There are many traditional songs in Haiti about the era of slavery. This song about courage and defiance in the face of adversity is undoubtedly a song from that period, an era spanning several centuries, from 1501 to 1791. It was during that time that the various European governments, particular the French, used force to extract free work from the Africans living in the territory they called Saint Domingue.We know the song is about a person working as a slave because the speaker wonders if he or she will be whipped for not going to work instead of being fired, demoted, or not paid.
Indeed Africans were whipped and many tools were used by the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the British, the Dutch and the Americans to subjugate Africans in the Americas. Some of the instruments of torture used for whipping Africans and their descendants are known in Haiti as the fwèt kach, the rigwaz and the matinèt. Those who bore the physicals scars from this crime against humanity have long passed, but those who have inherited the social disadvantages and advantages from this past wrongdoing are alive today, still groping with how the world could have gone so array.This song is the oral record of this tortured heritage.
As the thought of being physically disciplined crosses the speakers mind, he or she dismisses the possibility by stating that as a devotee of Simbi, no one will dare lay hands on me.Up until the 19th century, people working as slaves were the norm and they were the engine that enriched the world’s super economies. To defy the norm required superhuman strength. The reference to Simbi is injected into the song to capture the need for the extra strength to defy a system widely supported by numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations. Simbi is the most powerful class of Kongo spirits engaged in human affairs. There is a Kongolese expression that says that protected by Simbi, one cannot be vanquished. The element of religion in the song reflects the common practice of people invoking their faith when engulfed in fear and uncertainty. Kongolese belief in Simbi is infused into the song and it is why the appropriate beat to accompany the song is the Kongo beat.
The song is overtly defiant but tamed with fear. In the song, there are two people talking. One of them is going to work and the other is defiantly not going. The one who is not going to work tells the other that he or she does not seek sympathy. The speaker does not request that an excuse be presented to absolve him or her for not reporting to work. Rather the speaker seeks to strip the messenger of any desire to present an excuse on his or her behalf. The speaker says to the messenger, Gade. This term is a terse and non-flattering way of getting attention. It is synonymous with “look here.” The speaker intentionally addresses the one going to work in a disrespectful tone because no sympathy is sought from the messenger. The speaker’s sole concern is that he or she is following his or her own will and no justification is necessary for that.
Indifferent to the need of the slave-owner to know the whereabouts of his workers, the speaker does not see the necessity to have the messenger rush.This is said plainly as no need to hurry- “pa prese.” The speaker says that if at all you must say something then “tell them I am here”. The speaker displays courage by taking the high moral road urging that the truth be told. The song ends with “do you think they will dare lay hands on me,” a reminder of the brutality of life in pre-independent Haiti. The question catches the fear of being whipped, but the tone is defiant.