
S.J. Ducoeurjoly. Op. cit. p.331

La caze à moué (My home) :

La caze à vou (Your home) :

La caze à ly (His or her home ; "Ly", substituted with "Iman", renders "La caze à Iman" ) :

So, "Caze à vou" or "Caye à vou" referred to a House (Kay) someone possessed. No details are given to distinguish if the owner lived there. By cons, "La Caze à vou" or "La Caye à vou" expressed that someone lived there, but is not necessarily the owner of that house. In other words, to indicate the residence of an "Iman", in Northern Creole, they would have said "La Caze à Iman" or "La Kaye à Iman". Thus, rendering :

A) Bwa La Caze à Iman
Or :
B) Bwa La Kay a Iman

The possessive form in the modern Creole in use in northern Haiti, contains contractions that are absent in the Creole of the rest of the country. By using a contraction, we get this other option :

C) Bwa LaKa Iman

As we can see, "Kay Iman" appears in none of these three Northern Creole forms. "Kayiman" (Cayman), the name of the animal, remains the sole linguistic possibility. And while some question the existence of Caymans in the Northern Saint Domingue, they would love to know that S.J. Ducoeurjoly already addressed this issue in  that same publication :

"L’Européen. Il n’y a donc point d’animaux qui soient dangereux?
L’Américain. Il n’a que le cayman, qui est une espèce de crocodile, dont il est facile de se garantir; les reptiles y sont peu communs, et ne sont pas dangereux."
"The European [Speking about Saint Domingue] : So aren't there any dangerous animals? 
The American [in the continental sense] : There are only cayman, that are a species of crocodile, that  are easily neutralised; reptiles are few there, and are not dangerous."  
S.J. Ducoeurjoly. Op. cit. p.74.

5) "Nan Iman" or "Iman"
Those who propagate the "Bwa Kay Iman" falsehood should have known that in Haiti, "Bwa" + "Kay" isn't a combination of words retained in place names. As these 2 words would compete with one another. It would have been more convenient to opt for either "Bwa" or "Kay". When they wish to designate a house "Kay" surrounded by greenery "Bwa", they would generally go for only one of these two elements. Nowhere do we find the use of both.
Moreover, when it comes to naming a spot in relation to a person, they do not use "Kay"(which is incompatible with Northern Creole). For naming a commercial location, they use "Laka" or "Lakay a." For example: "Laka Fenn" = At ​​Fenn's ; "Laka Popo" = At Popo's, etc. To name a school, it will be : "Laka Mè" = At the Nuns'; "Laka Frè" = At the Brothers; "Laka Edit" = At ​​Edith's, etc. Sometimes the name of a person is simply assigned to a zone. For example: "Man Malèrb" = Ms. Malerbe (name of an area that housed a spring near Cape Haitian. But "Nan" has the most widespread use in place naming (especially in rural areas). For example:" Nan Dekinn "bears the name of Petite-Anse's Deetjen family (pronounced" Daykeen"). So, "Nan Iman" would have been the more likely choice, if one wanted to designate a House "Kay" inhabited by an "Iman". That is, if they did not simply call the place "Iman".

6) "Nan Mori"
The "Bwa Kay Iman" lie originates, as we have shown in a previous article, from the falsification act of the French scholar Gérard Barthélémy who, in 1990, sought to sabotage the 200th anniversary of Bois Caiman. He released an article that was the first to introduce Bois Caiman as Muslim. (3) His article relied on 2 or 3 texts published between 1965-1970. (3-5) These texts have profiled a group of Haitians living in Balan (Northern Plain) who perpetuated an ancestral Mandingo rite. (We will speak on that in later a article that will prove that Haitians of Mandingo heritage aren't Muslims.) The point that we are now dealing with concerns the 2-3 studies on the group in Balan. They revealed that these Haitians practicing the Mandingo rite called their spiritual leader "Mori" - not "Iman". (6) Therefore, if Boukman were a Mandingo Muslim, his house would have been called "Nan Mori". However, it wasn't the case, as we do not have "Bwa Kay Mori" nor "Bwa Kay Mori". So, due to the fact that "Mori", the title known in Balan, is still in use in Mandinka circles of West "Africa", (7) we can say that "Bwa Kay Iman", on the contrary, is not based on any historical and linguistic truth that is verifiable on the field.

