The Haitian Trilogy: Plays: Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours, and The Haytian Earth

BOOK: The Haitian Trilogy: Plays: Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours, and The Haytian Earth
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CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Foreword

Henri Christophe

Drums and Colours

The Haitian Earth

Also by Derek Walcott

About the Author

Copyright

FOREWORD

The writing of these plays spans an arc of nearly forty years.
Henri Christophe,
privately printed in 1948, deals with the struggle between two guerrilla generals, afterwards kings of Haiti, Christophe and Dessalines, following the imprisonment and death in exile of Toussaint L’Ouverture, whose name meant “the breach” or “the opening.” It was written on the invitation of my brother, Roderick, and performed by a young group called the Arts Guild.

The theme of the slave revolt against French rule in Saint Domingue is also a pivotal part of the expansive design of
Drums and Colours,
commissioned for the first and only West Indian Federation, with emblematic images from Caribbean history: Columbus in chains, Millais’s painting
The Boyhood of Raleigh,
the coachman of the Breda family Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the martyrdom of George William Gordon for Jamaican independence.
The Haitian Earth
includes a scene from
Drums and Colours,
a repetition seen in a slightly altered context.

The Haitian revolution, as sordidly tyrannical as so many of its subsequent regimes tragically became, was an upheaval, a necessary rejection of the debasements endured under a civilized empire, that achieved independence. The revolution is as central to the plays as it is to the history of the island.

My debt to all those involved in their production, many no longer here, to the Arts Guild of Saint Lucia, and to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop remains incalculable. This book is for the memory of my brother.

D.W.

2001

HENRI CHRISTOPHE

A Chronicle in Seven Scenes

 

 

The play was first produced by the St. Lucia Arts Guild at St. Joseph’s Convent in Castries, St. Lucia, in 1949. Directed by Derek Walcott. Costumes by Alix Walcott.

It was later produced at Hans Crescent, London, in 1952. Directed by Errol Hill and designed by Carlyle Chang.

The cast was as follows:

GENERAL SYLLA

Sam Morris

GENERAL PÉTION

Frank Pilgrim

JEAN JACQUES DESSALINES

Victor Patterson

CORNEILLE BRELLE

John Nunez

HENRI CHRISTOPHE

Errol John

VASTEY

Errol Hill

NARRATOR

George Lamming

Also,
MURDERERS, SOLDIERS, CROWD

Roy Augier, Fred Debedin, Edric Roberts, George Griffith, Reggie Hill, Elesto Cortes, Ray Robinson, Maurice Mason, Eileen Stewart, Kenneth Monplaisir, Eustace Pollard, Lionel Ngakane, Charles Appia
(
DRUMMER
)

 

 

CAST OF CHARACTERS

GENERAL SYLLA

GENERAL PÉTION

JEAN JACQUES DESSALINES
;
later Jacques I, King of Haiti

CORNEILLE BRELLE
,
a priest; afterwards archbishop

HENRI CHRISTOPHE
,
a general; later Henri I, King of Haiti

VASTEY
,
his secretary; afterwards a baron

NUMEROUS ATTENDANTS, GENERALS, MESSENGERS, SOLDIERS, AND TWO MURDERERS

The setting is Haiti after 1803.

 

 

PART ONE

The cease of majesty

Dies not alone but like a gulf doth draw

What’s near it with it; it is a massy wheel

Fix’d on the summit of the highest mount,

To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things

Are mortis’d and adjoin’d; which, when it falls,

Each small annexment, petty consequence,

Attends the boist’rous ruin.


Hamlet

Scene 1

An interior of the Government Palace at Cap Haitien. Present are
GENERALS SYLLA
and
PÉTION. SYLLA
is an old, tired general with a wry, senile sense of humour.
PÉTION
is active and middle-aged.

SYLLA

This waiting is exhausting. It’s almost contradictory

That anything so sad can happen

In a broad afternoon.

Where’s Dessalines?

PÉTION

Dressing in the inner room,

Preparing to be valedictory

To this peace that holds its breath, to hear

What happened to Toussaint.

Today a ship arrived from France;

Anchoring in the roads, she looked sullen;

Fearing the worst, Dessalines would look decorous

To suit the occasion. But if he really dressed his hope,

It would wear black; he would like Toussaint dead.

This country that stretched, crowing to greet

The sun of history rising, will have its throat cut;

That’s the truth.

SYLLA

There’s a kind of rustle in the lower hall;

It looks like the messenger from Napoleon, but

Where is Dessalines?

