Boukman wasn't named Zamba

                                                                                        (Li li an kreyòl) (Version française)

Rodney Salnave
Dougan (Scribe)
October 18, 2016

The history of Haiti, as told to Haitians, is very often a series of lies easily disprovable by anyone who bothers to check the sources. But who in Haiti, aside from foreign researchers, will check sources in that country equiped with a feudal Catholic education that mimics colonial, pre-progressive and pre-secular French education, that Jules Ferry reformed as early as 1881-1882? So far, aside from the period of the first Haitian historians of the 19th century, Baron Vastey, Thomas Madiou and the Ardouin brothers (1850-1860), no Haitian questions the historical truths of his country. Too lazy to scrutinize the dusty piles of archived documents, the Haitian historian or "researcher" much prefers displaying his knowledge and intellect by superficially analyzing false historical data. So, from 1860 (the Ardouin brothers) to the present, only Jean Fouchard conducted serious archival research. And it was for the worse. Due to either dishonesty (when he hinted that Emperor Dessalines might have been Toussaint Breda's slave (1) - as he possessed genealogical data to the contrary); either due to incompetence or xenophilia, when he exaggerated the Islamic presence in Saint Domingue (Haiti) and the literacy of Islamized captives, resulting in new lies and urban legends, including the Islamic revision that we are fighting here.*

So what is the connection between Jean Fouchard and Zamba Boukman? 

The first-name "Zamba" would not have been universally attributed to Boukman without the contribution of Jean Fouchard whose publication boosted and popularized it. (2) Fouchard, the renowned historian, in 1953, copied "Zamba" from the text of Catholic priest Jean Marie Jan, without checking the veracity of this religiously partisan text overflowing with the most ridiculous inconsistencies.
Jean Marie Jan's publication
Nowhere in the colony of Saint Domingue, have we found documents referring to Boukman by the first-name "Zamba". Yet the whole world is convinced that this impetuous leader responded to that name. Let's see how they are wrong. It wasn't until 1951 that Jean Marie Jan's religious text shoved "Zamba" on Boukman. The publication claimed to unveil the observation of a group of female Catholic school students from Les Dames Religieuses du Cap, in 1791, when Boukman would have tried to attack the city of Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien). But as we shall see, it is impossible to take "Zamba" seriously as the name of Boukman, since the priest's story announcing it, is, in the historical sense, a fabrication :

"Insurrection de 1791: En novembre 1791, les classes d'élèves vaquèrent, faute d'élèves. Pendant la nuit, on entendait ces mots incompris des blancs, chantés alternativement par une ou plusieurs voix. Le roi de la secte des Vaudoux venait de déclarer la guerre aux colons, et le front ceint d'un mouchoir rouge en guise de diadème, accompagné de la reine de la secte revêtue d'une écharpe de même couleur..." (3)
Translation :
"Uprising of 1791 : In November 1791, the classrooms were empty, for lack of students During the night, we heard these words, misunderstood by the whites, sung alternately by one or more voices. The king of the Vaudoux sect declares war on the settlers, and on his brow, he had a red handkerchief as a tiara (diadème), accompanied by the Queen of the sect coated with a scarf of the same color..."
a) The text claims that the "war" was declared in November 1791, when in reality, the "war" broke out in August ; three months earlier.

b) Then, by using the phrase "King of the Vaudoux sect" along with "red handkerchief as a tiara/crown (diadème)," the author reveals that he borrowed from the text of Moreau de Saint-Mery dated 1798, meaing 7 years after the general uprising and the death of Boukman :

"Le Roi Vaudoux a des mouchoirs plus beaux et en plus grande quantité, et est tout rouge et qui cient son front, est son diadème. Un cordon communément bleu, archève de marquer son éclatante dignité.
La Reine vêtue avec un luxe simple, montre aussi sa prédilection pour la couleur rouge, qui est le plus souvent celle de son cordon ou de sa ceinture." (4)
 Translation :
"The Vaudoux King has nicer handkerchiefs and in greater quantities, and they are all red, and tied on his forehead as he tiara (crown). A commonly blue ribbon, topped his stunning dignity.
The Queen is dressed in a simple luxury, that also shows her predilection for the color red, which is most often that of her ribbon or her belt. "

c) The author further discredited himself by
also making use of the phrase "agitant les grelots dont était garnie une boîte renfermant une couleuvre" (shaking bells which garnished a box containing a snake) :

