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Macandal: The Educated Revolutionary Who Brought Unity

"Throughout history and still today, the vast majority of people have been conditioned to believe in religious myths
 and philosophical ideals that may seem very real but which in fact have no basis in reality."
From the book:
Shattering the Sacred Myths,
by Robert Charles Stewart
Was Macandal Christian, Muslim a Voodoo Priest or a vengeful racist?

Many have used Macandal's Muslim roots to advance Islamic ideology. However there is no evidence that as an adult, Macandal was either Christian or Muslim. Mysteriously, he came from the Christianized Congo but had Muslim roots. There is also no evidence Macandal was a Voodoo Priest, as some Haitians claim. To the contrary, Macandal seemed to view religion as an impediment. His sole aim was to unite all people regardless of religion, tribe or race and join them together for one great cause; ending slavery. His oratory exposed an erudite grasp of religious rhetoric. Religion had elevated racists, who used its power to rationalize division and atrocity. Boukman Dutty, a Voodoo Priest and harsh slave overseer during Macandal's time, was no doubt a mortal enemy of Macandal, though later he became an ardent follower and a revolutionary himself. Macandal did not support or oppose Voodoo, Christianity, Islam or certain races. But there is substantial evidence he sought to join all of the captives of St. Domingue along with anyone else appalled by the colonial system, for a massive overthrow of slavery.

The belief that Macandal was associated with Voodoo is circulated by followers of the religion, yet there are no documents that indicate Macandal was ever a practitioner of Voodoo or any religion or sect. Reports detail his dedication to higher thought and education. Most leaders of the Haitian Revolution, including Toussaint, were actually opposed to Voodoo and believed it substituted religious dogma and superstition for progress and education. Most revolutionaries throughout the world in the 18th century (the "Age of Enlightenment") were fighting for higher learning and science and trying to break the yoke of the Church.

Notably, Macandal was closely allied with a French Jesuit Priest named Father Duquesnoy, who secretly supported Macandal and fought with him against the slavers. Despite these facts, many prefer to rely on Alejo Carpentier's fanciful depiction of "Mackandal" which portrays him as a Voodoo Priest or Houngan. However, this novel diminishes Macandal and demeans Macandal's true brilliance, his organizing skills and world-changing goals. Carpentier's colorful tale is mostly fantasy relative to Macandal. It is obvious that Macandal's friendship and alliance with a "French, white, Christian" such as Father Duquesnoy was key to his objective and higher calling. Therefore, the claims that Macandal simply wanted all whites or all French killed is also a myth. The evidence depicts a courageous and extraordinary man who disregarded religion, race, sex, nationality and ethnicity to usher in a new and just government.

Background

Before the Europeans descended onto sub-Saharan Africa in the 15th Century to both convert, murder and capture slaves, there were many pockets in Africa populated by African natives who were Muslim. Whether they were converted by Muslim travelers, slavers, emigrated from North Africa or came from the thriving new Muslim/Swahili cities along the eastern coast of Africa, is not known. Based on available documents and oral tradition of his words and actions, it is more likely Macandal's ancestors originated in a more liberal Islamic setting such as one of the cosmopolitan trade centers in eastern Africa. Macandal could speak, read and write Arabic fluently and reportedly had been raised Muslim, but like all slaves in St. Domingue (Haiti), conversion was a requirement and he was baptized Christian and received instruction on Christianity. On his own and in secret, he became knowledgeable of a more purist interpretation of Christian theology.

In my historical fiction novel I write that Macandal's family descended from a tradition of culture, literature and education. I conjecture that Macandal was well-informed about African history through an oral tradition in a family descended from ancestors in Kilwa, East Africa in the 15th Century. My position as established in my novel about Macandal, is that he despised the way colonialists had subverted Christian theology. However it is also unlikely he maintained his Muslim faith, if indeed it ever existed. His closest confidants, Teysselo and Mayombe, were from regions where animist religious practices were traditional.
 
Macandal's revolution to bring freedom for slaves was unprecedented. Macandal called himself "The Black Messiah" to preempt and presume control over religious hegemony and condemn the slavery rationalized by both Christians and Muslims, opposing all divisiveness and elitism.However he did not attack any belief system directly other than the colonial paradigm for economic prosperity, which dehumanized indigenous peoples and subjected them to cruelty.

The Author's Roots

My graduate studies were centered on Cultural and Biological Anthropology. I studied dozens of cultures with many beliefs and cosmologies. In graduate studies my research focused primarily on early human evolution. I do not subscribe to any particular religion. However, in my book, I include accounts where Macandal performed seemingly miraculous feats. These were not attributed to religious belief but instead seemed to derive from Macandal's conviction that people themselves had extraordinary power and could break the mental chains of ideology and unite together for the common good.

