Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance [NOOK Book]


Haiti, long noted for poverty and repression, has a powerful and too-often-overlooked history of resistance. Women in Haiti have played a large role in changing the balance of political and social power, even as they have endured rampant and devastating state-sponsored violence, including torture, rape, abuse, illegal arrest, disappearance, and assassination.

In Walking on Fire, Beverly Bell, an activist and an expert on Haitian social movements, brings together thirty-eight ...

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Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance

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Haiti, long noted for poverty and repression, has a powerful and too-often-overlooked history of resistance. Women in Haiti have played a large role in changing the balance of political and social power, even as they have endured rampant and devastating state-sponsored violence, including torture, rape, abuse, illegal arrest, disappearance, and assassination.

In Walking on Fire, Beverly Bell, an activist and an expert on Haitian social movements, brings together thirty-eight oral histories from a diverse group of Haitian women. The interviewees include, for example, a former prime minister, an illiterate poet, a leading feminist theologian, and a vodou dancer. Defying victim status despite gender- and state-based repression, they tell how Haiti's poor and dispossessed women have fought for their personal and collective survival.

The women's powerfully moving accounts of horror and heroism can best be characterized by the Creole word istwa, which means both "story" and "history." They combine theory with case studies concerning resistance, gender, and alternative models of power. Photographs of the women who have lived through Haiti's recent past accompany their words to further personalize the interviews in Walking on Fire.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Why does the movement against corporate globalization protest atmeetings like those of the World Economic Forum, recently completed in New York? What does the movement for global justice want?

There are a million ways to answer these questions. One set of compelling answers is contained in Walking on Fire: Haitian Women´s Stories of Survival and Resistance, a wonderful new book by Beverly Bell (Cornell University Press). Walking on Fire is a collection of interviews with Haitian women, with astute synthesizing text by Bell.

....Walking on Fire illustrates how the dynamics of corporate globalization overlay with local hierarchies, prejudices and systems of patriarchy to impoverish and marginalize women. Most searingly, Walking on Fire reveals the raw violence embedded in these overlapping systems of domination. The women in Walking on Fire recount stomach-churning stories of childhood slavery and abuse, rape and immiseration.

....Walking on Fire is subtitled "Haitian women's stories of survival and resistance" and the emotions of horror stirred by the book are matched by a sense of awe and inspiration of the women, many of whom do struggle just to survive, and especially of those who choose to respond to amazing hardship and myriad challenges by organizing and collective action to improve their and others' lives, and to fight for justice. (Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"What I have witnessed, I have no tongue to tell," says one of the 38 Haitian women who express themselves here. A lyrical but trenchant foreword by Edwidge Danticat and succinct author introductions by Bell (director of Albuquerque's Center for Economic Justice) provide historical and personal contexts for the narratives, or "istwa" (a Creole word "meaning both story and history"), that follow. Many of the women address the random arrests, sadistic torture, savage beatings and violent sexual abuse inflicted upon them by the state and by a sexist social structure. Taken collectively, the women (interviewed largely between 1991 and 1994, during Haiti's brief period with a popularly elected government) tell the same story "survival, resistance, and occasional triumph by women with little formal power." Individually, each voice is unique. One has been a minister of the Status and Rights of Women; another was given away as a child slave. There's also a market woman, a labor organizer and a nurse; a woman with graduate degrees, women who have lived abroad and women who have never left their villages. They are joined by their resistance to oppression. For some, mere survival is an act of resistance. Others resist through poetry, journalism, dance or painting. Some are even involved in political activism, women's advocacy and reestablishing economic and political structures. This is painful reading; it shows much suffering but also much remarkable transcendence. Bell's book vocalizes this, but its point is not merely archival. These testimonies are meant to move readers to action. "I want to make the big ears listen," says Lelenne Gilles. "I'll die with the words on my lips." (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Most people know that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but what that means for the Haitian people is usually lost in a morass of statistical data. In this moving book on opposing tyranny and degradation, activist Bell, who is the founder and director of the Center for Economic Justice in Albuquerque, NM, gives face to the numbers by providing a forum for indigenous women to speak about their lives. Some of the 38 oral histories here come from illiterate farmers and market women. Other informants are well schooled, earning far more than subsistence wages as teachers and writers. Nonetheless, all of Bell's sources are dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and believe that food, housing, and education are entitlements and that gender equity is inseparable from economic justice. Their articulate views make for exciting reading. Likewise, their resistance to the status quo is inspiring. An antidote to cynicism, the book not only introduces American readers to an array of courageous role models but also proves that change is possible. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Walking on Fire is a book of exceptional merit and makes a significant original contribution to general understandings of women's resistance to poverty and oppression in many forms. Beverly Bell is able to provide a deeply compassionate understanding of narratives, physically crushing and morally uplifting experiences, and structures of poor women's lives who seem to be in chaos."—Josh DeWind, Director, International Migration Program at the Social Science Research Council
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801469855
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 7/24/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,145,002
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Beverly Bell is associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and runs the economic and social justice group Other Worlds. Winner of the Outstanding Journalism Award from Women's International Center and the PEN–New Mexico Award for Social Justice in Literature, she is the author of Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance and Fault Lines: Views across Haiti's Divide, both from Cornell.

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Table of Contents

Preface: Beat Back the Darkness
Introduction: The Women of Millet Mountain 1
1 Resistance in Survival 23
My Head Burning with the Burden 36
A Baby Left on the Doorstep in a Rotten Basket 39
I Always Live That Hope 45
A Woman Named Roselie Who Fought Back 50
I Don't Have the Call, I Don't Have the Response 55
School 57
2 Resistance as Expression 61
I'll Die with the Words on My Lips 68
Singing a Woman's Misery 73
Getting the Poetry 76
The Struggle for Creole 82
Chaleron's Lesson 83
The Cultural Soul 86
Expanding the Space of Expression 90
3 Resistance for Political and Economic Change 93
My Blood and My Breath 104
A Grain of Sand 110
A Little Light 115
Jumping over the Fire 120
The Samaritan 127
Five Cans of Corn 131
Sharing the Dream 136
Chunk of Gold 142
Reshuffling the Cards 145
4 Resistance for Gender Justice 149
Minister of the Status and Rights of Women 157
The Marriage Question 163
Walking with My Little Coffin 166
Women's Business 171
Support for the Children 176
A Country's Problems, A Woman's Problems 178
Deciding My Life 182
Assuming the Title "Feminist" 184
The Carriage Is Leaving 187
5 Resistance Transforming Power 193
Lighting Candles of Hope 213
Sharing the Breadfruit 214
The People Say Jump 216
The More People Dream 217
You Can't Eat Gumbo with One Finger 221
Rocks in the River 223
A Stubborn Hope 228
Epilogue: Resistance as Solidarity 231
Get Up, Shake Your Bodies 233
Notes 235
Glossary 243
For Further Research and Involvement 247
Bibliography 251
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2006


    Paints vivid picture of modern Haiti

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