Tout Haiti

Le Trait d'Union Entre Les Haitiens

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Preserving our Oral Literature

 Maryse-noel-roumain1Maryse Noël Roumain, PHD

In 2009, I presented some 12 Haitian folktales targeting storytellers and the children's audience that listens and interacts with them, to be published in an anthology.

These folktales were part of Mimi Barthelemy's collection, a writer, storyteller and actress based in Paris who has done extensive research and performing to present them to a broad audience – mostly French but not exclusively – eager to be entertained and participate in the Haitian cultural experience and imaginary world.

As for myself, I had translated in English with minor adaptations for a youngest audience of children primarily from the New York community.

Today, I want to publish those folktales individually. After all, while some anthologies are available, our children do not have the advantage to benefit from a tradition which was alive and precious – but today lost – when we were kids ourselves and we sat either on chairs or on the floor around our favorite storytellers, our servants who came from the country side and the remote mountains, in a room lighted by a kerosene lamp where the obscurity surrounding us, since there was no electricity, was an accomplice to the creation of a surreal and magical and sometimes fearful atmosphere these folktales often convey. Hence, the creation of the krab nan kalalou children's book collection.

Haitian literature – including children's literature – is currently expanding due to an incredible and somewhat mysterious surge in creativity during this prolonged period of transition to democracy and literacy. Many among us are engaged in the practice of literary creation and some of us have produced works that are appreciated by local readers and have as well received international attention and appreciation.

And, while this is happening, I want to turn to our folktales and re-create them in a new format – that of the book – to transmit this important aspect of our cultural heritage which reflects in such imaginative and artful ways our identities (see the tales of Bouki and Malis which portray the Stupid and the Trickster), our epic battles against enormous monsters (see Ti Fou and the Monster of Darkness), our magical inclinations and views of world phenomena (see Tezen and Sefi and the Magic Orange Tree), our denunciation of those in power (see horse, frog and the princess as well as frog and the key to the water), etc.

First, I want to acknowledge the Haitian people for creating and preserving its oral cultural heritage which has survived slavery, colonial domination and the predominance of Western cultures in our lives. Although our storytelling tradition seems to loose ground, even in Haiti, we are thankful that the tales have been preserved in various formats, languages and versions. I also want to acknowledge the storytellers and the various cultural programs and institutions that make use of our folktales.

I want to acknowledge that before our written literature, which goes back to the 19th century, there was our oral folk-literature transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth and the origins of which we have no way of knowing. It existed before writing began carried on by those actually unlettered but who nevertheless were fond of works of imagination. It survives through storytelling and initiatives such as this one which carries it to the written level.

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or Maryse Roumain,
PO Box 2604441,
Brooklyn, New York 11226.

Biographical note

Maryse Noël Roumain

has a doctorate in Developmental Child Psychology. She has written a memoir (Evocations of my Past), autobiographical stories (Remembering Kate) and political commentaries (Why Pluralism is an Imperative). She has recently founded the KRAB NAN KALALOU CHILDREN'S BOOK COLLECTION dedicated to publish Haitian folktales as well as biographies of Haiti's historical figures.

Her book: Anacaona, Ayiti's Taino Queen/Anacaona, la Reine Taino d'Ayiti is coming out soon