The Afro-Caribbean piece of this project is crucial. If you think about the history of Boston, you have to acknowledge that our wealth as a trading city was built in no small part on the rum triangle trade, with all the history and baggage that entails. And it’s our good fortune that in modern times Boston is home to a significant and vibrant Haitian community.
Mr. Charlot Lucien, founder of the Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts, was kind enough to speak with me and lend me some art and background materials, for a basic introduction to the culture and traditional art and symbology. He introduced me to Fritz Ducheine, a Haitian artist living in Boston and one of the founders of the Haitian artists Assembly of Massachusetts, who often works on themes of peace and spirituality. He agreed to contribute a design for the pier.
This image has the protective element of La Sirene, and the symbol for Simbi: water spirit of communication, creativity, guiding the souls of the dead, called upon to solve problems.
Transferred onto the pier, it makes a beautiful path with flowing lines and echoes the shape of the compass rose to be found at the end of the journey:
Some more visual art symbols from Haitian art, courtesy of cultural advisor Charlot Lucien:
- La Sirene, the mermaid, is beloved in Haitian mythology and in the Vodou faith. She is the ocean, the essence of motherhood and the protector of children. La Sirene appears frequently in Haitian arts.
- Conch: calling slaves to rise up for freedom (also drum, both for call to freedom and for music)
- Boat: traveling to freedom
- Agwe: Water spirit, counterpart to La Sirene. His veve is a boat. (Read more)
Iconic references to Papa Legba: Legba facilitates communication, speech and understanding, and is the god of the crossroads, or “gate-keeper” between the worlds of the living and the mysteries. (Read more: Wikipedia, altreligion website)
Legba, as Houngan Max Beauvoir puts it, is “the Divinity that represents Humility and Communication. Humility is the one way of seeing a person’s virtue or attitude. When you are humble, you are open to the opinion and views of others. And, when you are open, then you can communicate with others. These two things are elevated to the status of deity in Vodou through the auspices of Papa Legba.” (From Sosyete du Marche, Inc.)
Haiti, originally home to the Arawak indians, was taken over by Spanish starting in 1492, and then later by the French, becoming a colony devoted mostly to sugar plantations, depending on the labor of slaves from Africa. In 1789-90, during the French Revolution, free men of color in Haiti demanded to be French citizens, and on 22 August 1791, slaves in the northern region of the colony staged a revolt that began the Haitian Revolution. Haiti is the world’s oldest black republic and one of the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere, becoming an independent empire in 1804, though the U.S. was not able to recognize it politically until after the Civil War. (More: Wikipedia)
Sources for voudou, which is based on African spirituality:
- Reference: WATERS OF RETURN; The Aeonic Flow of Voodoo by Louis Martinie
Student info site about Haiti by Joelle: http://students.depaul.edu/~jallonce/index
Original Design: Fritz Ducheine
Layout and Outlining: Liz LaManche
Inking & Sealing: Liz LaManche, Dan Alroy, JT Scott