Dutty Boukman

Dutty Boukman (or Boukman Dutty; died 7 November 1791) was an early leader of the Haitian Revolution. Born in Senegambia (present-day Senegal and Gambia), he was enslaved to Jamaica.[1] He eventually ended up in Haiti, where he became a leader of the Maroons and a vodou houngan (priest).[2]

Dutty Boukman
Bornc. 1767
Died7 November 1791
Other namesBoukman Dutty
Known forCatalyst to the Haitian Revolution

According to some contemporary accounts, Boukman, alongside Cécile Fatiman, a Vodou mambo, presided over the religious ceremony at Bois Caïman, in August 1791, that served as the catalyst to the 1791 slave revolt which is usually considered the beginning of the Haitian Revolution.

Boukman was a key leader of the slave revolt in the Le Cap‑Français region in the north of the colony. He was killed by the French planters and colonial troops on 7 November 1791,[3][4] just a few months after the beginning of the uprising. The French then publicly displayed Boukman's head in an attempt to dispel the aura of invincibility that Boukman had cultivated. The fact that French authorities did this illustrates their belief in the importance Boukman held to Haitian people during this time.[5]


In about 1767, Dutty Boukman was born in the region of Senegambia (present-day Senegal and Gambia), where he was a Muslim cleric. He was captured in Senegambia, and transported as a slave to the Caribbean, first to the island of Jamaica, then Saint-Domingue, modern-day Haiti, where he became a Haitian Vodou houngan priest.[1] After he attempted to teach other slaves how to read, he was sold to a French plantation owner and placed as a commandeur (slave driver) and, later, a coach driver. His French name came from his English nickname, "Book Man", which scholars like Sylviane Anna Diouf and Sylviane Kamara have interpreted as having Islamic origins; they note that the term "man of the book" is a synonym for a Muslim in many parts of the world.[6] Laurent Dubois argues that Boukman may have practiced a syncretic blend of traditional African religion and a form of Abrahamic religion.[7] Boukman was killed by the French in November 1791.[8]

Ceremony at the Bois CaïmanEdit

Contemporaneous accounts place the ceremony at Bois Caïman on or about 14 August 1791. Boukman and priestess Cécile Fatiman presided over the last of a series of meetings to organize a slave revolt for weeks in advance; the co-conspirators in attendance included Jean François, Biassou, Jeannot, and others. An animal was sacrificed, an oath was taken, and Boukman gave the following speech:

...This God who made the sun, who brings us light from above, who raises the sea, and who makes the storm rumble. That God is there, do you understand? Hiding in a cloud, He watches us, he sees all that the whites do! The God of the whites pushes them to crime, but he wants us to do good deeds. But the God who is so good orders us to vengeance. He will direct our hands, and give us help. Throw away the image of the God of the whites who thirsts for our tears. Listen to the liberty that speaks in all our hearts.

— Dutty Boukman[1]

According to Gothenburg University researcher Markel Thylefors, "The event of the Bois Caïman ceremony forms an important part of Haitian national identity as it relates to the very genesis of Haiti."[9]

According to the Encyclopedia of African Religion, "Blood from the animal was given in a drink to the attendees to seal their fates in loyalty to the cause of liberation of Saint-Domingue."[10] A week later, 1800 plantations had been destroyed and 1000 slaveholders killed.[11][12] Boukman was not the first to attempt a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue, as he was preceded by others, such as Padrejean in 1676, and François Mackandal in 1757. However, his large size, warrior-like appearance, and fearsome temper made him an effective leader and helped spark the Haitian Revolution.[13]

Controversy over his originsEdit

A new study by Haitian researcher Rodney Salnave has shown that Boukman may not have been originally from Jamaica[14] as previously thought, given that advertisements of fugitives[15] reveal many other slaves of various origins wearing the name of Boukman in the colony of Saint Domingue. And according to this same study, Boukman is not really called Dutty,[14] ni Zamba,[16] nor Zamba, for that matter.

In fact, the name Boukman, generally written Bouqueman, is said to have a French Catholic origin.[17] Then, Boukman would not have known how to read,[18] either, as one thinks it more recently. This would nullify the undocumented hypothesis that his name “Boukman” would be derived from “Book Man” in English, to illustrate that he could read.

