Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More About Haiti

Here's part of an interesting story about Haiti "stumbled on" from a web site, www.poles.org . We've edited it slightly for clarity (and 21st century correctness).

After the Haitian revolution in 1791, the French tried to regain their richest colony. Napoleon sent a French expeditionary force which included a regiment of Polish legionnaires.
The Poles refused to fight Haitian liberator Jean-Jacques Dessalines and when the French were defeated in 1803, Dessalines granted the Poles amnesty and asylum. In due course of time one of the strangest colonies of Polish exiles was to come into existence.
Settling around the town of Carzal, the Polish legionaries intermarried with mulatto women. By the turn of the century, a Polish-mulatto strain developed with blue eyes, blond hair and freckles. Further, this Polish-Haitian strain carried such family names as Dombroski, Kowalski, Sadoski and others. The descendants had exceeded one thousand in number.
Faustin Wirkus, a Polish American Marine Sergeant from Scranton, Pa., area, spent ten years with the U.S. Marine forces sent in 1915 to restore order out of this political and revolutionary chaos that was intermittently ravaging the island of Haiti.
Sgt. Wirkus was to become a celebrity in his own right when he was crowned King Faustin II of the nearby Isle de La Gonave.
Later in the book "The White King of La Gonave," written by Wirkus and Taney Dudley, Wirkus described the strange sensation of walking the streets of Carzal with a friend and meeting blond kinky hair mulattos who answered to the name of Dombrowski and Kowalski.
Wirkus mastered the native Creole dialect and became knowledgeable with the voodooism that steeped the populace of that mysterious island lying low on the horizon from the main Island of Haiti. His tour of duty eventually included the Island of La Gonave. He administered his domain with tolerance and good old Polish common sense and before long the "Lieut. Blanc," as he was called, was looked up to as a friend and a father.
The Island of La Gonave with its scattered population of some ten thousand was ruled by two Haitian queens. The original king of this island dependency was Faustin I, who had declared himself Emperor of Haiti in 1849. In Faustin Wirkus the queens recognized the reincarnation of Faustin the First.
It turned out to be quite a day In the life of this young Polish American Marine when the La Gonave islanders crowned him Faustin II with all the mystic rites and ceremonies of the island's tradition.
We met the "White King of La Gonave" in New York City back in 1937-38 and were able to authenticate the unique pacification role that Faustin Wirkus played during those turbulent years of Haiti history.
As Wirkus' fame spread the president of the Republic of Haiti decided that a ruling "king" in his domain was undemocratic and Faustin's two year reign came to an abrupt halt.
Faustin Wirkus never returned to La Gonave and has long since gone to his reward in "God's Banana Fields" but were you to visit the island today you would learn that the natives are awaiting his return to his island in the sun as Faustin III.

There is more information and a better article at this website : http://www.poles.org/DB/W_names/Wirkus_F/Wirkus_02.html

Wirkus had been stationed in Haiti during the American occupation which lasted from 1915 until FDR's Good Neighbor Policy began in 1934. We heard the story when we live in Haiti in the early 1980's, when it was rumored that a film company was going to make a movie of the story.

Wirkus was actually removed from La Gonave when the Haitian president and American ambassador visited the island, and the islanders descended to the dock to greet them waving the flags of their nine "Congo societies." The American policy had been to outlaw voodoo, as it had played a part in the slave revolt of the 1790's. The ambassador saw the flags as symbolic of voodoo, the president was embarrassed, and military authorities decided that Wirkus had "gone native," and that it was time to bring him back to the mainland.

In reality Wirkus had used the existing structure of the Congo societies to achieve a high degree of social organization on the island, to considerable public benefit. We sometimes think that what happened on La Gonave ninety years ago might be one of the keys to saving that island nation.

There are few copies of "The White King of La Gonave" still existing. I was lent one to read about twenty years ago. Even if the story is not a valid blueprint for social progress, it really could make a great movie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just came across this article and would like to speak with you more about this. I am the granddaughter of Faustin Wirkus. Please email me at live_4_him@live.com.