Thank You Dessalines *

Felix Morriseau-Leroy
Translation by Marie-Marcelle B. Racine


Thank you, Dessalines
Papa Dessalines, thank you
Every time I think of who I am
I say thank you, Dessalines
Every time I hear a black man
Who is still under the white man's rule
A black man who is not free to talk
I say: Dessalines, thank you
I alone know what you mean to me
Thank you, Papa Dessalines
If I am a man
I must say: Thank you, Dessalines
If I open my eyes to look
It is thanks to you, Dessalines
If I raise my head to walk
It is thanks to you, Dessalines
Every time I look at other negroes
I say: Thank you, Dessalines
When I see what's happening in other lands
I say: Thank you, Dessalines
When I hear white people talk
I say: Papa Dessalines, thank you
When I hear some negroes like me talk
I say: Thank you, Papa Dessalines
Only I know what you are for me

Dessalines, my bull
Dessalines, my blood

Dessalines, my two eyes
Dessalines, my guts
Only I know
All negroes must say:
Thank you, Dessalines
You are the one who showed us the way
Thank you, Dessalines
You are our guiding light
Dessalines
You gave us the land on which we walk
The sky over our heads
The trees, the rivers
The sea, the lake, it is you
Dessalines, you gave us the sun
You gave us the moon
You gave us our sisters, our brothers
Our mothers, our fathers, our children
You made us who we are
You made us kind of different
From the other negroes
If I look everyone straight in the eye
It is you looking at them, Dessalines
You gave us the water we drink
You gave us the food we eat
Thank you, Papa Dessalines
You also gave us the house in which we live
You gave us the land we plant
You taught us how to sing
You taught us to say: No
We are told some negroes say: Yes, Yes
Some others say: Yes, sir (in English in the original)
You taught us to say: No
Dessalines, please teach all black people
All blacks on this earth to say: No
Thank you Papa Dessalines
Some negroes want to explain:
" What we know today is not
What we experienced in the past
And of course, nowadays
Human fraternity,
Humanity, Civilization.. ."
All of this is just French talk
The only thing I know is you, Dessalines
I say: Thank you, Papa Dessalines
You made me who I am
My mother is your daughter
My son, my daughter are your children
Thank you, Dessalines
My grandchildren are your children
Dessalines, my king, thank you
No need to talk about the flag
No need to talk about Arcahaie
Or Gonaives!
That's been said already
And who's going to hear that again?
The Requiem Mass on October 17th?
Who will go to the Cathedral?
The Minister's speech?
Who will listen to that?
But, what I am telling you now?
Only two words: thank you
Thank You, Papa Dessalines
So, be done with that Pater noster
Monsignor, Dessalines is not dead
Cut out that French speech, Minister
Dessalines will never die
Dessalines is right here
This man could never die!
Dessalines lives in my heart
Standing at attention
Dessalines is watching
One day, Dessalines will rise
That day, we will all know
We'll know if 1804
We'll know if Arcahaie
We'll know if La Crete-a-Pierrot
We'll know if Vertieres
We'll know if Dessalines did all that

F or small boy to write poem
For politicians to make speeches
For priest to sing TeDeum
For bishops to give absolution
Dessalines does not need your pardon
Everything Dessalines does is right
One day Dessalines will rise
You will hear throughout the Caribbean Sea
Voices shouting: Where is he, where did he go?
Dessalines took up arms
Arrest him
At that time you will hear his thundering voice:
All black folks, cut their heads, bum their houses
You'll hear throughout the Americas
Voices shouting: Stop him
But Dessalines' voice is already on the radio:
Cut heads, bum houses
Throughout Harlem, Dessalines is putting things in order
You'll hear: Stop Dessalines
All the way to Dakar
All the way to Johannesburg
You'll hear: Where did Dessalines go?
Cut their heads, burn their houses
Dessalines does, not need your absolution
Does not need God's pardon
On the contrary: Dessalines is God's arm
Dessalines is God's justice
No need for that Pater noster, monsignor
No need for black men's apologies to white men
Dessalines does not need that
For everything he did I say: Papa Dessalines, thank you
For everything he will do
I say, Thank you, papa Dessalines.

* Haiti , A Slave Revolution: 200 years after 1804, edited by Pat Chin, Greg Dunkel, Sara Flounders and Kim Ives, International action Center, 2004

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