Lost Polish Tribe on Haiti…

June 2, 2013
Polish Legions in Haiti

Polish Legions in Haiti

It’s not something I normally do but the following post has proved to be so popular that I have decided to re-post it. Enjoy.

Perhaps the most intriguing group of people among Poland’s huge diaspora (the so-called Polonia) are the ‘Poles of Haiti’. I heard about this lost little enclave of ‘Polishness’ on radio and began to follow, Theseus-like, the strands of stories that might lead me to some sort of end-point in my search for the truth in the labyrinthine information maze that is the internet. Much to my surprise, I was able to bring together these strands and get some kind of picture of how on earth Poland has managed to touch the culture of Haiti.

Following HIS orders

Bonaparte – Giving The Orders

In 1804, Haiti declared independence from Napoleonic France. Napoleon was having none of it and swiftly sent a force of over 5,200 Polish Legions to stamp his authority on the natives and their lust for independence. The Third Half-Brigade of the Polish Legions were not extremely happy with this state of affairs as the Legions were primarily focused on fighting for Polish freedom in Europe. The idea of (1) fighting against freedom and (2) fighting over eight thousand kilometres away from one’s homeland on the other side of the world seemed both ridiculous and annoying to these soldiers. But soldiers they were, and more importantly, soldiers of Napoleon and they had to follow orders.

Dessalines - Father of Haitian Freedom

Dessalines – Father of Haitian Freedom

The Polish Legions became embroiled in the Haitian Revolution, and most died, although it was not the fighting that killed them but yellow fever. Unaccustomed to the climate and the dangers of life in the Caribbean 4,000 soldiers died of the disease. Those that remained became the stuff of legend, Haitian legend. Miffed off with fighting those who were fighting for freedom (like themselves), the remaining Polish soldiers decided to throw off the yoke of their French masters and joined Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the Haitian struggle for independence living to see a free Haiti. The indigenous peoples were so enamoured by their Polish brothers-in-arms that they included them in the Haitian Constitution of 1805 in which it was stated in Articles 12 and 13 that no white man may hold land on Haiti apart from the Germans (who had a small community there) and the Polanders (Poles).

Erzulie Dantor - Not Matka Boska

Erzulie Dantor – Not Matka Boska

These naturalised Polish Haitians had a great impact on the fledgling Empire of Haiti, later the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians were impressed by the Poles’ great love of their Matka Boska Częstochowska (Our Lady of Częstochowa). They noticed how greatly the legionnaires venerated their icon. Through a process of assimilation and transformation, the Polish Catholic Matka Boska Częstochowska became the Haitian Vodou Erzulie Dantor, a warrior spirit, the protector of women and children, associated also with lesbians, homosexual men and abused women. Interestingly, like Matka Boska Częstochowska, Erzulie Dantor also has scars on the right-side of her face which she got from a fight with her sister when she stole her husband from her. A rather different persona from Matka Boska Częstochowska.

A 'Polish' Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

A ‘Polish’ Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

The ties between the two countries do not stop there. In Cazale, 70 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince there lives a community often referred to as blanc, polone. They are, to all intents and purposes, Haitians but due to the fact that the bulk of the Polish legionnaires settled there, the community has forever been referred to as ‘Polish’. If you are from Cazale, you are Polish, it’s as simple as that. Interestingly, there is a high proportion of blue-eyed Haitians here. Another link is Jerzy Grotowski who came to Haiti in search of inspiration in the 1970s. It’s fair to say that his experimental theatre owes a great deal to the spirituality of Haitian Vodou.

Haiti - Not Just Earthquakes

Haiti – Not Just Earthquakes

It is wonderful how two seemingly disparate and distant cultures have common threads weaving them together. On the one hand, we have Napoleon, the Haitian battle for freedom, the Polish legionnaires who joined with the Haitians in their Revolution and all the ramifications of their presence on the island. This includes a strong genetic marker in Cazale and the surrounding area and the warrior spirit of Erzulie Dantor. On the other hand we have Grotowski and his deep love of Haiti and its spirituality. Poland and Haiti – who would have thought…?


Lost Polish Tribe in Turkey

October 5, 2010

November Uprising Failure

November Uprising Failure

Few people know that the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the only major power to not recognise the Polish partitions and final dissolution of the state of Poland in 1795. What is more, Constantinople (now Istanbul) was the only capital city in the world to retain a Polish ambassador throughout the 123-year period during which Poland literally disappeared off the face of the map.

