In his 2015 book “The Island of Memes: Haiti’s Unfinished Revolution,” Dr. Wade W.
Nobles brings the original meaning of “memes” to the forefront in the context of the world’s
only successful slave insurrection. As Nobles, a professor emeritus at San Francisco State
University, explains, memes are “sensorial information structures” that shape a group’s
collective identity, culture and understanding of their positionality in the world. These
structures are passed down “from one generation to the next while preserving their core
content or meaning,” mirroring the processes of biological gene transmission.
In this compact guide to understanding the physical, spiritual, epistemological and
psychological elements at play in the unparalleled revolution, Nobles pushes readers to re-
imagine the quest for liberation from an African-centered historical perspective supported by
black psychology. Through this lens, the reader not only explores the key memetic ideations
and symbols that influenced the Haitian Revolution from its inception at the Bois Caïman
vodou ceremony on Aug. 14, 1791, to its completion on Jan. 1, 1804 but also the resulting
ideations that form native and diasporic consciousness today.
Nobles wastes no words. From the onset, he establishes the framework of African
psychology, then continues to tackle the primary elements of the revolution and the
consciousness of those who executed it: the tug and pull between colonial and ancestral
ideologies, the brutal realities of enslavement in the colony of Hispaniola, the contrasting
leadership styles of the revolution’s top architects, along with the deliberate imperial
sabotage to stifle Haiti’s sovereignty. He nestles the reader’s exploration in a sturdy bed of
facts and figures, leaving no dates, numbers, documents or names out of the picture.
For example, when introducing Jean Jacques Dessalines, the revolutionary who would
become the newly independent republic’s first leader, Nobles asserts that his story “could not
be completely told without speaking of the women in his life.” He proceeds to pay homage to
the caretakers responsible for nurturing Dessalines’ prowess, thus honoring these women’s
contributions to the revolution. Each sentence plays a critical role in shaping the reader’s
grasp of the whole story of the revolution, many passages warranting a double or triple take
to ensure that nothing was missed. His to-the-point recollections evoke visceral responses
without the use of dramatization, as theatrics prove unnecessary when the bare facts speak
volumes on their own.
This text reminds those suffering under the yoke of oppression in the Western Hemisphere
that the blueprint for liberation can be found in Haiti. It’s there, buried beneath vengeful
political interventions exacted by imperial powers, disparaging media representations and
most recently, as Nobles addresses, the rubble of the 2010 earthquake. Haiti’s current state of
sociopolitical chaos is no coincidence; the violent consequences of daring to be free plague
the Caribbean nation until this day. And as the title of Nobles’ book declares, until a remedy
is found, the revolution continues.
Danette Frederique is a first-generation Haitian-American committed to promoting health, wellness, and empowerment in her community. She is a registered yoga teacher and graduate student pursuing her Master of Science in Counseling at Johns Hopkins University.