The War Between Islam and Christianity

The following excerpts briefly explain the war between Muslims and Christians. It was written by Robert Charles Stewart in 2005 and called Shattering the Sacred Myths. There is such a tremendous body of work on this subject with so many accusations and interpretations that it is difficult to navigate through the rhetoric. Mr. Stewart's book of all those I have read on the subject of Islamic-Christian animosity, is one of the simplest and most rational works ever written. In my historical novel Black Millennium, Macandal learns about Muslim and Christian influence in Africa and this prepares him for his remarkable revolution.
 
In the Beginning - The History (excerpted)

"There were many different sects among the early Christians, each sect having its own unique beliefs and preferring its own choice of scriptures. Some sects insisted that Jesus was just a man. Others encouraged freedom from sexual restraint. Eventually one sect gained political power and all other sects were persecuted out of existence. Any writings not favored by the prevailing sect were banned or destroyed. Few of these banned writings have survived." -Ch.6

"By the late 500s, Christianity had reached the height of its intolerance. Followers of other religions were persecuted, denied property rights, and banished into exile. Anybody who questioned the opinions of the bishops was charged with heresy and often condemned to death." -Ch.6

"A variety of religious beliefs existed throughout the Arabian peninsula before Islam. Some desert tribes believed in ancestral spirits and practiced human sacrifice, others worshiped the ancient goddess of fertility. Many believed in a supreme god and also in a number of lesser gods and goddesses who were his children.
 
Jewish tribes had long been settling throughout the peninsula. They owned some of the best land and maintained their wealth and power by controlling much of the trade, especially in metals and weapons. Christian missionaries were busy establishing churches in Arab cities, and many Arab tribes had converted to Christianity. Arab kingdoms in Syria and Egypt were devoutly Christian.

For over one thousand years, the Greek and Roman empires had battled against the Persian Empire for control of the Middle East. After the fall of Rome, the Greeks formed an alliance with Christian Arabs in order to defeat a series of Persian invasions. The Persians also formed alliances with Arab tribes, paying them to join the fight.

The Greeks believed that God was the Trinity, but Arab Christians rejected this idea, believing that God was a single entity. This dispute led to persecutions and assassinations and eventually the Arabs broke off their alliance with the Greeks. Regional power was now beginning to favor the Arabs, but in order for them to realize this power, they first needed to unite behind a common cause.

Mecca was an important religious center long before the appearance of Islam. Pilgrims journeyed from all over the region to worship the idols contained in its many sacred shrines. The most sacred shrine contained a black meteorite that was believed to have supernatural powers because it had fallen from the heavens.

Muhammad

Muhammad was born around the year 570 in Mecca. His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was still a child, leaving him to be brought up by his grandfather and later by his uncle. As a young man, he traveled with the trading caravans from Mecca to Syria. When he was 25, he married a wealthy older widow and became the manager of her business interests.

Muhammad developed a passion for religion. For years he studied and discussed the Jewish and Christian scriptures and spent much of his time contemplating God in the hillside caves outside of Mecca. He formulated his own uniquely Arab interpretation of religion, based loosely on the biblical scriptures but also incorporating Persian ideas.

Abraham was the mythical forefather of the Jews. His faith in one universal God was said to have been so strong that God promised his descendants possession of the land of Israel. But the Jews had twice been removed from the land, supposedly because of their disobedience to God, and the Christians were guilty of corrupting the faith by claiming that God had a son.

Muhammad believed that the Arab people were also the descendants of Abraham through his first son to an Egyptian slave girl. Muhammad figured that if he could teach the Arabs to embrace Abrahamís original faith in one God, then the Arabs could claim to be the rightful heirs to Abrahamís religious tradition.

When Muhammad was about forty years old, he started preaching to his family and friends. He called his new religion Islam (meaning ďsurrender to GodĒ). He claimed that it was not a new religion but rather an old one that had freed itself from the corruptions of Judaism and Christianity. Muhammad declared himself to be the last of the biblical prophets. Those who accepted Islam would be called Muslims.

Muhammad preached that there is only one God and that he is almighty and all-knowing, and that he represents justice and fairness, kindness to orphans and widows, and charity to the poor. And although God is compassionate, he will inflict harsh punishment upon those who defy him. Muhammadís words had the power to stir the emotions of those who listened ..." -Ch.9

"Muhammad composed verses which were at first committed to memory by his followers and were later written down by scribes to form chapters of his holy book, the Koran. He claimed to have been given his revelations by an angel named Gabriel, although references to the angel in the Koran are vague and open to interpretation. Muhammad summarized the Jewish and Christian scriptures, adapting them to Arab ways. He offered the Arabs a simple interpretation of the Bible written in a style that was easy to understand." -Ch.9

"Muhammad rejected the importance of Christian forgiveness, instead preaching that revenge was the proper form of justice. He reasoned that crime would be discouraged by the fear of revenge." -Ch.9

