From Sat Jul 27 10:30:15 2002
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 00:59:18 -0500 (CDT)
From: Haiti_Progr├Ęs <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 20:19 7/24/2002
Article: 142845
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

‘Zeprl Sou Zepr’ ethnography

A review of Jennie Smith, When the hands are many, by Danyel Peqa-Shaw, Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti, Vol.20 no.19, 24—30 July 2002

When the Hands are Many is an effort to uproot the stereotypes cast upon the Haitian peasantry by outsiders seeking to rationalize its poverty. Jennie Smith tells us how the most marginalized in Haiti have organized themselves into work collectives and local associations—such as atribisyon, sosyete, kominoth, and gwoupman tht ansanm—in order to empower themselves collectively and transform a world of exclusion.

Although more than 700 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Haiti, far too few Haitians benefit from their so-called aid. According to different studies, between 79 and 90 cents of every USAID dollar bound for Haiti is actually spent in the United States, the author notes. So-called experts cannot help anybody in Haiti if they aren’t equipped with the humility and spirit necessary to gain the confidence of the people they are there to assist. Because the aid-intervention world is a site of tension-filled encounters between discontinuous and contradictory knowledges, we should invest in the Haitian people and the grassroots organizations they themselves have created, Smith argues.

One rural leader calls the notion of Western democracy Demo-krashe (literally Democra-spit). He points to the exclusionary and humiliating results that global economic development has brought to Haiti. If I can eat and another person can’t eat, how are we supposed to build a democracy on that? he asks.

The only effective way to critique other models is to provide an alternative with one’s own actions. Smith lives among the peasants she is studying in the mountains of Haiti’s southwestern Grand’Anse region, learning their language, forming a part of their everyday lives, and listening to their testimonies. The descriptions of the rural organizations provide the reader with images of the strength and beauty of an impoverished people surviving and battling forward.

Smith’s mission is to re-present the Haitian peasantry through their own songs, triumphs, tears, and aspirations. She provides fascinating case studies of different peasant organizations and work collectives that provide valuable insight into peasant life and the struggle for democracy. Refusing to glorify peasant social relations, Smith examines the root causes of the envy, competition and divisions that also form part of their everyday reality. She describes with sincerity her dilemma as she deliberates whether or not to buy more rum in appreciation for a krve (cooperative work group) that her neighbors organized for her. Smith’s practices Zeprl Sou Zeprl (shoulder to shoulder) ethnography. Grounded in solidarity, the scholar walks and grows alongside the people. The peasants recognize her humility and told her that it was about time a foreigner had come to listen instead of lecture and to ’discover the reality we’re living in.’

Smith brings hundreds of kreyrl voices and visions to the surface so that we too can listen to these messages from one of the most marginalized sectors of our global society. Her translation of a collection of hymns, songs, and proverbs is an invaluable contribution to the uplifting of Haitian kreyrl, a tongue that has been neglected and silenced. The ideas and proverbs that underlie the yonn ede lrt (one helps another) philosophy force us to reconsider how we look at one another and our own priorities within a world dominated by inequalities. When the Hands are Many will serve readers as an entry into this underground spring of hope and resistance that all of us must explore in order to begin to rebuild Haiti.