TUpon arrival from the Haitian capital, where she lives and heads the Haitian copyright office, Emmelie Prophète went to the French Academy to receive her medal of “laureate of the prize for the influence of language and French literature ”during the public ceremony under the Cupola where Dany Laferrière made his speech on the literary prizes, honoring this year several of his compatriots: the grand prize of the Francophonie went to Jean-Pierre Basilic Dantor Franck Étienne d ‘Argent, says Frankétienne:’ It was time for the great Haitian writer, born in 1936, to receive such a consecration in France. Frankétienne is an ogre in this French-speaking Caribbean, which he never left during the twenty-nine years of the Duvalier dictatorship, ”said Laferrière. But still Louis-Philippe Dalembert, for Stammering song, admirable collection, awarded the François-Coppée Prize. The author of Villages of God granted us a Parisian interview, on the eve of the Haitian Book Fair, where she will be signing at the town hall of 15e district, and which opens with a courageous question: “Haiti, what future?” “. At a time when gangs are holding the capital, at least in its northern and southern neighborhoods, cutting off access to roads serving the country, we asked Emmelie Prophète what writing about these gangs means, and live in this context, also, such a fair, human and beautiful novel.
Point : Where and when did the desire to write about these gangs which are making the terrible news in your country come to you?
Emmelie prophète: In 2014, the subject came to me when I heard the members of a gang tell how they had executed their leader, named Ti KenKenn, explaining that the sharing of the loot was not fair, not enough beers, or even stories about the chef’s girlfriend. It was exceptional to hear this speech freely given on the air. And I wondered how such cruelties could exist. We know that gang leaders are not replaced by election [sourire] : either the leader is shot dead by his family, or he dies in a clash with the police. When she could intervene, which is no longer possible. A few months ago, police officers were shot dead there. The situation was not as serious in 2014, the gangs were then confined in peri-urban districts called Village-de-Dieu (yes, this village exists), Grand Ravine or Tibois. Now, they have proliferated and are located in the plain, on the very outskirts of the capital, as well as that of the 400 Mawozo, who kidnapped the missionaries and who occupy the northern exit of the city.
Novels like “The Despair of the Angels”, Henri Kénol, or “Bicentenaire”, of Lyonel Trouillot, described this youth in perdition, but it was under the presidency of Aristide, at the beginning of 2000. What has changed since?
Despair, more and more. Under Artistide, for several years, weapons have been distributed to young people to serve politicians, protect businesses, but today it has widened a lot, the situation has deteriorated. They are very lost and poor young men intoxicated by impunity and easy money, hitherto manipulated by money people and politicians but who now act autonomously and kidnap in return for ransoms. By asking for extravagant sums: 17 million dollars for the missionaries … And, for the slightest kidnapping, between 500,000 and 1 million dollars … We also wonder where they keep such sums since, beyond 10,000 American dollars, in Haiti you have to fill out a form at the bank. No doubt they hide the money under their mattresses. Worse, they extort the population of their area to buy ammunition, because there are always traffickers to sell them weapons, but for some time the arsenal provided by the politicians has been used to terrorize the same people, has turned against them, because gangs change perspective all the time. We must also talk about the G9, a federation of gangs whose leader is the famous Barbecue, and whose rallying slogan in Creole is “An fanmi e alye man yen youn man yen everything”, which can be translated as “Families and allies, if you hit one, you hit everyone”. It is the result of these political recruitments from young people who are available to be criminals – no, they are not recruited near the Lycée Français! – in neighborhoods where life means nothing, where you are ready for anything, and to die young. In my novel, I wanted to give voice to those who live in these neighborhoods, where kidnapped people are hidden, where no one can enter, or without returning. I am thinking of the journalist Vladjimir Legagneur whom we have not heard from since his disappearance in Martissant. In writing this book, I wanted to give voice to these Haitians who live in the midst of this violence, because we hear about gangs, but not about them.
Onomastics, for a writer, is a real source of inspiration, because you give these characters names that rival theirs …
Yes, it’s amazing to know that one of them is named (in Creole) lanmò san jou, which means “death at any time.” And the most famous gang, “400 Mawozo”, uses the word “Mawozo” which designates “a guy who is not successful”, that is to say that they even have humor … Not to mention those who have chosen to be called “5 Secondes”, Barbecue already mentioned, or Tilapli (“Little rain”…). It’s almost poetic… To baptize my characters, who are all fictitious, I chose Cannibal 6, Julius Caesar, Freddy, so many invented names. And Célia, known as Cécé.
How did Celia, your heroine, get into this world of violence?
I had started by writing a book, titled Resurrection Square, whose main character was an old man, but it didn’t work. And one morning, I woke up, Celia was there and wanted to take me. Village-de-Dieu exists, but I have never set foot there; and, if I chose the plural for the title of the book, it is as a metaphor because religion is very present in these neighborhoods where people only have churches and temples as a place of socialization. I was inspired by my eldest daughter, who is the same age as Célia, a real temperament, an impressive strength, and an attachment to digital, to networks, I can say that she gave me a boost!
Your heroine does indeed spend her time on her phone. The only luxury in the surrounding misery?
The telephone is not expensive in Haiti. For a few euro cents (9 Haitian gourdes) we have a subscription, a Chinese telephone, which we recharge using solar panels. My mother has a solar panel in her house, in front of which you can see a field of phones cooking in the sun every day. The first instinct of a Haitian is to find a plan to recharge. Activity is intense on the networks and everywhere in the world.
The Haitian Book Fair, on December 4 and 5, raises the question of the future of Haiti. What do you think ?
What is happening in our country, which is very unequal, comes from violence against a population that has no right to any public service: young people are growing up in this neglect that has always lasted, and there we have reached the point of putrefaction total. It seems the new police chief seems to understand his mission. Can we give him the means to achieve it.
We will pay tribute to two great writers from your country: Jacques-Stephen Alexis and Jean-Claude Charles. What do they represent in the rich history of Haitian literature?
Jacques-Stephen Alexis is the best of us! The author of Compere General Soleil, The Space of a Blink, Romancero to the Stars, The Musical Trees, four books major Haitian literature, which changed everything by their tone, the bias of ideas. The centenary of his birth will be an opportunity to question freedom of expression, because we are talking about a writer who went missing on April 2, 1961. The opportunity also to return to the place of the writer in society, he who spoke of “beautiful human love”. He took part in the Congress of Black Intellectuals and Artists at the Sorbonne in 1956 … We must rediscover this great writer necessary to also speak of marvelous realism. We are preparing a collective tribute book, The Old Caribbean Wind, which will be published on June 16, 2022, the day of the Book Festival in Haiti that we call “Books in madness”. As for Jean-Claude Charles, whose Mémoire Encrier editions republish the entire work, he has a particular destiny: left the country at a very young age, he rolled his bump, and left us a work different from that produced by the writers. of his generation. I think about Manhattan Blues, but he is Haitian especially in his poetry, for example in Negotiations. I thought of him during the pantheonization of Josephine Baker and in all this woke news, because there is really a book of him to discover or reread today: The Black Body.
The Villages of God, by Emmelie Prophète (Inkwell memory, 224 p., € 19).