On the surface, this song appears to be demeaning to women, but that is far from its hidden objective which was to circumvent American laws that banned criticism of the American occupation of Haiti. The song used circumstances in the life of Angelique Cole, called in Creole, Anjelik Ko, to protest the occupation. Angelique Cole was the wife of the American Lieutenant Colonel Eli K. Cole who led the U.S. Marine division that invaded Haiti from Cape Haitian in 1915 while a second US Marine division, led by Admiral Caperton, attacked Port-au-Prince from Bizoton. Later, on November 22, 1916, Lieutenant Colonel Cole was put in charge of all the American Armed Forces in Haiti and his tenure lasted until November 28, 1917. The song is not trying to be critical of women, but rather, of the American forces for their abusive violations of human rights referred to as dezagreman. In 1934, the US heeded the message and it officially left the country.
The song is disguised as a nonpolitical song about the duties of a woman in her household. A dispute between Lieutenant Colonel Cole and his wife, Angelique triggered this carnival song, likely composed in 1916 or 1917 while Colonel Cole was still in Haiti. The marital dispute led Angelique Cole to separate from the Lieutenant Colonel and to return to her family in the United States. As an American linked to the occupation, her return to the United States was emblematic of the popular Haitian desire for the entire occupying force to leave. The song respectfully pleas for a US departure by stating would you go home to your mother dear – ale kay manman w chè.
Angelique’s return to the US is described as a return to her mother for not having successfully accomplished her household chores. In reality, she is considered a failure because of the company she kept; namely, a force that did not conduct itself well. This had to be said covertly because the American forces were either fining, imprisoning, or summarily executing those who voiced opposition to the occupation. The American forces burned the homes and destroyed the crops of their opponents. They seized land for American agricultural companies. These issues were later brought to the attention of the American Congress and they are the very reasons why the American forces were repeatedly asked to go home and stop the atrocities- ale kay manman w pou pa ban m dezagreman.
The generation that suffered through the American occupation often describe themselves as anti-American. Nowadays, in general, the Haitian people have great respect for the US and for its achievements. We have that respect because numerous Haitian people live in the US and enjoy the rights provided by the US Constitution. In addition, we have found work in the US which permits us to send remittances to better the lives of those at home. Nonetheless, the song remains relevant because the past abuses helped to shape present day Haiti.
The song feigns criticism of Angelique Cole when in reality the criticism is aimed at the US forces. Her failed marriage is a metaphor for the failed American Occupation of Haiti. The US centralized the Haitian government and unified the army under one central leader. Prior to the American Occupation, the army was organized in regional divisions and the officers answered to their regional commanders. The centralization of the army paved the way for dictators like Duvalier to rule without military threats from the provinces. Duvalier ruled Haiti with an army (created by the US) along with a paramilitary force created not to protect but rather to subjugate the Haitian people. The US initially called the army the Gendarmerie, a named revived from the era of slavery. The name was later changed to the Armed Forces of Haiti. By whatever name, under American tutelage, this force brought dezagreman to the Haitian people.
At the time of the occupation, the song's message was clear. Despite restrictions on public speech imposed by the American forces, the song was a huge success. It was well received in carnival and was quickly adopted in night clubs around the country and played again and again throughout the remaining years of the occupation. The song outlasted the occupation and is now generally regarded as a Haitian traditional song.
The song survived because it is encoded in a manner called chante pwen. The lyric is crafted to convey the message for the occupying forces to leave, but it communicates this point surreptitiously to help evade potential retaliation against those singing it. If arrested for subversive behavior, singers of the song could potentially argue that they were simply mocking Angelique Cole’s private life, and that their words were not laced with political innuendo. Haitian political songs often have double meaning to help evade the wrath of oppressive regimes of local or foreign origin.
The song ends with the word dezagreman to emphasize how irritating the American Occupation was. The American forces used planes to bomb and used machine guns to spray farmers who opposed their land grab. These aerial attacks resulted in making Haiti the first place in the Americas to be bombed by aircrafts. As a result, a Haitian delegation came to Washington to address President Harding, the State Department, and Congress about the dezagreman thatthe occupation was causing. The US Congress embarked on an investigation but concluded that US armed forces in Haiti were not abusing their superior fire power. It the end, the US did follow the example of Angelique Cole. It packed up and left to return to its mother.
Today, foreign troops are again present on Haitian soil and have brought the country a new dezagreman, cholera. This year, as we observe the centennial of the American Occupation, let us hope that it will not be long before the United Nations pays reparations and the foreign troops return to their mother countries and alleviate Haiti of dezagreman. Otherwise, like Angelique Cole, the UN will have to be told politely, “Ale kay manman w, chè, pou pa ba m dezagreman.”
David Nicholls Rural Protests and Peasant Revolts 1804-1869. Haitian History: New Perspectives. Routledge, New York, 2013
Laurent Dubois. Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. Metropolitan Books /Henry Holt and Company. New York, 2011
Jean Fouchard. La meringue : danse nationale d'Haiti. Lemaec. 1973