African Wisdom

One of the reasons I decided to come to Jacmel is for the surf. It is home to Haiti’s only small surfing community and countless waves. After the long 12 hour trip from Santiago in the Dominican Republic I arrived with my back pack and six foot board bag in tow.

It is not an easy object to travel with. Its long and awkward so when we arrived my first thought was, how am I getting this to the beach? In my mind my only option was to find somebody with a car or van to help me transport my board. I discussed this with my friend, Saint Ibert, in my workable creole, however when he motioned to a small scooter at the curb I doubted that I communicated effectively my needs. When I asked him again he said, “My friend with a car is not available so we’ll go with a motor taxi.”

I immediately thought, how are three people going to fit on this tiny scooter clutching a surfboard under our arms, be able to drive, and not damage anything in the process? I expressed my concerns, yet he told me just to get on. I sat down behind the driver, with my arm lifted ready to hold on to my precious wave catching cargo, when instead of placing the board under my arm, I feel it rest on the top of my head as my friend climbed on the back.

We took off in perfect balance. Our hands only had to stabilize the board over our heads, with gravity and other simple ergonomics doing most of the work. As we zipped though the busy streets, I saw we were not the only ones carrying things in this way. All the vendors as well had their products perched perfectly, like crowns of the working class, on the tops of their heads.

At first I felt a little stupid to not have thought of this. Yet quickly this thought left my mind, and I came to admire the ingenuity of what we and everybody else were doing. It was one of those special moments in travel when I realize that each culture I come across is so rich in another wisdom foreign to me.

This is African wisdom, which was carried here by the slaves who were brought from various places in Africa and forced to work for nearly 300 years, mainly in the lucrative sugar industry of the once French colony. Slaves from Guinea, Congo, Sierra Leone, Benin, Nigeria, and many other countries, all brought to the Caribbean a knowledge of life, nature, medicine, food, language, and spirituality from their home countries, which has either evolved to become something new, something creole, or stayed the same.

The way mainly female vendors or machan transport goods on top of their heads is just one example. I find it fascinating, intelligent, and very beautiful. One day I asked one machan why she carries her goods in this way and she casually replied, “Its just easier, my mom taught me and its how I sell [my products].”

This past week I ventured out to make a few portraits of these women. Their work is not easy, but they walk with ease as they go to the market or stroll through the city. Its a small glimpse into the Haitian culture, which is undoubtedly a glimpse into Africa and all its wisdom.

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