The Haitian national anthem was written in 1903 by Justin Lherisson for a competition sponsored under the Presidency of Nord Alexis to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Haiti's independence. Later that same year, Nicolas Geffrard won the second competition for putting the words to music.
Justin Lherisson wrote the national anthem with an economy of words while capturing the essence of Haitian cosmology, namely, that our Ancestors are of divine importance. They are second only to God. This is the reason why it is commonly said: Apre Dye, Ginen yo. Ginen refers to the Ancestors from the west coast of Africa.
Justin Lherisson wasable to capture this essential element of cosmology because he was a student of Haitian culture. He authored many books about Haitian life, one of which was entitled, La Famille des Pitite Caille. Justin Lherisson anchored the national anthem in Haitian cosmology by starting the national anthem with: Pour le pays, pour les Ancetres, a phrase meaning that we are guardians of a country that belongs to us and to the ancestors and we have the obligation to make this nation succeed for the honor of our fore-parents.
The 500,000 Haitians who lived at the time of the revolution knew that our strength was in our working collaboratively, and soon after the revolution, they engraved this into the flag as: L'union fais la Force, meaning in collaboration, there is strength. Justin Lherisson captures this as he called for us to march together.The march conjures the actions of a military unit.It was this Haitian Force formed from the unity of people of various nations that marched to battle and defeated those who would have us in chains. The Nago people, the Kongo people, the Lowango people, the Ibo people and some Polish people among others marched together and created the first modern nation to uphold the universal right of all people.
The need for a unity of purpose in standing for human rights is echoed in the phrase: Let there be no traitors among us. These strong words reaffirm the ideas of the father of the country, Dessalines, when at the Declaration of Independence, he said: those who have not joined the cause wholeheartedly, do not belong among us - si w pa la a de tout kè, plas ou pa la a. Dessalines went on to say that never again shall anyone step foot in Haiti and take on the name master. Since it is land and not people that ever have masters, then we alone, are the masters of this land that we have earned by the sweat and blood of our fore-parents. Justin Lherisson understood the making of Ayiti Toma and within the national anthem, he captured the words of Dessalines: Du sol soyons seuls maitres- Tè sa a rele n, chè mèt, chè metrès. As General Dessalines was a revered defender of the land, and of the people, the national anthem bears his name, La Dessaliniene.
As a defender of human rights, Haiti joined the world community with honor, and it will emerge with respect- Nou rantre ak onè, n ap soti ak respè.Today, as we pause to rebuild, we remember those who perished to hand us this country. We remember those who toiled with us to make this nation work. We remember those who perished in the 2010 earthquake. To their memory, we have the obligation to build a better Haiti for our honor and for the respect of our Ancestors.