Czartoryski (and sons) - Founder of Adampol

Czartoryski (with sons) - Founder of Adampol

With these conditions in place, it made it easy for a Polish community to be set up in the Ottoman Empire. After the failure of Poland’s November Uprising in 1831 against the Russian Empire, a group of Poles decided to escape to the generally pro-Polish and anti-Russian lands of the Ottoman Empire. It is at this point the wonderful story of the establishment of a Polish settlement in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) begins. The village of Adampol (then known as Adamköy in Turkish, ‘the village of Adam’) was founded in 1842 by, and named after, Prince Adam Czartoryski, the head of the Polish National Uprising Government. The initial plan was to make Adamköy Poland’s most important emigration and expatriate hub after Paris. The plan was an ambitious one and was soon implemented by Czartoryski.

Adampol - Polish Colony in Turkey

Adampol - Polish Colony in Turkey

Prince Czartoryski dispatched his aide Michał Czajkowski (who later converted to Islam and became Mehmet Sadık Paşa) to Turkey. He purchased a large forested area on which Adamköy was founded. It was initially settled by only a handful of people but quickly swelled after the end of the Crimean War and with emigrants from Siberia. Adamköy-Adampol’s population seemed relatively stable for a period of years. Following the end of the first World War and the re-establishment of Poland, however, many of its inhabitants decided to ‘return’ to Poland.

Polonezköy - Polish-Turkish Village

Polonezköy - Polish-Turkish Village

One might even claim that Adampol, now known as Polonezköy (Turkish ‘Polish village’) is a ‘Polish-themed’ village. Even though only one third of Polonezköy’s inhabitants are of Polish descent and of its 1,000 inhabitants only 40 people speak Polish, the head of the village is traditionally chosen from amongst the Polish community of Polonezköy. Unlike the ‘lost Polish tribe of Haiti’ (mentioned in a previous post), Polonezköy still retains a Polish flavour and due to its unique character has had the honour of hosting a variety of distinguished guests including Turkey’s national hero and President Atatürk (in 1937), the future Pope John XXIII (in 1941), Turkish President Kenan Evren as well as Polish Presidents Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

Poles Apart

December 21, 2009

Plight of the Eagle

Plight of the Eagle

After the previous post (click here) I was surprised by the serendipity in my choice of topic after I discovered an article in Dziennik about the state of the Polish language around the world. Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently published a report entitled: “The Situation of Polish People Abroad”. This is the most detailed report of its kind ever published and it paints a worrying picture for the future of Polish people and the Polish language abroad.

Radek On a Mission

Radek On a Mission

The report looked at thirty countries around the world, most of them European states. According to Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the purpose of the report is ascertain what particular problems affect the Polonia (the Polish community outside Poland) around the globe so that the Ministry can then implement a plan to help them tackle these difficulties.

South America Tops

South America Tops

In the report we find several important pieces of information. Firstly, the number of Poles living in each country, the number of Polish schools and the local state’s attitude and policy with regards to Polish people. The report shows that Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Sweden stand out as the ‘best’ countries for Poles to live in, that is their rights are respected most in those states.

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

However, in the other countries found in the report, Polish ex-pats and the Polish language have little chance for support. In France, Polish children may be surprised to learn that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising were one in the same and there was much anti-Semitic feeling during WWII; in Germany they are taught that Chopin and Marie Curie-Skłodowska were French.

United in Intolerance?

United in Intolerance?

This report, once again, shows us that any talk of European solidarity and tolerance is just that – talk. Actions speak louder than words, of course, and if we truly are committed to building a united Europe then it is probably about time to do away with nationalism and intolerance. This goes for ALL the countries of the European Union, Poland included. Pie in the sky? I hope not…

Black Madonna

July 16, 2009
Faith & Family
Faith & Family

Many thanks to my good pal Jim for giving me the heads up about this text. It’s a great piece about the life of the post-war Polonia, that is the Polish people who came to the United Kingdom after World War II (as part of the UK Polish Repatriation Act) as opposed to those Polish people who have come to the UK post-EU accession. I’m ‘posting’ the text in full (copyright The Guardian 2009):

As a child growing up in Derby in the 60s I spoke Polish beautifully, thanks to my grandmother. While my mother went out to work, my grandmother, who spoke no English, looked after me, teaching me to speak her native tongue. Babcia, as we called her, dressed in black with stout brown shoes, wore her grey hair in a bun, and carried a walking stick. She was the hub of our household – she could cook Polish delicacies, play Chopin on the piano and make paper storks. I adored her.

