Lavi pwezi kreyòl ayisyen soti nan lane 1975 rive 2000: yon vitrin idantite ak rezistans lengwistik
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Since the days of colonial Haiti, Haitians have created poetry in their native tongue Creole (“kreyòl”) to express themselves. Even before access to print culture was common, poetry was used in song, religious ceremonies, and spoken word. This poetry, filled with many different themes, forms a corpus of oral literary representations that were passed among people, including works representing the experiences of slaves and their push towards rebellion under French colonialism. Despite some exceptions, a largely inaccessible print culture and a predominantly French language-based educational system resulted in a dearth of published poetry written in Creole. This state of affairs lasted until the 1950s, when an anthology by Felix Morriseau-Leroy, Dyakout I, launched a new trend of printed poetic expression in Creole. Poets’ use of Creole initiated the struggle to cement the language as a respected vehicle of literary creativity. However, it was not until the Bernard Reform of 1979 that the government formally permitted Creole as a language of instruction within the educational system. Even after the Bernard Reform, Creole was not recognized as an official language of Haiti until the Constitution of 1987 which states in article 5, “All Haitians are united by a common language, Creole. Creole and French are the official languages of Haiti.” Given the language’s central role in society and the push towards its use in the educational system, the necessity for a robust body of published as well as oral literature in Creole becomes apparent. This was also a period in which political strife reigned in Haiti. From the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier to the overthrow of "duvalierism," followed by a series of military regime and a slow, difficult path to fair presidential elections, this era saw the flight of many Haitian poets and authors to the United States, Canada, France, and Francophone Africa, where they often continued to write against oppressive political regimes. This honors thesis studies 8 male and 5 female Haitian poets who published poems that were featured in not one but in several poetic anthologies, which I see as an index of the influence of their work. Some of them lived in Haiti but many of them lived abroad in the diaspora partly or wholly during this time. Their poetry gives a new voice to oppression and to hope. This thesis, written entirely in Haitian Creole, which I studied in four courses here at Duke University and in educational travel and research, analyzes the poetic imagery and themes of this era as a window on to the literary use of Creole as a linguistic identity and practice of poetic resistance. My methodology began with an assessment of literary canon formation by comparing the contents and structuring principles of six different Haitian literary anthologies. Having chosen thirteen influential poets, I analyzed the common themes and imagery among the poems. Key imagery used by the poets included the body, animals, nature, space, and speech – which they used to express themes of love, misery, social issues, hope, religion, and political ideas. Through these forms of Creole imagery, the poets ground their work in the reality seen every day – the reality which the Haitian people experience and understand. This engagement ties the people together, giving the poet power to reveal truths, and often truths disguised, to the people, as seen in poetry surrounding societal and political issues. Similarly, in adding to this new corpus of published poetry in Creole, the poets call their readers back to their linguistic roots, and to the transformative value of creative language.
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