Ibo (Igbo) Granmoun: The Roots of Haitian Revolution & Democracy
As Haiti continues to struggle to build a democracy, we pause to remember one root of our democracy. Although the word democracy is from Greece, the concept of democracy arose independently in other societies. It arose among the Igbo people of today’s Nigeria, where people’s right to have a voice in how they are ruled was respected. The ancient Igbo people of Nigeria had a democratic state. Unlike their neighbors, the Nago, the Guedevi, and the Mayi, who were ruled by a noble class, the Igbo people were not ruled by monarchs. They had no kings nor queens. The Igbo people were their own authority. Here in the song, this concept is presented as Ibo Granmoun, meaning the Igbo take orders from no one.
The Ibo people were ruled by a parliament called Igwe/oha. This body was comprised of elders nominated from each lakou, the Haitian term for an extended family compound. As a result of this ancient Igbo democratic government, there is today a popular expression among the Igbo people of modern-day Nigeria: Igbo ama eze, which means the Igbo are their own authority. Across the Atlantic, Ibo ama eze has been translated into Creole as Ibo granmoun.
So intolerant were the Igbo people of taking orders, that Igbo victims of enslavement in Haiti and throughout the Americas had a higher suicide rate than other Africans. This high suicide rate is remembered in the Vodou expression Ibo touye tèt li. In the United States, there is a coastal location called Ibo Landing in Georgia Atlantic shoreline which is thought to have been a place where a group of Igbo people committed suicide rather than be enslaved.
Among the many Igbo influences present in Haiti, perhaps the most enduring, is the Igbo passion for self-determination. That passion helped to fuel our fore-parents’ efforts to combat slavery. As their descendants, we continue to honor the Igbo and all the other nations who fought to create a more democratic Haiti. No Africans in Haiti were willingly enslaved and people of all African nations rebelled against slavery. Nonetheless, because of the Ibo passion for democracy, they became the group most associated with rebellion against slavery. As such, in Haiti, when we honor the memory of Igbo Ancestors, we commonly perform dance movements symbolic of their breaking the chains of enslavement. In Haiti, this rebellious way of dancing is called the Ibo dance. Other Ibo influences in Haitian culture are numerous and include the term sou (Igbo – isusu) for community banking and the use of “M” as a short form for omwem (me).
Although the Ibo people are remembered throughout Haiti, most of the world know the Igbo people through the writings of the internationally acclaimed writer, the late Prof. Chinua Achebe. His book, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely read modern African book in the world. His success is just another way of showing Ibo granmoun.
Biafran Ancestors Played a Cardinal Role in Haitian Revolution of 1804 – President Francois Duvalier
by Chidi G. Osuagwu, PhD
It is important to note that the Haiti-Biafra case is not one of simple similarity as of IGBO IDENTITY. The Haitian President, Francois Duvalier, made this point clear in his letter to then UN Secretary-General, U Thant, as his reason for recognizing Biafra, against enormous “International” pressure not to do so. He observed that “Biafran ancestors” had played a CAPITAL ROLE in what he called The Glorious Epic of 1804… (The Haitian Revolution, which is the most outstanding revolution of all of Human History). It is true that Haitians came from different Black African nations; Nanchons Ginen, as they called it. But, about 40%, the single largest ethnic group, as President Aristide told me in South Africa in 2006, were Igbo.
But more than that, after analysis of the worldviews/Spirits of different African nations, they collectively resolved to adopt the Igbo one – Ibo Granmoun; The Great Igbo Spirit, as the Spirit with the best potential to guide their revolution to success… and Spirit of incipient Haitian nation. That has remained the situation to this day. Till today, Haitians honor the Avutu Force… Spirit of the Palm-tree; symbol of Synergistic Resistive Force, which is the heraldic element of their national coat-of-arms. If one gets to YouTube and googles Ibo Granmoun/Ibo Lele, one would find that this Spirit still animates the Haitian culture.
British hatred of the Igbo originated mostly in the Haitian revolution. Between 1793 and 1798, while France was in revolutionary turmoil, Britain, opportunistically invaded Haiti. They thought the battlefield success of the Ibo Granmoun that guided slave rebels was due to the confusion in France. But then, Britain suffered her most outstanding military defeat as a World Power. Till today, Britain is still mystified as to what hit her during the Haiti invasion and which later hit and defeated Napoleon (the French Emperor at a time).
Residents in the United States might have noted the new alt-right theory, (popularized by Pats Robertson and Rush Limbaugh), that The Devil Done It! Ordinary human beings could not have done what the Haitians did to the British and the French. The Haitians made a pact with the Devil, who’d done it for them, they claimed. But the palm tree on the Haitian Coat-of-arms explains the force that hit the European slave masters. The day the Igbo in the homeland and Haitians, and others in the Diaspora wake up to the true meaning of the grand organizational motif of the palm tree – SYNERGISTIC FORCE; AVUTU FORCE; IKEOHA (not Ikeotuonye) in the Haitian coat-of-arms, the highway to eterrnal African freedom will surely open up again.