La Perle des Antilles: A Haiti Reading List

Located on the western side of the Hispanola island, Haiti has been a nation plagued by both natural disasters, public health crises, and political unrest throughout modern history. While the current political administration is quick to dismiss the country and its people using racist and vulgar language, it is clear that this complex nation does not deserve such a moniker. We’ve selected several titles from our backlist that dive deep into the country’s history, politics, and struggles, all of which will help one understand the place the French dubbed la perle des antilles.

Haiti, History, and the Gods by Joan Dayan

In Haiti, History, and the Gods, Joan Dayan charts the cultural imagination of Haiti not only by reconstructing the island’s history but by highlighting ambiguities and complexities that have been ignored. She investigates the confrontational space in which Haiti is created and recreated in fiction and fact, text and ritual, discourse and practice. Dayan’s ambitious project is a research tour de force that gives human dimensions to this eighteenth-century French colony and provides a template for understanding the Haiti of today.

 

 

Rara!: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora by Elizabeth McAlister

Rara is a vibrant annual street festival in Haiti, when followers of the Afro-Creole religion called Vodou march loudly into public space to take an active role in politics. Working deftly with highly original ethnographic material, Elizabeth McAlister shows how Rara bands harness the power of Vodou spirits and the recently dead to broadcast coded points of view with historical, gendered, and transnational dimensions.

 

 

Democratic Insecurities: Violence, Trauma, and Intervention in Haiti by Erica James

Democratic Insecurities focuses on the ethics of military and humanitarian intervention in Haiti during and after Haiti’s 1991 coup. In this remarkable ethnography of violence, Erica Caple James explores the traumas of Haitian victims whose experiences were denied by U.S. officials and recognized only selectively by other humanitarian providers. Using vivid first-person accounts from women survivors, James raises important new questions about humanitarian aid, structural violence, and political insecurity.

 

 

Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora by Margarita Mooney

Based on fieldwork in Haiti and in three cities of the Haitian diaspora–Miami, Montreal, and Paris–this study offers a vivid portrait of the power of faith for immigrants. Drawing on extensive interviews and including rich details of everyday life, Margarita Mooney explores the struggles and joys of Haitian Catholics in these three very different cities. She finds that religious narratives, especially those about transformation and redemption, provide real meaning and hope in what are often difficult conditions.

 

 

AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame by Paul Farmer

Does the scientific “theory” that HIV came to North America from Haiti stem from underlying attitudes of racism and ethnocentrism in the United States rather than from hard evidence? Award-winning author and anthropologist-physician Paul Farmer answers with this, the first full-length ethnographic study of AIDS in a poor society.


Hurricanes versus Earthquakes: How Natural Disasters Compare between Florida and California

by Gary Griggs, author of Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, followed by Jose and Katia next in line, like commuters on the freeway headed for work. What’s going on here? We generally don’t think too much about hurricanes here in California, but it’s hard to miss the news now.

Hurricane Harvey may be the most damaging storm to ever hit the United States. And in terms of wind speed in miles per hour, Irma is reported as being the strongest hurricane ever recorded and it has yet to hit the coast of Florida. Irma is currently leaving a path of complete destruction as it blasts through the Caribbean. On the island of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control, There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Homes are under water, cars are floating through the streets, and inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and cut off from the outside world. These aren’t losses that are going to be repaired or replaced in a few weeks time. It will take months to years to return to normal.

Some residents of the Atlantic coast of the US are often quoted as saying that they would much rather live with hurricanes—where at least you know they’re coming—rather than the uncertainty of earthquakes that we all live with here in California. The truth, however, is that while large earthquakes in the United States present clear dangers, they don’t begin to compare with hurricanes in terms of damage of loss of life. Our average annual death toll from earthquakes in the United States over the past century or so is about 20 per year. If fact, in the entire 240 year history of the United States, there has only been a single earthquake that led to deaths of more than 200 people, and that was the great San Francisco shock of 1906. We just don’t get big earthquakes that often, at least historically, although they will come and we shouldn’t be complacent about them.

Hurricanes, however, have been responsible for more loss of life in the United States than any other natural hazard. While California may get a damaging earthquake every decade or so, we can get multiple hurricanes in a single season, and 2017 is making that abundantly clear.

Over 60 million people along the U.S. Gulf and South Atlantic coasts live in coastal counties that are vulnerable to hurricanes and, like most coastal regions, those populations continue to increase. From 1900 to 2015, there were 631 hurricanes that affected these counties as well as the Caribbean region, or 5.4 per year on average. 245 of these, or about two each year, have been classed as major hurricanes based on damage and death tolls. On average, about 800 fatalities have been recorded yearly, but this likely is an underestimate as reliable information from older hurricanes is often lacking. Losses are unfortunately increasing every year because more people are retiring to warm hurricane-prone areas like Florida, and investment in homes and other development, and their values, are increasing.


Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author or coauthor of Introduction to California’s Beaches and CoastLiving with the Changing California CoastCalifornia Coast from the Air, The Santa Cruz Coast (Then and Now), and Our Ocean Backyard.