Cover image for Walking on fire : Haitian women's stories of survival and resistance
Title:
Walking on fire : Haitian women's stories of survival and resistance
Author:
Bell, Beverly, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xx, 258 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Language:
English
Contents:
Resistance in survival -- Resistance as expression -- Resistance for political and economic change -- Resistance for gender justice -- Resistance transforming power -- Epilogue: resistance as solidarity.
ISBN:
9780801439513

9780801487484
Format :
Book

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HQ1511 .B45 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Haiti, long noted for poverty and repression, has a powerful and too-often-overlooked history of resistance. Women in Haiti have played a large role in changing the balance of political and social power, even as they have endured rampant and devastating state-sponsored violence, including torture, rape, abuse, illegal arrest, disappearance, and assassination.

In Walking on Fire, Beverly Bell, an activist and an expert on Haitian social movements, brings together thirty-eight oral histories from a diverse group of Haitian women. The interviewees include, for example, a former prime minister, an illiterate poet, a leading feminist theologian, and a vodou dancer. Defying victim status despite gender- and state-based repression, they tell how Haiti's poor and dispossessed women have fought for their personal and collective survival.

The women's powerfully moving accounts of horror and heroism can best be characterized by the Creole word istwa, which means both "story" and "history." They combine theory with case studies concerning resistance, gender, and alternative models of power. Photographs of the women who have lived through Haiti's recent past accompany their words to further personalize the interviews in Walking on Fire.


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

"What I have witnessed, I have no tongue to tell," says one of the 38 Haitian women who express themselves here. A lyrical but trenchant foreword by Edwidge Danticat and succinct author introductions by Bell (director of Albuquerque's Center for Economic Justice) provide historical and personal contexts for the narratives, or "istwa" (a Creole word "meaning both story and history"), that follow. Many of the women address the random arrests, sadistic torture, savage beatings and violent sexual abuse inflicted upon them by the state and by a sexist social structure. Taken collectively, the women (interviewed largely between 1991 and 1994, during Haiti's brief period with a popularly elected government) tell the same story "survival, resistance, and occasional triumph by women with little formal power." Individually, each voice is unique. One has been a minister of the Status and Rights of Women; another was given away as a child slave. There's also a market woman, a labor organizer and a nurse; a woman with graduate degrees, women who have lived abroad and women who have never left their villages. They are joined by their resistance to oppression. For some, mere survival is an act of resistance. Others resist through poetry, journalism, dance or painting. Some are even involved in political activism, women's advocacy and reestablishing economic and political structures. This is painful reading; it shows much suffering but also much remarkable transcendence. Bell's book vocalizes this, but its point is not merely archival. These testimonies are meant to move readers to action. "I want to make the big ears listen," says Lelenne Gilles. "I'll die with the words on my lips." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Most people know that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but what that means for the Haitian people is usually lost in a morass of statistical data. In this moving book on opposing tyranny and degradation, activist Bell, who is the founder and director of the Center for Economic Justice in Albuquerque, NM, gives face to the numbers by providing a forum for indigenous women to speak about their lives. Some of the 38 oral histories here come from illiterate farmers and market women. Other informants are well schooled, earning far more than subsistence wages as teachers and writers. Nonetheless, all of Bell's sources are dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and believe that food, housing, and education are entitlements and that gender equity is inseparable from economic justice. Their articulate views make for exciting reading. Likewise, their resistance to the status quo is inspiring. An antidote to cynicism, the book not only introduces American readers to an array of courageous role models but also proves that change is possible. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Powerless people--especially poor and oppressed women--are rarely heard in public arenas because they are not supposed to speak out about their problems and aspirations. This is an exceptional collection of interviews with Haitian women, recorded in a relatively peaceful time in the mid-1990s and translated from Creole. Collected and skillfully edited by Bell (Center for Economic Justice), these istwa (Creole for this kind of personal and historical narrative) exemplify the powerful traditions of oral culture and resistance in Haiti. Survivors of rape and massacre and victims of domestic abuse, economic deprivation, and political oppression speak eloquently of their experiences and fears and their hopes for social justice. Above all, they are activists who courageously plan and organize political and economic change, even while they and their families live at the edge of survival. Providing clear introductions to each section, Bell groups the narratives under six kinds of resistance: for survival, as "expression," for political and economic change, as gender justice, as transforming power, and as solidarity. This important and inspirational collection is highly recommended for anyone interested in women's studies, Caribbean studies, and problems associated with globalization. Undergraduate level and above. O. N. Bolland Colgate University


Publisher's Weekly Review

"What I have witnessed, I have no tongue to tell," says one of the 38 Haitian women who express themselves here. A lyrical but trenchant foreword by Edwidge Danticat and succinct author introductions by Bell (director of Albuquerque's Center for Economic Justice) provide historical and personal contexts for the narratives, or "istwa" (a Creole word "meaning both story and history"), that follow. Many of the women address the random arrests, sadistic torture, savage beatings and violent sexual abuse inflicted upon them by the state and by a sexist social structure. Taken collectively, the women (interviewed largely between 1991 and 1994, during Haiti's brief period with a popularly elected government) tell the same story "survival, resistance, and occasional triumph by women with little formal power." Individually, each voice is unique. One has been a minister of the Status and Rights of Women; another was given away as a child slave. There's also a market woman, a labor organizer and a nurse; a woman with graduate degrees, women who have lived abroad and women who have never left their villages. They are joined by their resistance to oppression. For some, mere survival is an act of resistance. Others resist through poetry, journalism, dance or painting. Some are even involved in political activism, women's advocacy and reestablishing economic and political structures. This is painful reading; it shows much suffering but also much remarkable transcendence. Bell's book vocalizes this, but its point is not merely archival. These testimonies are meant to move readers to action. "I want to make the big ears listen," says Lelenne Gilles. "I'll die with the words on my lips." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Most people know that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but what that means for the Haitian people is usually lost in a morass of statistical data. In this moving book on opposing tyranny and degradation, activist Bell, who is the founder and director of the Center for Economic Justice in Albuquerque, NM, gives face to the numbers by providing a forum for indigenous women to speak about their lives. Some of the 38 oral histories here come from illiterate farmers and market women. Other informants are well schooled, earning far more than subsistence wages as teachers and writers. Nonetheless, all of Bell's sources are dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and believe that food, housing, and education are entitlements and that gender equity is inseparable from economic justice. Their articulate views make for exciting reading. Likewise, their resistance to the status quo is inspiring. An antidote to cynicism, the book not only introduces American readers to an array of courageous role models but also proves that change is possible. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Powerless people--especially poor and oppressed women--are rarely heard in public arenas because they are not supposed to speak out about their problems and aspirations. This is an exceptional collection of interviews with Haitian women, recorded in a relatively peaceful time in the mid-1990s and translated from Creole. Collected and skillfully edited by Bell (Center for Economic Justice), these istwa (Creole for this kind of personal and historical narrative) exemplify the powerful traditions of oral culture and resistance in Haiti. Survivors of rape and massacre and victims of domestic abuse, economic deprivation, and political oppression speak eloquently of their experiences and fears and their hopes for social justice. Above all, they are activists who courageously plan and organize political and economic change, even while they and their families live at the edge of survival. Providing clear introductions to each section, Bell groups the narratives under six kinds of resistance: for survival, as "expression," for political and economic change, as gender justice, as transforming power, and as solidarity. This important and inspirational collection is highly recommended for anyone interested in women's studies, Caribbean studies, and problems associated with globalization. Undergraduate level and above. O. N. Bolland Colgate University