"Le roi de la secte des Vaudoux venait de déclarer la guerre aux colons, et le front ceint d'un mouchoir rouge en guise de diadème, accompagné de la reine de la secte d'une écharpe de même couleur, agitant les grelots dont était garnie une boîte renfermant une couleuvre, marchait à l'assaut des villes de la colonie." (5)
Translation :
"The king of the Vaudoux sect declares war on the settlers, and on his brow, he had a red handkerchief as a tiara (diadème), accompanied by the Queen of the sect coated with a scarf of the same color, shaking bells which garnished a box containing a snake, marched to attack the cities of the colony. "

Here, instead of not Moreau de Saint-Mery, he copied a 1850 Gustave d'Alaux text on the Soulouque Empire ; meaning 59 years past the 1791 events that the testimony was supposed to describe :

"La commotion désordonnée qui agite la tête et les épaules du roi vaudoux se transmet de proche en proche à tous les assistans. Chacun d'eux est bientôt en proie à un tournoiement vertigineux que la reine, qui le partage, entretient en agitant les grelots dont est garnie la boîte de la couleuvre. Les rires, les sanglots, les hurlemens, les défaillances, les morsures ajoutent leur délire au délire croissant de la fièvre et du tafia." (6)
Translation :
"The disorderly commotion that shakes the head and shoulders of the Vaudoux King is spread by degrees to all present. Each is soon plagued by a dizzying spin as the Queen, who spreads it, keeps shaking the bells which garnished the snake box. Laughter, sobs and howls, failures and bites add to the growing delirium of fever and rum."
These extracts, borrowed from a 1850 document, prove that Jean Marie's story was subsequent to 1791. In other words, it is not authentic. Moreover,  Gustave Alaux, the Frenchman, also drawn from Moreau de Saint Mery's work, for a purpose similar to Jan. His aim was to denigrate Haiti's Emperor Soulouque, by linking him to rituals that have been observed, not in his empire, but over 52 years prior, in colonial time.

Jean Marie Jan's text proclaimed that the city of Le Cap was attacked by Boukman on November 22th (1791) :

"Le 22 novembre fut surtout célèbre par les incendies que les révoltés allumèrent dans l'Ile, se ruant indifféremment sur tous les habitants ; armés de pieux aigus, faute de fusils. Ils parcouraient la colonie semant partout la terreur. Ils vinrent mettre le siège devant le Cap-Français." (7)
Translation :
"November 22 was especially famous by the fires that the rebels lit in the island, charging indifferently on all the inhabitants ; armed with sharp stakes, as they lacked rifles. They roamed the colony sowing terror everywhere. They came to lay siege to Cap-Français."
However, Boukman, the rebel leader, had died since the beginning to mid November, killed in l'Acul du Nord, and his head displayed on the public square of Le Cap, that city he never attacked.

e) The Catholic author tried to bring a semblance of credibility to its falsification by introducing "le Zamba", not as one of Boukman's name, but rather as what he thought was his liturgical title :

"Au milieu des révoltés se trouvait le Zamba Boukman, les excitant à l'assaut de la caserne et du couvent qui contenaient bon nombre de jeunes filles et des colons." (8)
Translation :
"In the middle of the rebels was the Zamba Boukman, exciting them to attack the barracks and convent that contained many young girls and settlers."
In his ignorance of the Haitian Tradition, the priest mistook "Zanba" which means absolutely nothing, with "Sanmba" a grade or unofficial title of a talented traditional singer :

"Sanba n. : Chanteur, compositeur du terroir." (9)

Translation :

"Sanba n. : Singer, root performer."

