JACQUES STEPHEN ALEXIS REMEMBERED
Note : Published in the Haiti Times, May 1987.
by Jean-Pierre Cloutier
April 22 was "General Compere Soleil Day" in Gonaives, as hundreds of people attended commemorative ceremonies in honor of one of Haitian literature's brightest lights, Jacques Stephen Alexis. In 1955, "Compere General Soleil," a novel by Alexis was published by Gallimard in Paris. Success was immediate for the author who followed up with "Les Arbres Musiciens" (1957), "L'Espace d'un Cillement" (1959), and by "Romanceros aux Etoiles" in 1960. Humanistic, poetic, realist, Alexis seemed to combine all in one. For example, his novel "L'Espace d'un Cillement" dealt with a mechanic, having lived in Cuba and that had returned to Haiti, meeting a prostitute in a Carrefour bar. The proponents first experience each other through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. The five basic senses attributed to all human beings, progressively built up into an ecstasy of joy, and then despair.
But more than a brilliant intellectual, Jacques Stephen Alexis was also an active participant in the social and political debates of his times. In 1959, he formed the People's Consensus Party (Parti pour l'Entente Nationale-PEP), a left oriented political party. But these were tough days in Haiti for anyone daring stray from Duvalierism, and Alexis went into exile. In August 1960, he is to be found in Moscow, attending a meeting of representatives of 81 communist parties from all over the world. On that occasion, he signed a common accord document called "The Declaration of the 81" in the name of Haitian communists. On April 22, 1961, on his 39th birthday, he landed in Mole St-Nicolas with a handful of supporters, but they were quickly captured by the soldiers and the macoutes. Hilarius Hilarion is the main character of the novel which brought him international acclaim, "General Compere Soleil." A man of great wisdom, Hilarion says in the book: "When one gets to a one-eyed people country, one closes one eye." Morbidly enough, Alexis had an eye punctured by his captors shortly after he had been taken into custody. Soon, the group was taken to the public place in Mole St-Nicolas, and was tortured and lapidated by the Duvalierists.
But the death of Alexis did not signal the end of his political ideals. In 1958, a political party named "People's Party for National Liberation" had been formed by Professor Jean-Jacques Ambroise. An underground party, it soon changed its name in Creole to "Unified Party of Haitian Democrats-PUDA." Ambroise and his wife were arrested, tortured and killed in 1966 by Luc Desir, then chief of the secret police. A widely followed trial of Desir last year led the man to receiving a life sentence for his deeds. But in December 1968, after months of deliberations, both parties (PEP and PUDA) merged into the actual Party of Unified Haitian Communists-PUCH.
So on April 22 of this year, artistic, literary and political followers of Jacques Stephen Alexis paid tribute to the author for the first time in 26 years. Apart from the hundreds of people who had come to honor the author were PUCH secretary general Rene Theodore, economist Paul Latortue, lawyer Pierre Gerard Charles, and anthropologist Laennec Hurbon. A religious ceremony, speeches, conferences and theatrical representations had been organized for the occasion. The actual burial site of Alexis remaining a mystery, a group of young people laid a wreath in front of the family's residence.
In the words of the author: "The trees fall from time to time, but the voice of the forest never loses its power. Life begins."
Jacques Stephen Alexis 1922-1961
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