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Bwa Kayiman—Congressing at the Heart of Liberation

Performances, Readings, Discussions, Concerts, DJ Set


Myrlande Constant, Rasanbleman soupe tout eskòt yo, 2019. Image courtesy of Faena Art. Photo: Oriol Tarridas

Myrlande Constant, Rasanbleman soupe tout eskòt yo (2019). Image courtesy of Faena Art. Photo: Oriol Tarridas

In an overdue commemoration of the Haitian Revolution (August 1791–January 1804), a historical cornerstone of emancipatory movements around the world, HKW hosts a weekend of performances, lectures, celebrations, rituals, and food for body and soul to delve into the history, acts, and interrelatedness of liberation movements. With the Haitian Revolution, the enslaved people of Saint-Domingue, led by Toussaint l'Overture, succeeded in abolishing slavery, ending French control of the colony, and establishing an independent state.

The celebration refers to the Bwa Kayiman gathering held in 1791 in a forested area under the leadership of the hougan Dutty Boukman and the mambo Cécile Fatiman, when people of African descent came together to take their destiny into their own hands, invoking the Haitian Revolution and launching the struggle for freedom as a never-ending and ever-expanding political practice.

Every year, this coming together of freedom, justice, and self-determination is commemorated at HKW.

The programme frames congressing within the performative, as a mode of rehearsal of the ‘otherwise’, giving birth to epistemologies based in complicity and solidarity. Starting with a convivial conversation between Haitian writer Makenzy Orcel and poet Rodney Saint-Éloi that takes the form of an exchange that follows the trajectory of rumour, a Kongossa, this conversation journeys through the history of Haiti and Bwa Kayiman with the experience of two voices that have helped inscribe Haiti as a place associated with stories to be listened to and learned from again and again. Artist choreographer Kettly Noël performs acts of rootedness with Materma terre, the matter—putting at the fore the necessity of movement and groundedness in the quest for the multiple lights that emerge from places of darkness: the darkness of the forest, the darkness of knowing and not knowing, the darkness that enchains, the darkness that allows for opacity, the darkness of the spiritual, the darkness that liberates.

Congressing at the heart of liberation is a call to come together as a collective force acting against the forms of oppression imposed upon generations of Indigenous communities of the Americas, African and Afro-diasporic communities, and more-than-human beings that keep spiritual spaces alive. What becomes of the meanings of liberation is experienced through the traditions of the Rara, for instance, where the acts of processing and protesting merge with collective chanting and movements that invite connection with the public space realm. Giscard Bouchotte together with Kettly Noël will unpack these meanings by centring notions of collectivity, collective body making, and spiritual transcendence in the Rara traditions.   

Barby Asante’s assembly Declaration of Independence, developed and performed in collaboration with local womxn of colour, interlinks a plurality of personal narratives and manifestos against enslavement and colonialism. The traditions of coming together to achieve liberation, as seen in Afro-Brazilian pagode, will be demonstrated by heiress griot and shaman Keyna Eleison accompanied by Haitian Chef Paul Toussaint, a convening centring food making and sharing as cornerstones of grassroots political organizing and practices that cultivate spaces for commoning. 

At the core of resistance is an aspiration to live in joy. The Afro-Colombian rhythms of the band-in-residence for Oscar Murillo’s For the Souls of the Rotten Mighty: Mar, Río y Cordillera are a reminder that upholding that joy all the way through a struggle is of vital importance. The congress concludes with an afternoon of performative acts to commemorate Bwa Kayiman at the Papa Legba tree in the Anna Seghers Garden in front of HKW, a tree consecrated by Houngan Jean-Daniel Lafontant at the re-opening of HKW to host Legba, the gate opener between the spiritual and telluric worlds.