When the Hands Are Many: Community Organization and Social Change in Rural Haiti

Overview

In an ethnography that challenges standard approaches to understanding the poor and disempowered, Jennie M. Smith's descriptions of peasant activity change what constitutes a democratic society. Through their civil institutions and artistic expression, Haitian peasants, widely known as some of the world's most impoverished, politically disempowered, and illiterate citizens, debate the meanings of development, democracy, and the public good.Smith offers a historically grounded overview of how the Haitian state and...
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Overview

In an ethnography that challenges standard approaches to understanding the poor and disempowered, Jennie M. Smith's descriptions of peasant activity change what constitutes a democratic society. Through their civil institutions and artistic expression, Haitian peasants, widely known as some of the world's most impoverished, politically disempowered, and illiterate citizens, debate the meanings of development, democracy, and the public good.Smith offers a historically grounded overview of how the Haitian state and certain foreign powers have sought to develop rural Haiti and relates how Haitian peasants have responded to such efforts through words and deeds. The author argues that songs called chante pwen serve as "melodic machetes," a tool with which the peasants make their voices heard in many social circumstances.When the Hands Are Many illustrates the philosophies, styles, and structures typical of social organization in rural Haiti with narrative portraits of peasant organizations engaged in agricultural work parties, business meetings, religious ceremonies, social service projects, song sessions, and other activities. Smith integrates these organizations' strengths into a new vision for social change and asks what must happen in Haiti and elsewhere to facilitate positive transformation in the world today.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Interesting and enlightening reading for those interested in Caribbean ethnography; imperative reading for all those engaged in international development efforts."—Choice, January 2002, Vol. 39, No. 5

"Smith's humanistic text is an example of the kind of honest, holistic, and humane scholarship that anthropologists are beginning to embrace in 'public interest' anthropology. When the Hands Are Many is a challenge to researchers on NGOs and civic life in Haiti. Hopefully, the donors are reading this book, changing their ways of thinking about Haitian peasants and changing the way they do business in Haiti. The gauntlet has been thrown down. . . . everyone interested in Haiti should pick this book up."—Mark Schuller, UC Santa Barbara. Journal of Haitian Studies

"In exploring the meaning behind concepts such as democracy and social development from the peasants' perspective, Jennie M. Smith displays a firm commitment to producing a model for positive change in all spheres of Haitian life."—British Bulletin of Publications, No. 107, October 2002.

"Smith has called for an important debate that needs to be built on first-hand, anthropological understandings. Not only political scientists ought to learn this lesson, rather than rely inordinately on World Bank statistics and lessons of failure, but permit Haitians to craft what Haitians can create."—Henry F. Carey, Georgia State University, H-Net Reviews, May 2002

"There is an old Haitian Creole proverb that goes: 'Men anpil, chay pa lou' (when the hands are many, the load becomes lighter). Jennie Smith, by taking this proverb as a guideline for her book, has accomplished its goal of informing us of such a state of mind embodied by the moun andeyo of Haiti. Because of that, When Hands Are Many is an important ethnological, political and anthropological tool not only for scholars interested in Haitian society but also for Haitians themselves who have the reasons and desire to see the problems of their country solved."—Jeane Ellie, Counterpoise, January/April 2002

"When the Hands are Many is alive with its subjects' humor and irony even as its author refuses to romanticize the hemisphere's worst poverty. Jennie Smith asks us to view the organized peasantry as she does: as teachers and guides with a message for a world in which rising tides of inequality bring misery and affluence together cheek-to-jowl. Smith's lyrical book buzzes with the sights and sounds of village Haiti, yet remains accountable both to political economy and to history."—Paul Farmer, Harvard Medical School

"While When the Hands are Many will be required reading for all Haitianists, it also goes well beyond Haiti to demonstrate why and how ethnography matters. Jennie Smith's profound intellectual respect for the people she studies proves central to her research strategies."—Michel-Rolph Trouillot, University of Chicago

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801437977
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
List of Acronyms
1 Introduction 1
"Americans Don't Have Democracy!" 4
Background and Approach 7
The Haitian "Peasantry" 11
Bamon and Tisous 13
Linguistic Issues 16
2 Persistent Legacies 18
Predatory Parasitism 19
Interventions from "Across the Water" 22
Risking Hope 24
New Legacies 26
Persistent Dissidence 39
3 Melodic Machetes 45
Rural Footpaths 46
Sociopolitical Poetics 46
Agricultural Work Parties 52
Mardi Gras and Rara Festivities 55
Gwoupman Peyizan Meetings 56
A Refugee Camp 60
Recording Studios 62
Reflections on the Chante Pwen-s 66
4 Hoes Striking in Unison: Cooperative Labor and Community Spirit 69
Taking Up the Hoe 71
Yonn Ede Lot. Sharing Labor and Resources as a Way of Life 72
Collective Agricultural Labor 80
"The Strike of a Solitary Hoe Makes No Music" 82
The Konbit and the Kove 83
Rural Community Groups 88
5 The Atribisyon 93
"One and the Same We". Group Membership and Structure 94
An Anatomy of Atribisyon Labor 96
Feasting on History: The Rachot 98
Reflections on the Atribisyon 102
6 The Sosyete 104
Structure and Leadership 105
Case Studies of Bamon Sosyete-s 113
Reflections on the Sosyete 139
7 The Gwoupman Peyizan 141
The "Shoulder-to-Shoulder" GP of Lakay 142
Historical Precedents of the Gwoupman Peyizan 148
Consolidating a Movement 151
In the Grand'Anse 152
The Project for Social Change 153
Gwoupman Fanm Vanyan-s 157
Reflections on the Gwoupman Peyizan 171
8 Beyond "Democracy" and "Development" 175
Reconsidering Democracy and Development 176
Visualizing the Future 178
Elements of a Good Society 179
A Movement toward the Future 193
A Call for Undoing Ourselves 198
Notes 201
Bibliography 213
Index 225
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