Boukman: The Haitian and Jamaican Connections



Boukman, also called Dutty Boukman or Zamba Boukman is considered as one of the main instigators of the Haitian rebellion in Saint Dominique. Born enslaved and the descendant of a Maroon, Boukman was a rebel leader from Jamaica.  Rumour suggested that he was a voodoo High Priest sold by his British slave master to a French plantation owner who took him to Haiti, where Boukman became headman on the plantation. Born into slavery, he taught himself to read and earned himself the name Boukman, a derivation of ‘bookman’.  During the era of slavery any enslaved person who appeared educated was deemed to be a threat to their slave master. Many educated enslaved individuals had been inspired by religion.  It is believed he was sold by his master when he learnt that Boukman was teaching on the plantation in contravention of the slave law.

Boukman established a network that facilitated his contact with enslaved mulattoes, Maroons, commandeurs, house and field enslaved, and free blacks across several sugar plantations during the 17th century.  His strong influence on the enslaved population was endorsed when he hosted a voodoo ceremony in Bois Caiman with other Maroons, attended by the revolutionaries Jean-Francois Papillon, Georges Biassou, Jeannot and Toussaint L’ouverture. At that secret meeting in the mountains a blood pledge, part of a voodoo ritual, was sworn to free themselves from slavery – to break their chains or die. Thereafter Boukman led them in a rebellion against the Colonial Assembly in August 1791.

The slaves went from plantation to plantation armed with torches, guns, and other weapons, setting them ablaze and destroying property fields, factories, and all assets belonging to, or used in the service of slaveholders and their plantations.  The fire raged for several months. The rebellion killed more than 8,000 blacks and 1,000 whites, and over 900 plantations were sacked and razed.  The rebellion forced French planters and coloured persons to flee with willing enslaved persons from St. Domingue to neighbouring islands such as Jamaica, Cuba and the Southern States of America. Boukman was apprehended by the French authorities and tortured to death.  He was subsequently decapitated and his head displayed publicly in the city with the sign, “This is the head of Boukman, chief of the rebels,” this indignity meant as a sinister reminder to the enslaved that this too would befall them if they participated in the rebellion.

None-the-less, Boukman’s influence was already cemented and could not be halted. As the uprisings grew in numbers, getting bigger across the country, they blossomed into a full scale rebellion known as the Haitian Revolution that paved the way to Haiti’s independence. On January 1, 1804, the victorious freedom fighters declared independence from France, making Haiti the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere and the first Black Republic in the world.


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