The Yellow Bird Sings: Haiti’s…legacy revealed Part l

| March 4, 2013
Social Anthropologist - Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

Haiti has produced many great writers and poets down the centuries. Among such greats are: Jacques Roumain, Ida Faubert, and Oswald Durand.

Yet to the majority of Anglophone speakers that rich cultural heritage remains inaccessible because Haitians speak a francophone kreyol and their literature is written in Haitian kreyol or French.

But, there is a melody that resounds throughout the Caribbean region that breaks linguistic barriers and which some islands claim as their own, that tune is the popular “Yellow Bird”. Originally a poem named “Choucoune,” it was penned by the Haitian Poet Laureate, Oswald Durand (1840-1906) in 1883, praising the strikingly beautiful, Marie Noel Belizaire, whose nickname was Choucoune.

Marie Noel Belizaire was born in the Haitian village of La-Plaine-du-Nord, in 1853. She dropped out of elementary school after falling in love with a young man, named, Pierre Theodore.  Soon they set up home together and the ambitious teenager started up a small business selling various household goods as a means of supporting her family.

Haitian Poet Laureate, Oswald Durand

Haitian Poet Laureate, Oswald Durand (1840-1906). Photo courtesy lehman.cuny.edu

But when she found out that Theodore had been unfaithful, she left the village and moved to Cap-Haitien, the capital of the Northern Provence of Haiti, where she soon established a small restaurant. There, she met poet and politician, Oswald Durand. He was 40, and she was 27, but despite the thirteen year age difference, they fell in love.

The catalyst for that break-up was Durand’s (a known womanizer) refusal to commit to a monogamous relationship. Shortly after, Durand was imprisoned for criticizing some of the politicians in Cap-Haitien. It was during his imprisonment that he was inspired to write one of the most beautiful Haitian poems, penned in Haitian Kreyol.

The poem is an expression of grief to lost love, and the hearer of his lament is a bird that has rested on his cell window. He recalls her beauty; she was dark skinned with long straight hair and had eyes that shone like a candle. She was a big bodied woman but not fat; and she was also a good conversationalist.

Choucoune

Photo courtesy dadychery.org

Durand reminisces about their happy moments together as well as his emotional pain when she left him for a French man. But despite being immortalized in words, Choucoune never returned to Durand; preferring instead to look for a perfect love, which never materialized.

As she aged, Choucoune fell on hard times and returned to the village of her birth. She lost her sanity and was reduced to begging for a living, becoming an object of scorn to the village people who ridiculed the fallen beauty. She died in 1924, aged 71.

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Category: African Caribbean, Culture & Society, Did U Know...?, History

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