Vagabondaj Mawon: Sitadel (2019) (Vagabond Maroon: Citadel) by Leah Gordon. KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD: TRIPTYCH | WAYÒM NAN MOND SA-A: TRIPTIK 2019. (Exhibit Edits) Page 17: Makandal in Translation: Visual
A painter from Paris named Dupont, painted Macandal’s portrait & those of three of his principal accomplices in prison, & took them to France. His widow sold them on the quai du Louvre, M. Courrejolles bought them & gave them to M. Mazères, on whose death they were sold. I bought the one of Macandal in Versailles, from a stall-holder in la grande écurie on l’avenue de Paris. This portrait is in oil & very-well done.
From Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie francaise de l'isle Saint Domingue (1797) by Mederic-Louis-Élie Moreau de Saint-Mery
In the above passage, Moreau de Saint-Mery’s Description Topographique relates how the former Saint-Domingue agronomist saw and purchased the only known first-hand image of François Makandal. Moreau de Saint-Mery lost a portion of his years of writing about the island as well as Dupont’s painting of Makandal when he fled Paris and the French Revolution bound for Philadelphia, but history has continued to render images of Makandal from a collective imaginary. Just as the text network crosses the period boundaries of the archive of the eighteenth-century Caribbean, representations cross textual boundaries into contemporary visual culture including in photography, performance, painting, sculpture, and even videogaming. Here, we review and hope to continue to curate some of these visual and extra-textual imaginings of Makandal and more broadly referential representations of the maroon.
Though not an image that specifically references Makandal, Haitian artist, Albert Mangones’ statue, located near Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s presidential palace on the Boulevard Champs de Mars, Le Negre Marron (also Neg Mawon or The Black Maroon) (1970) is perhaps the most well-known representation of maroon culture in the Caribbean and calls to mind Haiti’s earliest and most famous revolutionary.
The monument’s central figure in broken chains who holds the traditional conch shell used to call the gathering with one hand and the machete used to cut sugarcane in the other marks the eternal call to revolt and the historical gathering of those that rebelled against the plantocracy. Though Makandal had been executed thirty-three years before the beginning of the Haitian Revolution, the gatherings of enslaved and maroon participants in that revolution took place in part on and around the plantation of Lenormand de Mézy where Makandal was enslaved. The digital archive, Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora features a public domain image and further information on Neg Mawon’s significance to Haiti’s history and culture.
Figure 1.Vagabondaj Mawon: Sitadel (2019) (Vagabond Maroon: Citadel) by Leah Gordon. KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD: TRIPTYCH | WAYÒM NAN MOND SA-A: TRIPTIK 2019.
More recently, “Vagabondaj Mawon: Sitadel (Vagabond Maroon: Citadel)” (Fig. 1) by Leah Gordon was commissioned among the work of eleven artists for The Kingdom of This World, Reimagined (2019), a celebration of the seventieth anniversary of Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of this World (1949), his historical fiction novel about the Haitian Revolution that features Makandal as a character. The work was first exhibited at that event in at the Little Haiti Cultural Center Satellite Gallery in Miami and more recently (September-January, 2021) at the Pensacola Museum of Art, Pensacola, Florida. One image within a triptych, Gordon explains that the photograph appears “with a prophetic photographic reconstruction of William Blake’s illustration of ‘Europe Supported by Africa and the Americas’, from a book used by the British abolitionists, at its centre.” She adds that the hand-tinted image
is flanked by two constructed portraits based upon a John Thomas Smith illustration from his 1817 book, Vagabondiana, which depicts an injured black British sailor begging in Whitechapel’s streets with a ship on his head to denote his former employment. John Thomas Smith, a colleague and friend of William Blake, depicts a swathe of British people who chose the life of the vagabond or beggar rather than the misery of working in the Northern factories (KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD: TRIPTYCH | WAYÒM NAN MOND SA-A: TRIPTIK, Leah Gordon).
We center Gordon’s portrayal of the maroon within our exhibit because it references Kingdom’s modern re-telling of Makandal’s campaign against the plantation, one that historically pre-dates the Revolution and ends with his execution in 1758, but nonetheless, marks the way Makandal repeatedly appears as a slippage within stories of the Revolution itself (1791-1804).