7) "Nan Almami"
The farce known as "Bwa Kay Iman" is based on the word "Iman" that supposedly means "Imam", an Islamic spiritual leader title. However, this is problematic, since nowhere in "Africa" can one find a people calling its leader "Iman"or "Imam", a Middle Eastern practice. Morover, captives in Saint Domingue were kidnapped in "Africa"; not in the Middle East. Besides, "Almamy" is the common title used in "Africa" for spiritual leaders among Islamized peoples. Mandingos are no exception, although they name "Mori" their leaders that mixed ancestral practices with some Muslim prayers for magical purposes. So do the majority of Haitian Manbo and Houngan who combine their ancestral tradition with Catholic prayers and icons without them been considered Catholic nuns or priests. The following Mandingo saying explains the title differentiation that was born of syncretism :

"Alimami ye mori ye, nka mori bɛɛ tɛ alimami ye.(8)

This is equivalent to : The Alamamy is a Mori. But all Mori aren't Almamy. It means that Almamy is the true Muslim. Despite the fact that he makes use of Koranic prayers, the Mori, is very limited in his knowledge of orthodox Islamic doctrine. In fact, the Mori knows just the little he needs in Islam to help its magic. So if Boukman was a true Islamic leader and a Mandingo, his house would have carried the name of "Nan Almami". But that did not happen. We might have settled for "Bwa Kay Almami", "Bwa Kay a Almami", "Bwa Lakay a Almami" or "Bwa Laka Almami". Even "Bwa Laka Mami" could have given a hint of a certain Islamization in that location's naming. But unfortunately, historical fabrications, although highly attractive, easily crumble under the scientific microscope.

8) "Nan Alfa"
Let's put aside the Mandingo theory to consider, hypothetically, that Boukman was a Muslim of the Fulani ethnic group (Foula in the Haitian Tradition). Even in this case, the "title" of "Iman" wouldn't be assigned to him. Descourtilz, a former colonist, who has been in contact with members of the Foula Nation ; revealed that those of them who were Islamized did not called their spiritual leader "Iman". His assigned title was "Alpha". (9) And to this day, "Alpha" or "Alfa" remains one of the title of spiritual and political leaders of this West "African" ethnic group. (10) Meaning, if Boukman were a Foula Muslim, they would have designated his home as "Nan Alfa" instead of that rubbish "Bwa Kay Iman".

9) Trou Kayiman
We must draw attention to Trou Caiman, located to the west of Port-au-Prince, where, in August 30, 1791, barely a week after the general insurrection, Western province Affranchis (freed blacks and mulattos) met :
"Le 30 août 1791 : Les Affranchis établissent leur quartier général à Trou Caïman dans la plaine du Cul-de-Sac : eux aussi ils entendent organiser la bataille et prendre en main la dircetion des affaires du pays.(11)
Prior to heading to Trou-Caïman, the Freedmen arranged for a Catholic mass, Te Deum, to be sung on their behalf :
"Après la victoire de Pernier, l’armée des hommes de couleur se rendit à la Croix-des-Bouquets où elle fit chanter un Te Deum pour remercier le Tout-Puissant de ses succès sur les hommes injustes qui, loin de vouloir reconnaître les droits que la classe de couleur tenait de l’Auteur de toutes choses, s’étaient proposé de l’anéantir. (…) Le premier sentiment qu’éprouvaient les vainqueurs de Néret et de Pernier, était celui de la reconnaissance evers le Dieu des armées, qui leur avait donné le courage et la force pour appuyer leurs droits. Ce sentiment honore leur mémoire.
Ensuite, cette armée poursuivit sa route et fut camper au Trou-Caïman.(12)
Since when the Western Freedmen gathered in Trou Caiman, they did not do so in "Trou Kay Iman" (ie in a "Trou" (hole) at the bottom of which was a house "Kay" in which resided a "Iman"), then why is it that only Bois Caiman, where the Northern rebels met the previous week, that can be deformed and Islamized in"Bwa Kay Iman"?

10) Rue du Caïman
During colonial times, at Port-de-Paix (North-West), April 14, 1770, 21 years before Bois Caiman and the general insurrection, there was a street named "Caïman" (rue du Caïman) :

"Un emplacement sis au Port-de-Paix, de 120 pieds de face sur 150 de profondeur, coupé par la levée où abouti la rue du Caïman, en deçà du pont; ce qui forme deux Emplacemens, l’un au nord de la levée, de 120 pieds de face sur 50 de profondeur du côté de l’est & 60 de l’oeust, l’autre au sude de ladite levée, de 120 pieds de face sur 100 de profondeur du côté de l’est & 90 de l’ouest : on les vendra aussi ensemble ou séparément. Il faut s’adresser audit Sieur Tendron." (13)
Does this ad leads us to say that the French settlers were Muslims all this time without anyone knowing? Unless it was a Mandingo "Iman" who owned a house "Kay" on that particular street ; and who demanded that the settlers named that street after him. Because, we truly doubt that there were Caymans strolling in the streets of Port-de-Paix.