My father, Jerzy, had escaped from Poland after the Germans invaded, travelling on foot across Europe to England, where he became a pilot in the RAF. At the end of the war, he met my English mother at a dance organised by my maternal grandfather to help lonely young Polish pilots. In 1957, he arranged for my grandmother, Maria, who was living in a tiny flat in Warsaw in increasing distress under the privations of communism, to come to the UK.

Like other Polish families in the area, we spent our weekends in the vast Polish club that kept our community’s culture alive. My father helped to establish Dom Polski (Polish House) in the 1950s and it was known as the air force club because the founders were pilots. It provided a focus for all those old comrades and their history. I remember one woman at the club who had a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm, and another whose husband and daughter got off the train transporting them to Siberia to buy bread, only for the train to leave without them. She never saw them again. There were people who had been taken east through Russia as slave labour, others who were taken west to provide a workforce for German farms and factories.

The walls of the club were covered with black-and-white photos of Polish pilots, and a huge propeller from a Spitfire was fixed to one wall. On Saturday mornings my sisters and I would study Polish at the school it ran, and on Saturday nights, my parents would go dancing. On Sundays, we played tombola there over lunch.

But my love affair with Polish culture began to fade when I was five – the year Babcia died. We had been so close that when she was dying, her last words were to ask that I should be looked after. I couldn’t believe she was dead, and went from being confident and cocky to a very quiet child.

Without Babcia’s childcare, my mother had to give up her full-time job and take part-time work in a school across the road. I was placed in the reception class and, accustomed to being at home alone with Babcia, I hated it. I don’t remember making a conscious decision, but in shock I refused to speak Polish until I saw Babcia again.

My sisters and I continued to go to Polish school, but the language would not return. Despite the efforts of my father, even a family trip to Poland in 1965 could not bring it back. When six years later my father died too, at just 53, our Polish connection almost ceased to exist. I left Derby and went to university in London. I never spoke Polish, never ate Polish food nor visited Poland. My childhood was gone and almost forgotten.

Then in 2004, more than 30 years later, things changed again. A new wave of Polish immigrants had arrived and I began to hear the language of my childhood all around me – every time I got on a bus. I saw Polish news-papers in the capital and Polish food for sale in the shops. The language sounded so familiar yet somehow distant – as if it were something I tried to grab but was always out of reach.

In Derby, Dom Polski had closed down. The building was decaying and up for rent; the old soldiers and air force men were almost all dead, and the second and third generations too busy to worry about it. But my memory had been jogged. I began to write a novel about a fictional Polish family and, at the same time, decided to enrol at a Polish language school.

Each week I went through half-remembered phrases, getting bogged down in the intricate grammar and impossible inflections. When my book was published, it put me back in touch with schoolfriends who like me were second-generation Polish. And strangely, in my language classes, I still had my accent and I found words and phrases would sometimes come unbidden, long lost speech patterns making a sudden reappearance. I had found my childhood again.

Joanna Czechowska

Her book, The Black Madonna of Derby (or Goodbye Polsko) is published by Silkmill Press.

Revisionist Museum

March 4, 2009

Ice Queen Steinbach

Erika on a Mission

The news that Erika Steinbach has decided not to stand as a member of the council for the the new museum dedicated to Germans expelled from their homes after World War II has come as a relief to the majority of Poles, Czechs and Jews but it does not solve the problem that this museum is being built in the first place.

Steinbach is president of the Federation of Expellees (BdV), an organisation that seeks to represent the interests of all Germans who were forced to leave their homes in Central and Eastern Europe after World War II. Steinbach is known for her controversial views and there are hints of revisionism in her attitude to Germany’s part in the Second World War. She seeks to focus on the plight of German expellees after the war rather than looking at the plight of all expellees and the reason behind these expulsions. What is more, Poles note the fact that Steinbach voted against the act reconfirming modern Polish-German borders in 1990. The Czechs, on the other hand, remember the fact that she was a vehement critic of the implementation of the Czech-German Declaration in 1997.

Goldenes Zeitalter
The amount of ill feeling caused by the Centre Against Expulsions and the proposed museum is unsurprising. Rather than discuss the whole problem of expulsions in a wider context, the Centre Against Expulsions eagerly lists the history of each expelled German ‘tribe’ (together with coat-of-arms) as well as listing how many people from each particular nation were expelled and by whom (which country). The attitude here is one of lost tribes, a glorious past as well as finger-pointing and the shifting of responsibility for the expulsion of Germans away from the country that instigated World War II. It is not therefore surprising that most Central and Eastern European citizens find the idea of such a museum repulsive.

