City of Brass

City of Brass


Devil’s advocate: Pat Robertson and Haiti’s curse

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

There’s really no better term for Pat Robertson than “Christian extremist” – there’s not much point in going over his long history of public outbursts of intolerance, racism, and hatred, except in noting that ordinary Christians (and evangelicals in particular) bear as much responsibility for his ravings as ordinary muslims do for the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki. That is to say, none.

But Robertson’s recent comments about Haiti were particularly cruel and (if I may offer my opinion) un-Christian, even by his standards. During his televised 700 Club program, he said,

“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

Here’s video of Robertson making the remarks:

There’s pretty righteous outrage from the Christian sphere about this – for example, see Burke’s Corner – so I’ll leave the theological remonstrations to them. And for what it’s worth (YMMV) Robertson did urge his millions of listeners to donate to Haitian relief – unlike the utterly reprehensible Rush Limbaugh.

But it also is worth noting that Robertson makes a historical libel against Haiti as well, one rooted in a colonialist mindset. A spokesman for Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network attempted to do damage control by releasing a statement which actually served to emphasize the historical libel all the more:

On today’s The 700 Club … Dr. Robertson also spoke about Haiti’s history. His comments were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French. This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led countless scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed. Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath.

This is a common theme in the post-colonial narrative about Haiti, which is always described as a “broken nation” or “failed state” in a historical vacuum, as if the woes of this island nation were entirely of its own making. But if you look at the actual history of Haiti, a different picture emerges. In many ways, Haiti is the living proof of the universality of human rights and the true birthplace of freedom in the Western hemisphere.

This history of Haiti is a long one, and so deserves serious scholarship instead of a blog summary. There’s in fact a brilliant three-part series published 5 years ago by licensed minister Jean R. Gelin, Ph.D., who was born in Haiti and makes a passionate and inspiring case for his homeland’s true history, not as some land of devil-worshipping savages but as a Christian nation, founded in Enlightenment values, and then ravaged and exploited by the imperial powers of the 19th century – especially France and the United States. The three part series, entitled God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti, is reprinted on BlackAndChristian.com: part I, part II, part III. I can’t possibly excerpt enough of it to do it justice, just read the whole thing – but I will note some of main points that Gelin makes:

- Haiti is the only nation in the history of the world where African slaves successfully led a revolution and threw off the yoke of slavery, to win both emancipation and independence from France in 1804. This predated the Emancipation Proclamation by almost 60 years.

- Many of Haiti’s first leaders were Catholic christians and invoked their faith’s long theological heritage against oppression and tyranny as te basis for their struggle. Haiti remains 80% Christian today.

- There supposed “pact with the Devil” made by leader Boukman Dutty was actually a prayer to the “God of Heaven”, not to the Devil or to voodoo pagan gods. The idea that a black savage could be so devout is incomprehensible to those who insist on the devil’s pact reading of the events, and they insist that even if Bookman invoked god that day, he must have meant the Devil, because how could a savage understand God?

- the very logic of the “devil pact” libel is nonsensical. Why would the devil want to help them achieve freedom? Why would God be on the side of the slavers? In the Bible, God is always freeing slaves – like the Israelites in Egypt. Does the devil pact libel really make any theologic sense? (Robertson and his apologists are making a theological argument after all, so this is a valid counter argument within that context).

- Even after Haiti’s birth, it remained the plaything of imperial powers. One of the major burdens and contributors to Haiti’s descent into poverty was a vast sum of blood money it was forced to pay to France as recompense for its own independence. Think about the logic of this for a moment. It is akin to demanding that the descendants of slavery in the United States pay reparations to the US government! And it wasn’t just the French who demanded protection money from Haiti either – at various times in its history, Haiti has had to make payments to forces from the US, Germany and Britain.

The United States has remained active in Haiti’s affairs in the 20th century, particularly from 1994 to 2004. Even with the best of intentions in recent decades, continued interference has left Haiti utterly dysfunctional and corrupt. Mr. Robertson would have us believe this is all the work of the Devil; maybe in one sense he’s correct. But Haiti has never willingly signed any pact with the powers that have dictated it’s existence – it’s always been on the recieving end. I hope that the aftermath of the earthquake gives Haiti a chance to rebuild itself, in more ways than one – and this time perhaps we can actually help rather than hinder.