f) The author did not shy away from using every single traditional cliché that can help authenticate his false document. It so happened that the colonial writings of Moreau de Saint-Mery offered an overused song attributed to practitioners of the traditional religion :

"Les régentes des classes remarquaient bien une certaine agitation dans le coeur des négresses, agitation qui augmentait surtout après la ronde qu'elles avaient adoptée à l'exclusion de toute autre : Eh eh, Bomba. Eh eh... Canga bafio te — Canga mousse dé lé. Canga do ki la. Canga li". (10)
Translation :
"The class supervisors well noticed some commotion in the hearts of the black women, commotion that increased, especially, after they've formed singing circles to the exclusion of any otherEh eh, Bomba. Eh eh... Canga bafio te — Canga mousse dé lé. Canga do ki la. Canga li".
Unfortunately, it wasn't the students of Les Dames Religieuses du Cap, but Moreau de Saint Mery, that first posted this sacred song in 1798 :

"Le frappant ensuite légèrement à la tête avec une petite palette de bois, il entonne un chanson africain, (*) que répètent en choeur ceux qui environnent le cercle ; alors le récipiendaire se met à trembler et à dancer... (...)
(*) Eh ! eh ! Bomba, hen ! hen !
      Canga bafio té
      Canga moune dé lé
      Canga do ki la
      Canga li." (11)

Translation :
"Then, tapping him lightly on the head with a small wooden paddle, he sings an African song (*) that repeat in unison those around the circle; when the recipient begins to shake and dance... 
(*) Eh ! eh ! Bomba, hen ! hen !
      Canga bafio té
      Canga moune dé lé
      Canga do ki la
      Canga li."
Similarly, although, unlike Jean Marie Jan, he did not take credit for it, Frenchman Gustave d'Alaux couldn't help utilize this colonial song, as one can notice, in the cover page of his 1850 document that Jean Marie Jan used as source :


Eh! eh! Bomba, hen! hen (t)!                           
Canga bafio té                                            
Canga moune dé lé                                 
Canga do ki la                                
Canga li." (12)                                 
Translation : 


Eh! eh! Bomba, hen! hen (t)!                           
Canga bafio té                                            
Canga moune dé lé                                 
Canga do ki la                                
Canga li."                                 

Certainly the sacred song "Eh! eh! Bomba..." was gathered by Moreau de Saint Mery, not Gustave d'Alaux who nevertheless acknowledged having drawn from Saint Mery, unlike Jean Marie Jan who claimed to be revealing a 1791 account, while plagiarizing subsequent works.

g) The author, Jean Marie Jan, who was reckless like none other, made use of all the famous phrases floating in literature to support his story that aims at denigrating the Haitian revolution and the ancestral practices at its base. To achieve his goal, he placed in the mouth of Boukman, the famous phrase "couté la liberté, li parlé coeur nous tous" (listen to freedom, that speaks in all our hearts), not in Morne Rouge, but during that leader's attack on Le Cap that never happened :

"Il leur rappelait dans ses improvisations poétiques, que les Blancs étaient maudits de Dieu, parce qu'ils étaient oppresseurs des Nègres qu'ils écrasaient sans pitié, et il terminait chaque refrain par ces mots : Couté la liberté, li parlé coeur nous tous." (13)
Translation :
"He reminded them in his poetic improvisations, that whites were cursed by God because they were oppressors of Negroes they crushed without mercy, and he ended every chorus with the words : Couté la liberté, li parlé coeur nous tous."
But we all recognized "Couté la liberté, li parlé coeur nous tous", the last line of the famous Hérard-Dumesle poem, better known as the "Boukman Oath" or the "Boukman Prayer", published in 1824, not in 1791 :

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 coeurs nous toùs. (14)

We've already disqualified, in a previous article, the "Boukman Oath" or the "Boukman Prayer" for not being consistent with the Creole spoken in Northern Saint Domingue in 1791. That same argument also disqualifies " Zamba", a religious title that was mispronounced by the author ; and over time have been diverted into Boukman's first-name. Because, to be consistent with the possessive form of the North, "Couté la liberté, li palé coeurs nous tous" should have been "Couté la liberté, li palé dans coeurs à nous tous".
For example, any Haitian knows this revolutionary song :

Grenadye alaso sa ki mouri zafè ra yo.
Nanpren manman. Nanpren papa.
Sa ki mouri, zafé ra yo.