Graue Eminenz
With Erika Steinbach being at the forefront of this shift in attitude to the outcomes of, reasons and responsibilities for World War II, the sigh of relief that she will not be a part of the council for this museum can be heard across Europe. The museum council numbers thirteen members of which three have been allotted to members of BdV. With the resignation of Steinbach, the council, curiously, will only number twelve with no one taking her place which leads to the suggestion that her resignation is probably only temporary and that she will soon be back leading the fight for the construction of the museum. In the meantime, behind the curtain, she will be pulling the strings anyway.

Plumbers heading back

February 17, 2008

PlumberA recent article in The Times is music to a lot of people’s ears. According to the British government’s register of migrant workers there has been a drop of 18% in the number of migrant workers in the third quarter of 2007 compared to the previous year. Official sources claim that there are more Poles leaving Britain (and returning to Poland) than entering.

Hard Facts
According to The Times 468,000 Poles have applied for work permits in the UK between 2004 and 2007. These are of course government figures and do not take into consideration the number of illegal workers in the UK. Estimates put the number of Polish migrants at around 1 million. The Home Office mentions the fact that Polish people have been drawn to the average British monthly wage of almost £2,000 compared to £800 in Poland.

Tide has turned
However, something has changed. Polish people are coming back to Poland after having their fill of the ‘Golden Land’. One of the reasons is the change in attitude in Poland largely due to a change in government with Civic Platform committed to doing everything to ‘bring back’ the emigré Poles. Another reason may be the increasingly powerful zloty. In 2004 £1 was worth 7.23 PLN. It is now worth 4.83 PLN. The knowledge that they are manking less zlotys per pound has also been a major reason for many Polish workers to return home.

New Future
What doe this spell for Poland? Well, we’re hardly going to have 1 million UK Poles suddenly flooding the market but a fresh influx of people could pose problems for Donald Tusk’s government. Tusk et al will have to cope with rising unemployment as a large plop of people descend on Poland. Hopefully, it’s not all doom and gloom and the returning people will have a different attitude to work and life and provide fresh cultural and social impetus for Poland. On the other hand, the people who return might be the ones who were unsuccessful in finding jobs, frustrated and disenchanted.
Watch this space…

Splintered Society (Part II)

February 3, 2008

Continued from Part I

Integration and Influx
Integration And then came EU accession. The Poles in England were overjoyed that at last their homeland was truly free – a member of NATO and now the EU. They took in the new Poles with open arms inviting them into their houses, clubs, churches, giving them beds, money and jobs, anything to help their fellow Poles who had had the horrible experience of communism. This is what the Polonia had been fighting for all their lives. This was the actual realisation of a generational dream which had taken on mythical proportions during fifty or more years of forced exile.

Rude Awakening
No Immigrants What happened next can be called many things but I call it a disaster. The so-called ‘imports’ (a term developed by the now native Polish-Brits) hit the Isles like a tempest flooding the communities with fresh blood, new ideas, new language, new values. The old generation found that they had absolutely nothing in common with these fresh-faced fellow Polish youngbloods. Polish churches in the UK are full but the divisions are clear. The old generation tend to sit near the front (or in the pews that they’ve been sitting in for years) and the ‘imports’ sit or stand at the back.

Communication Breakdown
After BabelObserving these two communities who were different in every aspect I got the feeling that something was very wrong. The only thing that brought these two wholly different groups together was some vague notion of Polishness. In fact, the language of the two groups was drastically different. The older generation use a fossilised Polish with a large number of borrowings from English (‘hoover’, ‘sink’, for example), whereas the new ‘imports’ use words like ‘spoko’, ‘luz’ which are alien to the older Polonia group. These divisions have become highlighted by the fact that the new Poles have an awful reputation in the UK which is tarnishing the reputation of the Polonia.

Boiling Point
Melting PotWhat we are witnessing is the forced melding together of two social groups which have absolutely nothing in common (bar the above-mentioned vague notion of Polishness). The Polonia worked to bring freedom back to Poland and their love for the homeland is admirable yet idealised. The younger group chose to leave their country, have not had to work to build up a community and have an ambivalent attitude towards Poland. Watching this dangerously bubbling melting pot one gets the impression that something is about to explode and explode very soon.