"The Jewish tribes in Medina were naturally skeptical about his claim to be one of their prophets. They ridiculed him and later conspired against him. His early respect for the Jews turned into bitter resentment. He used his growing power to banish one Jewish tribe from the city. He later accused the remaining tribe of treachery in his war against the Meccans and the men of the tribe were slaughtered....  Having established an Islamic government in Medina, Muhammad introduced new laws and punishments which covered everything from ownership of property to marriage and divorce. Some laws promoted equality and social justice, while others were simply reflections of the existing culture of tribal warfare and harsh desert justice... The Muslims formed alliances with desert tribes and battled for control of the surrounding countryside. Jewish tribes offered fierce resistance against the growing Muslim army but were eventually defeated. Those who did not convert to Islam were put to the sword and their women and children enslaved." -Ch.9

"Muhammad preached that it was the duty of all Muslim men to fight for the establishment of an Islamic world empire. He said that defeated populations must accept Islam or be put to the sword. Jews and Christians were to be offered the alternative of paying a special tax for being non-Muslims... Muhammad later decreed that there should be no other religion in Arabia than Islam. Faced with a choice between conversion and death, some Christians chose to die, while many others converted their churches into mosques... The Koran contains laws for managing slaves. Muslim men were permitted to keep any number of female sex slaves. This provided a strong motivation for his followers to go out and conquer in the name of Islam." Ch.9

"Convinced that God and history were on their side, an army of warriors on horseback set out to complete Muhammadís mission to bring the entire world under the political control of Islam. Any gold or other riches taken from the conquered lands were to be shared among the Arab tribes, encouraging them to stay in the federation... The enormous riches gained from the early conquest had given the Arabs a luxurious standard of living. For the next few decades they feasted and made love to their slave girls until the population had increased sufficiently to make further conquest possible. Arab armies were soon pushing onwards in every direction... They captured all of North Africa and then moved north into parts of Spain and Portugal." -Ch.9

"Arabic became the common language of the Islamic Empire, and the surviving works of Greek science and philosophy were translated into Arabic... The Muslims established schools and libraries throughout their empire, and while the Church was prohibiting scientific inquiry in Europe, Muslim scholars were busy making important contributions to astronomy and medicine... While European mathematics was being held back by the use of unwieldy Roman numerals, Muslim scholars had adopted the decimal number system and were busy making progress in the development of new mathematical techniques like algebra." -Ch.9

My Conclusion

The war between Muslims and the Church of Rome raged on for centuries as the Crusades, Inquisition and other defensive and offensive strategies were used to increase power and defeat the other. Trade had been flourishing on the eastern coast of Africa for centuries with many beautiful new cities being built. But in the  13th century Europeans began surpassing Islamic Arabs on the technological front with vastly improved firearms and brand new and powerful cannons placed on ships in the 15th century. With sugar from the Canary Islands showing incredible promise the Church and Europeans had their ticket out of medieval poverty and the potential for vast superiority. White criminals and black slaves were used to harvest sugar on the Canary Islands but the white slaves could not survive the heat and they were slow and expired quickly. The Africans sang songs as they worked and seemed to be able to endure the long hours of harvesting in the brutal heat.
 
With new guns, cannons and all of Africa and the New World waiting, the Church then felt compelled, around 1450 A.D., to sanction the infamous mid-Atlantic slave trade as a way to convert Africans, vanquish the Muslims through Jihad ("Christian Holy War") and become wealthy. Muslims practiced slavery from the earliest inception of Islam. It is estimated that 15 millions people (white and black) were enslaved beginning around the 7th century. Muslims believed Jihad or Holy War was imperative to convert the entire world to Islam. Voodoo was a perversion of native African Animist religious practices and combined Catholic and Animist icons. It first appeared among Dahomey (Benin) Africans, who became the first African slavers. Voodoo is deeply embedded in Haitian society.
 
There is no evidence Macandal practiced Voodoo, Islam or Christianity though all these religions have laid claim on him to perpetuate religious ideology.

In my historical fiction novel Black Millennium we pick up the story in the 15th Century just before the European ("Christian") slave traders and Portuguese warships reach the east coast of Africa to burn the new Muslim/Swahili cities to the ground and fill their ship's coffers up with gold and slaves. It is here, just before this cataclysm, that we meet Yasi, an African Muslim medical doctor from a village just outside of Kilwa, traveling along merrily with his mischievous young son....

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Makendal was not a Voodoo Priest or Houngan, nor did he practice Islam or Christianity though all these religions have laid claim on him to perpetuate religious ideology.

Mackendal was not a Voodoo Priest or Houngan, nor did he practice Islam or Christianity though all these religions have laid claim on him to perpetuate religious ideology.

Makandal was not a Voodoo Priest or Houngan, nor did he practice Islam or Christianity though all these religions have laid claim on him to perpetuate religious ideology.

Mackandal was not a Voodoo Priest or Houngan, nor did he practice Islam or Christianity though all these religions have laid claim on him to perpetuate religious ideology.

Mark Davis is the foremost authority on Francois Macandal ©1996, 2008 All Rights Reserved