Translation :
Grenadiers charge. Those who die, that's their business.
There's no mother. There's no father.
Those who died, that's their business.

Due to "ra" or "à" being a proper Northern Creole possessive form, we can not disqualify that revolutionary song. (Neither can we authenticate it, without more thorough historical research). But Jean Marie Jan didn't make use of either "ra" or "a", the proper marker of possession in this context, meaning that grammatically, his account was false. Besides, all the contemporary data made use of this possessive form that was spoken in the colony. But, to date, no modern Haitian historian's text containts such possessive markers. The reason being that their works consist of mere speculations originating from small time intellectuals that are unaware of the Haitian linguistic universe around them.

h) This latter extract proves Jean Marie Jan's audacity knows no bound. Motivated by religious intolerance, the revisionist Catholic author, even dared introduce princess Améthiste, daughter of King Henry (Christophe) and Queen Marie-Louise, as a mulatto, while none of her parents is white; then he placed the princess at the head of a half-naked fanatical band threatening Le Cap :
"Princesse Améthyste : Une ancienne élève, des plus intelligentes, appartenant à la classe de mulâtres, devenue plus tard le chef d'une compagnie d'Amazones, et connue dans l'histoire sous le nom de Princesse Améthyste, initiée à la secte des Ghioux ou Vaudoux, sorte de maçonnerie religieuse et dansante, introduite par les nègres Aradas à Saint-Domingue, entraîna dans la secte bon nombre de ses compagnes." (15)
Translation : 
"Princess Améthyste : A former student, amongst the smartests, belonging to the mulatto class, who later became the leader of a company of Amazons, and known in history as Princess Améthyste, an initiated of the sect of Ghioux or Vaudoux, sort of a religious and dancing masonry, introduced in Saint Domingue by Aradas negroes, involved many of her classmates in the sect."
But, according to L'Almanach Royale, Princess Améthiste was not even born in 1791. She was born 7 years later, on May 9, 1798. And her parents, the future King and Queen, were not even married in 1791. They will be in 1793. Besides, born in 1778, Queen Marie-Louise, princess Améthiste's mother, was merely 13 years old in 1791; thus proving the absurdity of the Catholic revision and the mediocrity of Haitian historians, including Jean Fouchard, who let spread this historical farce :
SA Majesté HENRY, Roi d'Hayti, né le 6 Octobre 1767, sacré et couronné au Cap-Henry, le 2 Juin 1811, marié le 15 Juillet 1793, à
Sa Majesté MARIE-LOUISE, Reine d'Hayti, née le 8 Mai 1778, sacrée et couronnée au Cap-Henry, le 2 Juin, 1811. Du mariage de leurs Majestés :
S. A. R. Monseigneur JACQUES-VICTOR-HENRY, né le 3 Mars 1804, Prince Royal d'Hayti.
S. A. R. Madame FRANÇOISE-AMÉTHISTE-HENRY, Madame Première, née le 9 Mai 1798.
S. A. R. Madame ANNE-ATHÉNAÏRE-HENRY, née le 7 Juillet 1 800." (16)

Translation :
HIS Majesty HENRY, King of Hayti, born on October 6, 1767, consecrated and crowned at Cap-Henry, on June 2, 1811, wed on July 15, 1793, to
Her Majesty MARIE-LOUISE, Queen of Hayti, born on May 8, 1778, consecrated and crowned at Cap-Henry, on June 2, 1811. From her wedding came their Majesties :
H. R. H. Monseigneur JACQUES-VICTOR-HENRY, born on March 3, 1804, Royal Prince of Hayti.
H. R. R. Madame FRANÇOISE-AMÉTHISTE-HENRY, Madame Première, born May 9, 1798.
H. R. R. Madame ANNE-ATHÉNAÏRE-HENRY, born on July 7, 1800."
In light of such a lack of historical plausibility, "Zamba" cannot be taken as the first-name of Boukman. Besides, Jean Marie Jan, had not even considered that possibility, because that first-name or another would not advance his cause as much as "Sanmba" (falsely Zamba), a traditional religious title, when allocated to Boukman, would have helped authenticate his story. And once that's done, only then can he use that title to best ridicule the ancient civilization that Boukman represented and for which he fought, and bravely gave his life facing the Western and Christian oppression Jean Marie Jan proudly represented.