Related – Talk Islam’s posts on Robertson. Also there’s an interesting story about the Polish-Haitian connection. And finally, here’s a list of easy ways to donate to Haitian relief, either online, by phone, or via text message/SMS.



  • Jeff

    Spelling mistake above.. it should read “Their supposed “pact with the Devil” made by leader Boukman Dutty ” — not “there”

  • The Devil

    Hey! I take exception to the report that I made a pact with Haiti. I made a pact with Dick Cheney and then found out that joker doesn’t even have a soul. It doesn’t pay to be the Devil any more.

  • Paul Willson

    This kind of remark , in which doesn’t even get his history right should discredit him & all his fellow s . Besides which the people of Haiti got rid of the French and that was when the French was the worlds 2 nd major power. And they needed no demoic help just keep on pushing and the occupying power will leave .

  • Alicia

    Great post, Aziz.

  • Your Name

    This is stupid it was a rumored the French started becuase they were embarassed that the slaves succesfully revolted its disgusting and something only a bigot would say

  • Judy

    When I read about “the pact” I looked up the history of Haitians and found that the statement made by Robertson was true. I am not going to judge the nation of Haiti but you cannot rewrite history or the truth.

  • http://jehovahswitless.weebly.com/ TL winslow

    He’s another Jehovah’s witless, who has the let the Bible thump his brain too much. Thump back by visiting my Jehovah’s Witless site to arm your mind, click the url.

  • hood prophet

    TL what type of nonsense are you talking he’s not even a Jehovah’s witness focus TL focus that was almost as stupid as Pat Roberts comment

  • DM

    I’ll admit Pat Robertson may say some off color things at time, but he’s right about Haiti.
    The Bible is replete in examples of societies that were wiped off the earth because their wickedness had become so great. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah.
    Example…. Where did Voodoo originate? Anyone??? Haiti….
    That’s what Pat Robertson is talking about.
    God (not Allah), and especially the God represented in the New Testament (Jesus), doesn’t run around smiting civilizations. BUT when a society (such as Haiti) becomes SO wicked that they are no longer under the protection of His blessings, then they are open to these types of disasters. The same thing happened to New Orleans with Katrina.

  • http://www.eastportlandblog.com/?p=46 dave

    There was no “pact with the devil” that left Haiti’s black population forever locked in a Faustian bargain that’s left them vulnerable to divine retribution. Boukman’s “pact with the devil” is a myth concocted by Catholic missionaries who were fighting the influence of vodoun at the time and subsequent to Haitian independence, a myth later seized upon by Protestant missionaries for similar reasons.

  • Steve

    The truth is that they did make a pact with the devil.
    Now the significance you put on that pact I guess has to do with whether you believe the devil is real or not.
    But it is one of Haiti’s founding myths.
    http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/small_axe/v009/9.2laroche.html
    According to Haitian national history, the revolutionary war was launched on the eve of a religious ceremony at a place in the north called Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman, in French). At that ceremony on August 14, 1791, an African slave named Boukman sacrificed a pig, and both Kongo and Creole spirits descended to possess the bodies of the participants, encouraging them and fortifying them for the upcoming revolutionary war. Despite deep ambivalence on the part of intellectuals, Catholics, and the moneyed classes, Vodoo has always been linked with militarism and the war of independence and, through it, the pride of national sovereignty.
    So, yeah if there is a devil, Haiti made a pact with it. Might explain why even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, the Dominican Republic has been far more successful.

  • Marylou Love

    Lately, when I open the Bible, somehow it’s on “Isaiah Chapter 1 – A Rebellious Nation” and I kept reading Chapter 2-9, then Chapter 24-“The Lord’s Devastation of the Earth” Chapter 25 & 26 Song of Praises…then Chapter34 – Judgment Against the Nations and Chapter 25 – Joy of the Redeemed. Mathew – Chapters 4-9 – All About Jesus
    I pray that the people of Haiti and every Nation join hands together and pray to God, “Our Father In Heaven” for His is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever and whatever we ask in Jesus Name will be given to us. God destroys nations but he rebuilds it too……..

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  • http://whatisthebible.com Andrew

    It seems that loud ignorant speak first, think later guys like Pat Robertson continue to get the mic while the more loving segment of Christianity gets no attention. Sad…

  • Andrew

    For real commentary on this topic visit what is the bible? and read more about Pat Robertson…

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