PÉTION

No doubt decorating his drawers

With epaulettes. He considers kingship;

Vanity will undo him.

Here’s the messenger.

(
Enter
MESSENGER.
)

What is the sum of the news, good or bad?

SYLLA

What is Napoleon doing?

Patience will drive us mad.

(
Enter
DESSALINES.
)

This is the messenger from Napoleon

That we sent on the last ship; a veiled intensity

Inflates his bearing.

DESSALINES

Thanks. There is a crowd of marchands, fishermen

At the front gates. Are they converged in a rebellious murmur

For bread again, or waiting for news?

PÉTION

They want, as is only natural, to hear

About Toussaint.

DESSALINES

If they are rabble, make them orderly.

You smile, I do not.

PÉTION

About Toussaint … General …

DESSALINES

Of course, proceed. Be eloquent without elaboration;

Talk quickly …

MESSENGER

I have leave to speak?

After the general and liberator left his country,

By force and treachery of his ruined captains

He was taken, without satisfaction of audience or justice,

To a sullen castle, situated near the border,

Flung in a dungeon; he fretted there,

Complained of discomfort, protesting, not pleading,

As it suits a soldier, not a state buffoon.

But the black mountains and snow in the tight winter,

Whose sharpness, although cautionary in October,

Hurt his teeth, cramped in pains …

DESSALINES

Well?…

MESSENGER

He would look out past where the snow, like bread,

Settled without sound on the barred window edge

In brittle heaps. A mountain’s iron aspect, the sky

Grey as soiled milk, imprisoned his exile more.

One day he rose to stretch his bones and died.

They buried him. The cleric who did the obsequies

Informed me that he died, grace on his lips;

But that is no comfort, he is dead …

You have heard his fate …

DESSALINES

I’ll talk of fate. Have you letters

From Napoleon? How was his death received?

MESSENGER

Somewhat with courtesy, unlike the court

I see here. I expected to move iron men to tears;

You look as if I had discussed the weather.

Haiti is in the Saturday of honour, she

Is rudderless.

SYLLA

There are several captains, son.

Here is the priest. Thank you.

(
Enter
BRELLE
as the
MESSENGER
leaves.
)

Good evening,
Père
Brelle.

BRELLE

I caught the mood from the tossing murmur outside;

I can read that the man is dead.

How they loved him …

DESSALINES

We have all loved him.

We must not profane his memory with idleness.

You have done well to come, Priest.

Have a proclamation issued; I’ll append

My signature; declare a day of mourning, toll bells;

Inform your archbishop, Father Brelle, of an opulent

Obsequy for the man’s memory. As for Christophe,

Tell him I have assumed temporary rule;

Temporary—see that the word is out before he chokes

The messenger. I am now in control.

Christophe must learn to cage the jaguar hope

In the bars of restraint. You all respect

My wish?… General Pétion? Sylla? Father Brelle?

Good. Tragedy threatens me with being great,

After this little condolence, the state …

BRELLE

This is a cursory mourning;

Do tears dry up so very quickly?

DESSALINES

Habit makes a boredom of tragedy.

Even in our eyes we hold death’s annunciation,

Like Sylla, getting blind, deaths of twin light.

Let us proceed. We will enlarge our conscience, spread it

Like an open map in Father Brelle’s presence.

There are no more French:

We have dispersed their broken units, they cannot lift a finger

Against us; the country, now, is ours;

But we must not talk, delay, malinger

With words, words, not action.

SYLLA

Then you appreciate the position

That a long war, an internal, cormorant war, has left

Our treasury in?

The peasants have identified liberty with idleness;

The fallow fields cropless; the old plantations,

Plaine du Nord, Morne Rouge, Quartier Morin,

Are like grass widows, unweeded, growing thorns

And bristles, dry seeds in a parching wind.

We do not seem to be able to drive them back to work;

They speak of slavery, murmur against measures,

Strict, but satisfactory to the able administrator.

PÉTION

Give a man an education or a gun

And you lose an honest labourer.

BRELLE

Since Toussaint’s exile, I have observed the country

Has grown lax in spiritual matters, perplexing the clergy;

The ancient cults are growing like an unweeded garden over

Our pruned labours;

A stern but gentle hand is needed,

As long as the Church is not superseded.

SYLLA

We must remember Christophe;

He needs watching.

BRELLE

I do not descend to a question of enmity, I prefer

That the present holders of the keys of authority

Do not consider

Who must open the door first, rather,

Work in an amity to put our rooms in order.

BOOK: The Haitian Trilogy: Plays: Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours, and The Haytian Earth
2.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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