In Gordon’s photographic celebration of the novel, we see elements of Carpentier’s chapter, “What the Hand Found,” in which the solitary Makandal loses his arm in the sugar press, and as a result, loses his position at the sugar gin and is instead made to herd cattle in the pasture. This move, relative to the hierarchy of plantation of enslavement, represents a demotion in stature and influence. While lying under the shade of a carob tree, he can be understood to create a horizontal hierarchy in which he exists parallel to the plants he locates and uses for the purpose of poisoning the planters; Carpentier says that “with his only hand” he finds fungi among “the secret life of strange species given to disguise, confusion, and camouflage” (17). It is from “anonymous seeds” that he gathers ingredients for his empowered objects and his new identity as maroon poisoner rather than enslaved healer. Vagabond Maroon: Citadel fixes these combined narrative elements related to Makandal stories--injury, fugitivity and displacement, survival, the refusal of enslavement, and the creation of marginal community.
Figure 2. “Lanceurs de Corde” (Lanse Kòd) or the Rope Throwers. Gordon, Leah, Madison Smartt Bell, and Richard Fleming. Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti. Soul Jazz Records, 2010.
Years before Leah Gordon’s image of the maroon was commissioned work for The Kingdom of this World, Reimagined, (Fig. 1), another collection of photographs first published in Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti (2010) had already traced the history of maronnage through documentation of Haitian Kanaval at Jacmel, Haiti’s Madigras celebrations. (Her collection is now in its second edition with Here Press (2021). Gordon’s image is also the cover of the most recent edition of a work central to the Makandal Text Network, Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal (trans. Chris Bongie, 2011). This and the whole collection of images document the Kanaval celebrations in Jacmel, Haiti and the performers who take on the personas of both historical and mythical figures associated with its political and spiritual history.
These particular figures and their performance represent the maroon and the collective history of marronage on the island; they are living reminders of the fugitive Africans who escaped the confines of the sugar and coffee plantations of colonial Saint-Domingue and formed their own communities, raided the plantations, and poisoned their enemies using the botanical knowledge they brought from Africa. Its publication documents maroon history through a performance of “Lanset Kods,” which is the name of the group of performers (Fig. 2) who call themselves “Lanceurs de Corde” (Lanse Kòd) or the Rope Throwers. Their menacing masks and horns reference the violence of and resistance to the plantation. The horned headdresses are reminiscent of the cattle that Makandal herded and more generally relate the origins of the term maroon (from the Spanish cimarrón for wild and unruly, a term used also to describe cattle). The group of boys holding ropes in their hands and holding the viewer with blank gazes have painted their torsos with a mixture of crushed charcoal and cane spirit, a product of sugar processing.
Readers can learn more about Leah Gordon’s art and organizational work by visiting the website for the The Ghetto Biennale, for which she serves as co-director. The Biennale is a “cross-cultural arts festival” that takes place across multiple neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince and is hosted by Atis Rezistans, an artists’ collective, that transforms “spaces, dialogues and relationships considered un-navigable and unworkable into transcultural, creative platforms” (Ghettobiennale.org).
Widely published and exhibited Haitian artist, Edouard Duval-Carrié, is another among among the eleven artists featured in The Kingdom of This World, Reimagined (2019), a celebration of the seventieth anniversary of Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of this World (1949), which is an exhibition more recently curated by Lesley A. Wolff, Professor of Art History, Texas Tech University and organized by Marie Vickles for the Pensacola Museum of Art (2021).
Duval-Carrié’s series of fourteen midnight-blue and silvery engravings on plexiglass all framed by the artist render a vivid serial narration of Carpentier’s historical fiction. In particular among them is the third image in the series, “L'Accident A La Guildive,” which animates the moment that Makandal’s loses his hand/arm while feeding sugar cane into the sugar gin. The engraving’s central image situates the sugar press itself being turned by cattle while the open mouth of the gin’s chute awaits its food--three bundles of cane tied in the foreground. We also see Makandal’s face and shoulder in profile; he lifts up his left arm in a pose of strength and/or in forced labor, and at its most extreme point, his left hand, with blood emerging from the wrist, has been almost completely severed from the arm. Characteristic of the other images in the series, the scene is captured in an oval window and is surrounded by symmetrically approaching flowers and vines.
