Pèpè education... that's a good term. Pèpè clothing is clothing from abroad, handed sometimes freely as a gesture of charity, but most often paid for at several times the cost since it consists mostly of donations. Clothing that covers your body, but does not at all reflect the local culture. Clothing that sometimes reflects slogans written in a language other than the native one, values different than traditional ones, and which subliminally makes you desire the brands and fashions of a world that is not your own, conditions your mind to seek handouts and look for hope and significance elsewhere, instead of discovering the possibilities that exist locally. In fact, it's clothing that leads you to devalue what is local in favor of what comes from abroad. If the foreigner makes it, it must be better. And if everyone aspires to "be like Mike," why not us?
Substitute the word "education" for "clothing" in the above, and youll get a coherent picture of the effects of formal education in Haiti on the minds of most who have received it. Show me the formally educated Haitian, and especially one who attended missionary schools, who did not at some point look around and felt trapped by the perceived subhuman development of Haitian Life. What does he see? Poverty, and that's bad. Mendicity, and that's bad. Vodou, and that's bad. Superstitions, and that's bad. Dark skin and "kinky hair", when the literature he's been exposed to speaks plainly of beauty as that of fair skin, blue eyes, and flowing silky blonde hair; when he's been thoroughly indoctrinated in Christianity of which all the icons, images, saints, apostles, even God-self are presented to him overwhelmingly in Western European traditions. Most damning of all, the dialect or "patois" that he speaks generally, not a respectable way of expressing himself in high society or any situation which reflects a semblance of formality as commonplace as that of courtship.
The education many of us received in Haiti surely made us aware of the fact that the manner of speaking is far more valuable than the truth of what you say. When someone speaks Haitian, the people focus on the message. When that same person speaks French, the focus shifts to his eloquence, his mastery of a language that is in fact foreign to the overwhelming majority of Haitian people. [By that, it must be said that I mean "everyone living in Haiti", since "the Haitian people" has come to mean different things to different individuals.] And if a Haitian does not master the pronunciation of the French sounds "e" and "u", were he to speak French perfectly otherwise, he'd still be ridiculed and find it difficult to aspire to a high-level position in society. Never mind that the French sounds "e" and "u" are not integral to Haitian Creole phonemics, which have shaped the early development of Haitian brains. Neither are the Spanish "r" and "j". Haitians are keenly aware of the test word "perejil" used in 1937 by the sanguinary armed forces of Dominican madman Rafael Trujillo to bring to the surface the Haitianity of dark-skinned individuals living in Dominican territory before killing tens of thousands of them and throwing their remains in the river on our borders, appropriately named "Massacre River". But how many of us are aware of the many potentials our own society has systematically destroyed due to the inability of many issued of the peasant class to articulate two phonemes which are not inherent in their maternal language?
For this, yes, our pèpè education IS to blame, because it has made most of us believe in the superiority of the French language when compared to our own. In fact, we claim the French language as "our own". Never mind that it is spoken only by the elite, a very small percentage of the Haitian population.
Why does this remind me of the pèpè T-shirt worn by a poor Haitian kid, that said: "F*** ME"? Unwittingly, this T-shirt spoke eloquently of the TRUTH, of the reality of living in peasant-class Haiti. Our pèpè education has always been based on an educational system which was developed not with Haitians in mind, and certainly not oriented to the development of our local resources and the appreciation of our cultural values. We learned that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America, we learned that the natives of our land lived like "pure savages" off the natural bounty of the land, that they had never assimilated "any work ethics", and consequently died quickly "due to their very fragile nature", when work was imposed on them by the very Catholic wealth seeking Spaniards. We learned to love King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. We learned to be grateful to Christopher Columbus who put "Hispaniola" on the map and consequently made our very existence possible. We learned of the goodness of heart of "Las Casas", a Catholic priest who pitied the Indians who had been succumbing at alarming rates and successfully pleaded for the import of black slaves from Africa, before the Indians all died off. While it was not explicitly said, it was implicitly taught that Las Casas was a living saint. We took satisfaction in knowing that the black race was of a sturdier stock, that we coud sustain the rigors of slavery when the Indians, ha! they merely died off. While we learned of the severity of the depletion of the Indian population, it was not branded as a genocide, just an unfortunate set of circumstances, and surely we were not made aware of the fact that millions of Africans never even reached the shores of newly discovered America. They died during the Middle Passage, but why bother our impressionable minds with such inconvenient facts?
Well, this is just at the very beginning of our Haitian History, and I have not addressed our Catechism (that is our endoctrination), our "Histoire Sainte" (that is the History of Holiness), our Ancient History (that is the History of the Kings and Knights of Europe), our French Literature where we learned the value of form over function, because we are required to write weekly essays about French literary giants whose works are often NOT available to us, just compilations of what other people said about them... and in any case, the essence of what you write does not matter nearly as much as the manner in which you write it, the extent to which you have mastered the French language, and your ability to impress by quoting from Lamartine or Hugo, Voltaire or Rousseau, without the impractical requirement of any direct knowledge or access to their works)... and so forth and so on.
What is inherently missing from our pèpè education is the civic component of any true education, that is to LOVE and RESPECT your country. This would go way beyond "our heroes defeated their armies" to a real appreciation of our language, our varied musical forms, the spirituality of our people, the respect of our environment which would at least make us aware of when we are destroying it, and the value of developing our human and physical resources as opposed to the perceived desirability of every import, every brand or fashion originating elsewhere. Real education would focus on broadening our horizons for living in Haiti. Pèpè education focuses on devaluing our identity for searching another one outside of Haiti.
Guy S. Antoine
Last edited by guysanto*
on Sat Jun 21, 2003 11:19 am, edited 1 time in total.