* In 1953, Jean Fouchard published Les Marrons du Syllabaire (17), a highly successful book in which, as we have said, he exaggerated the importance of Islamized captives in the former colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti). A few years later, Gerson Alexis (18), having read a field report of priest Carl E. Peters (19) in Balan (Northern Haiti), inspired by Fouchard's pro-Islamic text (pure speculation on our part, given the lack of references in the Gerson Alexis' writings), went on the field to prove the Islamic identity of the people of Balan, despite the many local syncretic practices (Traditional religion + some Catholicism) that are categorically contrary to Islamic doctrine. And, a few decades later, Frenchman Gérard Barthélémy (20) used the writings of Gerson Alexis as a stepping stone to build the Islamic falsification of the Bois Caiman ceremony.

(1) Jean Fouchard, Marie-Antoinette Menier, Gabriel Debien. « Toussaint Louverture avant 1789, légendes et réalité » in : Conjonction: Revue Franco-Haïtienne, n° 134 (1977), pp.65-80. Cité dans "Toussaint Louverture et l'indépendance d'Haïti : témoignages pour un bicentenaire" published by Jacques de Cauna. Paris, 2004. pp.61-67.
(2) Jean Fouchard. Les marrons du syllabaire. Port-au-Prince, 1953. p.40
(3) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Congrégations religieuses à Saint-Domingue, 1681-1793. Port-au-Prince. 1951. p.224.
(4) Moreau de Saint-Méry. Description topographique, physique, Tome 1, Philadelphie, 1798. p.47.
(5) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Op. Cit. pp.224-225. 
(6) Gustave d'Alaux. Faustin Soulouque et son Empire. in : Revue des Deux Mondes. Tome 8, Paris, 1850. pp.1042-1043 ; Re-edited, Paris, 1860. pp.67-68.
(7) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Op. Cit. p.224.
(8) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Op. Cit. p.225.
(9) Prophète Joseph. Dictionnaire Haïtien-Français, Français-Haïtien. Montréal. 2003. p.100.
(10) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Op. Cit. p.225.
(11) Moreau de Saint-Méry. Op. Cit. p.49.
(12) Gustave d'Alaux. Op. Cit. 1851. p.1041 ; Réédition, Paris, 1860. p.63.    
(13) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Op. Cit. p.225.
(14) Hérard-Dumesle. Voyage dans le Nord d'Hayti ou révélations des lieux et des monumens historiques. Cayes, 1824. p.88.
(15) Mgr. Jean Marie Jan. Op. Cit. p.225.
(16) Almanach royal d'Hayti pour l'année bissextile 1820. l'Imprimerie Royale, Sans-Souci. p.33. URL:
(17)  Jean Fouchard. Op. Cit. 1953.
(18) Gerson Alexis. « Aperçu sur les Mandingues haïtiens », in : « Lecture en anthropologie haïtienne », Port-au-Prince, 1970. pp.173-185.
(19) R.P. Carl Édouard Peters. « Société mandingue », in : Revue de la Faculté d'ethnologie. No. 10. Port-au-Prince, 1965. pp.47-50.
(20) Gérard Barthélémy. "Propos sur le Caïman: Incertitudes et hypothèses nouvelles" in: Chemins Critiques, Vol. 2. No3, Mai, 1992. pp.33-58.

How to cite this article:
Rodney Salnave. "Origin of the Boukman name". Oct. 18, 2016. [online] URL: ; Retrieved on [enter date]

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