From Tue Feb 24 14:00:06 2004
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2004 12:19:26 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 19087: (Hermantin)Sun-sentinel-Haiti’s upheaval chagrins dancer (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <>

Haiti’s upheaval chagrins dancer

By Alva James-Johnson, Sun Sentinal, 24 February 2004

For 69 years, Katherine Dunham has tried to help Haiti.

In the 1930s, the famous dancer and anthropologist, considered the matriarch of African-American dance, fell in love with the country and documented its ritual music and dances.

In the 1940s, she bought land near Port-au-Prince and began developing a botanical garden. In 1992, she went on a 47-day hunger strike at age 82 to draw attention to the plight of Haitian boat refugees.

But now at age 94, Dunham looks at Haiti’s current condition and feels helpless. The country is in political turmoil, squatters occupy her garden, and her plans to spend her latter days in the Caribbean country are in jeopardy.

I certainly don’t want to be living there and trying to preserve a little peace in the midst of a revolution, Dunham said Monday during a visit to Miami. I’m really devastated. I didn’t think things would go this far.

Dunham, a resident of East St. Louis, will speak today at Florida International University.

In the late 1930s, Dunham started her own dance school and touring company in New York City. She traveled to 48 countries during her career performing in musicals, operas and cabarets and is credited with influencing the careers of Alvin Ailey and other great black performers.

In 1935, Dunham traveled to Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Martinique to document the rituals through film, musical recordings and photographs. After living in the region for 18 months, she fell in love with Haiti, adopting the country as her second home.

Haiti was the first black republic in the Western world, she said. The people had a sense of having won their independence and were proud of it. But now the country is just full of desperate people, and the government is not able to do what it has to do, which is to feed everybody.

Her Port-au-Prince property is a 25-acre tract of forested land, which has a variety of plants native to the country. Dunham has spent the past few decades transforming the property into a botanical garden.

Dunham also has 5 acres in Port-au-Prince for her personal residence.

But she still loves Haiti, so much so that she launched the one-woman, 47-day hunger strike in 1992 on behalf of the Haitian people. She spent half of that time hospitalized so doctors could keep an eye on her and make sure she was getting enough liquids.

It was the only way that I could get the attention of the American government, she said.