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Dutty Boukman (Boukman Dutty) (died ca. 1791) was a Jamaican-born Haitian slave who was one of the most visible early leaders of the Haitian Revolution. According to some contemporary accounts, Boukman may have conducted a religious ceremony in which a freedom covenant was affirmed;[1] this ceremony would have been a catalyst to the slave uprising that marked the beginning of the Haïtian Revolution.[2]


Dutty Boukman may have been a self-educated slave born on the island of Jamaica. Some sources indicate that he was later sold by his British master to a French plantation owner after he attempted to teach other Jamaican slaves to read, who put him to work as a commandeur (slave driver) and, later, a coach driver. His French name came from his English nickname, "Book Man," which some scholars, despite accounts suggesting that he was a Vodou houngan, have interpreted as meaning that he may have been Muslim, since in many Muslim regions the term "man of the book" is a synonym for an adherent of the Islamic faith. One scholar suggests that it is likely that Boukman "was a Jamaican Muslim who had a Quran, and that he got his nickname from this."[3] Other scholars suggest that Boukman may have practiced a syncretic blend of traditional African religion and a form of Christianity.[4]

Ceremony at the Bois CaïmanEdit

According to some contemporary accounts, in August 1791 Boukman presided over a ceremony at the Bois Caïman in the role of houngan (priest) together with priestess Cécile Fatiman. Boukman prophesied that the slaves Jean François, Biassou, and Jeannot would be leaders of a resistance movement and revolt that would free the slaves of Saint-Domingue. An animal was sacrificed, an oath was taken, and Boukman and the priestess exhorted the listeners to take revenge against their French oppressors and "[c]ast aside the image of the God of the oppressors." [5] According to the Encyclopedia of African Religion, "Blood from the animal, and some say from humans as well, was given in a drink to the attendees to seal their fates in loyalty to the cause of liberation of Sainte-Domingue."[6] A week later, 1800 plantations had been destroyed and 1000 slaveholders killed.[7][8] Boukman was not the first to attempt a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue, as he was preceded by others, such as Padrejean in 1676, and François Mackandal in 1757. However, his large size, warrior-like appearance, and fearsome temper made him an effective leader and helped spark the Haitian Revolution.[9]

According to Gothenburg University researcher Markel Thylefors, "The event of the Bwa Kayiman ceremony forms an important part of Haitian national identity as it relates to the very genesis of Haiti."[10] This ceremony came to be characterized by various Christian sources as a "pact with the devil" that began the Haitian revolution.[11]

Death and legacyEdit

  • Boukman was killed by the French in November, just a few months after the beginning of the uprising.[12] The French then publicly displayed Boukman's head in an attempt to dispel the aura of invincibility that Boukman had cultivated.
  • The name of the band Boukman Eksperyans refers to him.
  • A fictionalized version of Boukman appears as the title character in American Communist writer Guy Endore's novel Babouk, a leftist and anti-capitalist parable about the Haitian Revolution.
  • Haitians honored Boukman by admitting him into the pantheon of loa (guiding spirits).[13]
  • In the Lance Horner book The Black Sun, the Boukman ("Bouckmann") uprising is retold.
  • The Bookman is one of several devil masquerade characters still performed in Trinidad Carnival.
  • The Haitian community activist Samba Boukman, assassinated on 9 March 2012, took his name from Boukman.[14]

Pat Robertson's "Pact with the Devil" allegationEdit

In the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, veteran Christian radio and television personality Pat Robertson claimed that Haiti had been "cursed by one thing after another" since the late 18th century and, in an apparent reference to the Bois Caïman ceremony, revived the allegation that Haitians had sworn a "pact to the devil."[15][16] This view was criticized by urban legend expert Rich Buehler, who claimed that Robertson's statement was incorrect on a variety of historical points, and propagated a common claim that vodou is Satanic in nature.[17]

Several Mainline and evangelical[18] Christian voices criticized Robertson's remarks as misleading, untimely and insensitive.[19][20][21][22]


  1. From an article in the Jamaica Daily Gleaner 17 January 2010, by Carolyn Cooper Professor of Literal and Cultural Studies UWI
  2. Dutty Boukman – Samba Boukman, 2 December 2006
  3. Sylviane Anna Diouf and Sylviane Kamara. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the AmericasNew York University Press, 1998, p. 153
  4. Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2004), 101.
  5. Charles Arthur and Michael Dash (eds.) Libète: A Haiti Anthology (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1999), 36.
  6. Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama. Encyclopedia of African religion, Volume 1 Sage Publications, p. 131.
  7. Sylviane Anna Diouf, Servants of Allah p. 152
  8. John Mason. African Religions in The Caribbean: Continuity and Change
  9. John K. Thornton. I Am the Subject of the King of Congo: African Political Ideology and the Haitian Revolution. Millersville University of Pennsylvania
  10. Thylefors, Markel (March 2009) "'Our Government is in Bwa Kayiman:' a Vodou Ceremony in 1791 and its Contemporary Signifcations" Stockholm Review of Latin American Studies, Issue No. 4
  11. Lowell Ponte Haiti: Victim of Clinton's Old Black Magic FrontPage Magazine 20 February 2004
  12. Sylviane Anna Diouf, Servants of Allah p.152
  13. Haitian Bicentennial Committee (2004)
  14. Esser, Dominique. The Character Assassination of Samba Boukman ‘'Haiti Analysis’’. Mar, 10 2012.
  15. "Pat Robertson calls quake 'blessing in disguise'". The Washington Post. 13 January 2010. 
  16. Robertson statement
  17. Ireland, Michael (17 January 2010). "Urban Legend Expert Debunks Haitian ‘Pact with the Devil‘". ASSIST News Service. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  18. "Pat Robertson on Disasters: Consistently Wrong" Thursday, 14 January 2010, 1:01 PM by John Mark Reynolds
  19. [1] Denny Burk - Associate Professor of New Testament and Dean of Boyce College (undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) in Louisville, Kentucky
  • For an insightful article on the function of religion in the Haitian Revolution, see “The Rhetoric of Prayer: Dutty Boukman, The Discourse of “Freedom from Below,” and the Politics of God” by Celucien L. Joseph, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion 2:9 (June 2011):1-33.

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