Bwa Kayiman helped to inform the world that slavery is immoral.Nowadays, this message is widely accepted and underlies the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Slavery as an abhorrent institution is a relatively new concept and represents the most significant moral progress made by people over the past several thousand years. Failing to grasp the importance of the contributions of Haiti's Revolutionaries to the moral fabric of modern society, some Christian leaders have repeatedly disparaged Boukmann and the gatherings at Bwa Kayiman. The truth is that these meetings resulted in events that went beyond the contributions of anyone in the modern era to the moral growth of humanity. Jesus Christ, who is believed to have lived 2000 years ago, is credited to have emphasized the need to love ones neighbor as one self (Matthew 22:36-40) but Jesus himself is quoted as having said that this message was not new with him. Plato, Buddha, Confucius, and countless other ancient philosophers had said the same.More importantly, Jesus never challenged the institution of slavery. All Christian churches supported and participated in slavery.Father Las Casas who became a priest in 1510, was the first priest ordained in the Americas. He was foremost in lobbying the Spanish crown for the importation of Africans to Haiti to replace the exterminated Tainos as slaves.
It was once common for Christian Churches to argue that one should accept one's lot in life and for people enslaved to follow the will of their masters as the will of God. Peter said it this way: "Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse (Peter 2: 18)."Another of the many Biblical passages supportive of slavery states: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ (Ephesians 6:5)".These Biblical passages exists because its writers, like countless people throughout the world, believed slavery to be normal and life without it was unimaginable.
Many priests on the island used Biblical ideas to justify the enslavement of our fore-parents. For example, in the late 1770's Father Fauques encouraged a group of people who abandoned the plantation to return so as to avoid God's wrath.He said: "How unfortunate for you if, after having been slaves of men of this world and time you should become slaves of the devil for all eternity. This misfortune will certainly fall upon you if you do not return to your duty...(Jean Fouchard, 1981)". During the same era, Father Coutance recommended that maroons be charged using this text: "Unfaithful and wicked servant, since you have strayed from the service of your master and the obedience you owed to God and the Holy Church in order to give way to the sinfulness of your heart and to expose yourself to the certain loss of your salvation and your life, we, by the authority of our holy ministry, condemn you to serve penance for the period of...warning you that should you fail in this and show no clear proof of repentance and making amends you will be rejected among Christians, forbidden entry to the Church and abandoned to a death without sacrament, without mourners and without a burial place (Jean Fouchard, 1981)" When the Haitian people fought against their tormentors, the Christian Churches argued that the leaders of Bwa Kayiman were serving the Devil because they rebelled against God's will. Never did they make such accusations against the American Revolutionaries who fought to change the British system imposed on them. Quite clearly, their arguments against the Haitian Revolution were self-serving. Considering their numerous monasteries, the Christian churches were the single largest holders of people as slaves. To mark their disapproval of the Haitian Revolution, the Christian Churches removed their priests from the island. Today, priests and pastors continue to revive old colonist opinions in their efforts to displace Vodou and to gain a monopoly over people's religious beliefs.
The Catholic Church's support for slavery came from the very top. Pope Urban VIII in 1629, Pope Innocent X in 1645, and Pope Alexander VII in 1661 were all personally involved in buying slaves. For centuries Christians deluded themselves with the belief that slavery was a necessary tool for converting non-Christians to their faith.However, since what these Christians really needed was free labor, this was just another self-serving argument. African Christians were routinely enslaved by European Christians. This is why numerous Kongo Christians were taken to the Americas.In the United States, when nearly all blacks in Virginia had been baptized, the state government decreed that Christian baptism confers no protection against enslavement (religioustolerance.org) Despite official church support for slavery, Christianity like Vodou is very malleable and adaptable. As social norms changed, official Church teachings also changed to reflect the prevailing view of the era. Today, most Christians would find slavery abhorrent and even anti-Christian.
African people of all faiths fought to end slavery and they were joined by European Christians who parted ways with the official doctrines of their churches. One priest is reported to have visited a women prisoner to tell her that if she confessed anything from the Bwa Kayiman meetings, God would certainly burn her in hell.He encouraged her to face death courageously rather than confess under torture.Another priest served as advisor to Jean Francois, a leader of the Revolutionary forces.In other words some Christians knew better than to follow the official teachings of their churches.
It is never too late to get on the right path and to make amends for past wrongdoings. Christian Churches need to apologize to the world for their support for slavery. To date the Presbyterian Church and the Moravian Church have apologized (The New York Amsterdam News, July 132006). Pope John Paul II did apologize for all that the Catholic Church has done wrong in the past but did not make it clear if this apology included its involvement in the commerce of people as slaves.Clear apologies for the Catholic Church is made difficult by their needing to avoid undermining their doctrine of Papal infallibility. It is time for the leading Christians Churches to come clean on matters of slavery. The real evil that the Christian leaders should criticize is not the Ceremony of Bwa Kayiman but rather their own organizations' participation in the inhumane trade. Today, despite all that history has taught us, if some Christians want to believe that slavery was saintly and that the Haitian Revolution was demonic, so be it. We, the heirs of the Revolution, know better. As citizens of the modern world, we join good people everywhere to say thank you to the people of Bwa Kayimanand to Christian and Non-Christian abolitionists who fought to create a more ethical world. The people of Bwa Kayiman deserve our respect because they sacrificed their lives for a noble cause.