Black Athena in Haiti: Universal History, Colonization, and the African Origins of Civilization in Postrevolutionary Haitian Writing

This chapter examines the elaboration of an Afrocentric narrative of universal history in postrevolutionary political writings from the early Haitian monarchy of Henry Christophe, notably by Baron de Vastey. Specifically, the chapter interrogates the extent to which a particular conception of the Afro-Egyptian origins and subsequent history of universal civilization furnished Haitian intellectuals with a means by which to critique Western colonialism and the slave trade while staging African cultures as inside rather than outside universal history, thus buttressing their defense of Africanity and demands for diplomatic recognition. Even as Haitians sought to inscribe African-descended peoples as agents of civilization and in the process undermine the presumed superiority of Europeans, who are cast as erstwhile colonized savages, this gesture depended on substantial intellectual engagements with Enlightenment travel narratives by figures such as the Comte de Volney, as well as the anti-racist works of Abbé Grégoire. At the same time, the explicit appeals to English philanthropy that accompanied the narrative of Haitian civilization reflect ambiguities surrounding the place of Haiti in contemporary Atlantic world cultures. The chapter therefore interrogates the extent to which Haiti contested its position as unrecognized sovereign by intervening in Enlightenment discourses of universal history.