11) Caïman, rebel leader
If "Kayiman" equals "Kay Iman," then how is it that by the year 1791, there was a rebel leader named  "Caïman"? :
"Dans l’Oeust, les ateliers de l’Arcahaie, le Cul-de-Sac, de Léogâne, se soulèvèrent et se vidèrent sur les Maheux, le Trou-Caïman, les montagnes du Grand-Fond, d’où les révolés guerroyèrent sans ensemble, sous les ordres des chefs : Hyacinthe, Halaou, Caïman, Lamour Dérance, Dieudonné Lafortune, Pompée, Romaine la Prophétesse, La plume." (14)
"Caïman" or "Kayiman", the rebel leader, was he an "Iman" that battled while carrying a House "Kay" on his head? Or was it that he carried that House "Kay" under his armpit as Alaou (who also is alleged to be Muslim) who walked continuously with a magical white rooster under his armpit. Was it an innovative Islamic practice, thus far unknown? We must not forget to raise the presence of Romaine La Prophétesse (Romaine The Female Prophet) who was a man dressed as a woman, because he was continually possessed by the Virgin Mary. If "Caïman" and Alaou were Muslims, why did they have Romaine La Prophétesse, a transvestite, as a companion-in-arms ?

12) Oath or Boukman Prayer 
Finally, even what is called the "Oath" or "Boukman Prayer" is not consistent with the Creole spoken in Northern Saint Domingue. This "Oath" was only a poem that Hérard-Dumesle, a politician from Les Cayes (South province), published in 1824. (15) A poem that was inspired by a speech made in Morne Rouge. But the author did not confirmed that it was given by Boukman, whom he recognized as that event's organizer. Even though Hérard Dumesle surveyed the North, and was blessed with a phenomenal memory, (16) that was hardly sufficient for him to tame the possessive form of Northern Creole.

Here is the Herard-Dumesle poem, written in the Creole spoken in the rest of Haiti in 1824 :

Bondié qui fait soleil, qui clairé nous en haut,
Qui soulevé la mer, qui fait grondé l’orage,
Bon dié la, zot tandé? caché dans youn nuage,
Et la li gadé nous, li vouai tout ça blancs faits !
Bon dié blancs mandé crime, et part nous vlé bienfaits
mais dié là qui si bon, ordonnin nous vengeance ;
Li va conduit bras nous, la ba nous assistance,
Jetté portrait dié blancs qui soif dlo dans gié nous,
Couté la liberté li palé cœurs nous toùs.

Here is the same poem, corrected to fit 1791 Northern Saint Domingue Creole :

Bondié qui fait soleil, qui clairé nous en haut,
Qui soulevé la mer, qui fait grondé l’orage,
Bon dié la, zot tandé? caché dans youn nuage,
Et la li gadé nous, li vouai tout ça blancs faits !
Bon dié à blancs mandé crime, et quien à nous vlé bienfaits
mais dié là qui si bon, ordonnin nous vengeance ;
Li va conduit bras à nous, la ba nous assistance,
Jetté portrait à dié à blancs qui soif dlo dans gié à nous,
Couté la liberté li palé dans cœurs à nous toùs.

Regardless of the angle in which you approach it, "Bwa Kay Iman" remains incompatible with Northern Creole. Too bad for the people of the other parts of the country who have called themselves historians to best improvise on "Bwa Kay Iman". They truly believed they were spreading the truth, but were only exposing their arrogance and ignorance.

(1) S.J. Ducoeurjoly. Manuel des habitans de Saint-Domingue. Tome 2. Paris, 1802. pp.283-393.
(2) Rodney Salnave. Kreyòl Ayisyen Nan Nò ak Nodès. Unpublished.
(3) Gérard Barthélémy. "Propos sur le Caïman: Incertitudes et hypothèses nouvelles" in: Chemins Critiques, Vol. 2. No3, Mai, 1992. pp.33-58.
(4) R.P. Carl Édouard Peters. « Société mandingue », in : Revue de la Faculté d'ethnologie. No. 10. Port-au-Prince, 1965. pp.47-50.
(5) Gerson Alexis. « Aperçu sur les Mandingues haïtiens », in : « Lecture en anthropologie haïtienne », Port-au-Prince, 1970. pp.173-185.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Online Bambara (Mandinka) dictionary. URL :
(8) Ibid.
(9) M. E. Descourtilz. Voyages d’un naturaliste et ses observations, Tome 1, Paris, 1809, lvj
(11) Gérard Desnoyers Montès. La lutte des Affranchis, Montréal. 200. p.197.
(12) Beaubrun Ardouin. Études sur l'histoire d'Haïti…Volume 1. Paris. 1853. p. 207.
(13) Les Affiches Américaines du samedi 14 avril 1770, parution n.15, (Avis N.15).
(14) Étienne D. Charlier. Aperçu sur la formation historique de la Nation haïtienne. Port-au-Prince. 1954. p.54.
(15) Hérard-Dumesle. Voyage dans le Nord d'Hayti ou révélations des lieux et des monumens historiques. Cayes, 1824. p.88.
(16) Saint-Rémy. Mémoires du général Toussaint-Louverture. Paris, 1853. p.101.

How to cite this article:
Rodney Salnave. ""Kay + Iman" in Northern Haitian Creole". Sept. 16, 2016. Updated Sept. 22, 2016. [online] URL: ; Retrieved on [enter date] 

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