The eighth engraving in the series entitled “L’Orange de Mme Lenormand de Mezy” represents Carpentier’s fictionalized characterization of Lenormand de Mezy’s wife, who, in the novel, is poisoned by an orange despite taking the fruit directly from its branch. She dies within Carptentier’s portrayal of the desperate state of panic in Saint-Domingue during Makandal’s campaign. He writes that “the colonists,” ...“exasperated by fear” and “drunk with wine because they no longer dared taste the water of the wells”...”whipped and tortured their slaves” (35). Meanwhile, the poison “went creeping along, down the kitchen chimneys...went on decimating families and wiping out grownups and children” (35). Madame de Mézy is framed by a distant landscape of the mountains that historically remained nearly inaccessible to colonists seeking or hunting maroons who located their safety there outside the plantation. In closer relief are the wooden banisters of her home which offer no removal or protection given the poisonous fruit she holds up and contemplates presumably before the moment of the first bite.
In Duval-Cariée’s engraving number eleven, “Makandal S’envoie,” the healer has transformed himself into a mosquito and into flight to escape the flames as he does according to witnesses in one of our exhibit’s key documents, Macandle, chef des noirs revoltées, a 1758 judicial text that details his crimes and execution by fire. This engraving’s moment precedes the depiction of the twelfth engraving, “L’apotheose de Makandal,” in which the Lord of Poison reaches deification as neither man, animal, or plant, but a creature combining all forms; one arm has become what can be viewed as a leaf or a wing, while from his body emerge the legs of an insect, and a leg equally resembles that of an insect or bird. From the missing and amputated hand comes what can be interpreted as a sceptre, a symbol of godly or imperial sovereignty and authority in keeping with Carpentier’s transformation of earthly kingdom. Though, the object might also recall the stick that Makandal wielded in his oracular performances as a Vodou priest according to M. de C.’s “Makandal, Histoire Véritable,” published in Mercure de France (1787). The text reminds us that Makandal’s sceptre branch had been made
“with great artistry,” and that
at the end of his orange stick, [was] a little figure of a man, and when someone rubbed its head, it would move its eyes and its lips and appear to come to life. He pretended that his fetish responded to his questions and gave him oracles, and when he made it take someone’s life, it is certain that he never deceived (106).
Carpentier, Alejo. The Kingdom of This World: A Novel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Reprint Edition, 1989.
Duval-Carrié, Edouard, Duval-carrie.com, Archives. Kingdom of this World. All.88, 2017.
Gordon, Leah, Madison Smartt Bell, and Richard Fleming. Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti. Soul Jazz Records, 2010.
---. “KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD: TRIPTYCH | WAYÒM NAN MOND SA-A: TRIPTIK.” leahgordon.co.uk. 2007-2012. http://www.leahgordon.co.uk/index.php/project/kingdom-of-this-world/
"Le Negre Marron (The Black Maroon), Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1970", Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed October 21, 2021, http://slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/536
And for further reading on Makandal and the Haitian Revolution in videogaming
“Assassin’s Creed III: Remastered,” Playstation.com, Sony Interactive Entertainment, 2021, 18 October, 2021, https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/assassins-creed-iii-remastered/
Lauro, Sarah Juliet. “Digital Saint-Domingue: Playing Haiti in Videogames,” Small Axe: Archipelagoes 2 (September 2017), http://smallaxe.net/sxarchipelagos/.
---. Kill the Overseer!: The Gamification of Slave Resistance. U of Minnesota Press, 2020.
---. “‘Make History Yours’: An Introduction to Assassin’s Creed.” manifold.umn.edu. Regents of the University of Minnesota.
Sepinwall, Alyssa Goldstein. Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2021.
 Duval-carrie.com, Archives. All.88, 2017. See ”L’Orange de Mme. Lenormand de Mezy,” “L’Apotheose de Mackandal,” “Makandal S’envoie,” as well as “Ti Noel a Sans Souci,” and other works in reference to Alejo Carpentier’s fictional revival of Makandal in The Kingdom of this World.
 Gordon, Leah, Madison Smartt Bell, and Richard Fleming. Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti. Soul Jazz Records, 2010.