And finally, Boukman was not the leader of the revolutionary army,[19] and he was not even a Muslim,[20] as people liked to say, calling him a "man of the Book".

However, one thing is certain, Boukman was born in Africa and he was transported to the New World (together with millions of others) to be exploited as a slave; he was able through the strength of his personality and charisma alone to inspire the early stages of the slave-rebellion in Haiti. Whether he could read or not is irrelevant as far as his revolutionary vision and courage is concerned, and seems at this late stage virtually unprovable. He was at the centre of the initial activities which led to Haiti eventually gaining its independence from the colonial power, France. Haiti became the first black Republic of the modern era.[21]

Legacy and references in popular cultureEdit

  • The band Boukman Eksperyans was named after him.
  • A fictionalized version of Boukman appears as the title character in American writer Guy Endore's novel Babouk, an anti-capitalist parable about the Haitian Revolution.
  • Haitians honored Boukman by admitting him into the pantheon of loa (guiding spirits).[22]
  • The Boukman ("Bouckmann") uprising is retold in the Lance Horner book The Black Sun.
  • "The Bookman" is one of several devil masquerade characters still performed in Trinidad Carnival.
  • Haitian community activist Sanba Boukman, assassinated on 9 March 2012, took his name from Boukman.
  • In the 2014 film Top Five, the main character, André Allen (played by Chris Rock), is in the midst of a promotional tour for a Boukman biopic called Uprize.[23]
  • In the Edwidge Danticat short story A Wall of Fire Rising, the character of Little Guy is cast as Boukman in his school play.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Tickner, Arlene B.; Blaney, David L. (2013). Claiming the International. Routledge. p. 147. ISBN 9781135016982.
  2. ^ Edmonds, Ennis B.; Gonzalez, Michelle A. (1 June 2010). Caribbean Religious History: An Introduction. NYU Press. ISBN 9780814722503.
  3. ^ Girard, Philippe R. (2010). "Haitian Revolution". In Leslie, Alexander (ed.). Encyclopedia of African American History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851097692.
  4. ^ Poujol-Oriol, Paulette (2005). "Boukman". In Appiah, Kwame Antony; Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. (eds.). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195170559.
  5. ^ James, C. L. R. (1989). The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage Books. p. 96. ISBN 0-679-72467-2. When Boukman was killed (fighting bravely) the Assembly stuck up his head in Le Cap with a placard: "This is the head of Boukman, chief of the rebels."
  6. ^ Diouf, Sylviane Anna; Kamara, Sylviane (1998). Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York University Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-8147-1904-X. It is likely that Boukman was a Jamaican Muslim who had a Quran, and that he got his nickname from this. As many Muslims had done, and would continue to do, he had climbed the echelons of the slaves' power structure and had reached the top. He was a trusted, professional slave.
  7. ^ Dubois, Laurent (2004). Avengers of the New World : The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-674-01304-2.
  8. ^ Sylviane Anna Diouf, Servants of Allah p.152
  9. ^ Thylefors, Markel (March 2009) "'Our Government is in Bwa Kayiman:' a Vodou Ceremony in 1791 and its Contemporary Signifcations" Archived 22 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine Stockholm Review of Latin American Studies, Issue No. 4
  10. ^ Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama. Encyclopedia of African religion, Volume 1 Sage Publications, p. 131.
  11. ^ Sylviane Anna Diouf, Servants of Allah p. 152
  12. ^ John Mason. African Religions in The Caribbean: Continuity and Change
  13. ^ John K. Thornton. I Am the Subject of the King of Congo: African Political Ideology and the Haitian Revolution Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Millersville University of Pennsylvania
  14. ^ a b Rodney Salnave (22 September 2016). "Boukman n'était pas jamaïcain". Bwa Kay Il-Ment. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  15. ^ Université Sherbrooke. "Le Marronnage à Saint-Domingue (Haïti)". Marronnage.info.
  16. ^ Rodney Salnave (13 October 2016). "Boukman ne s'appelait pas Zamba". Bwa Kay Il-Ment. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  17. ^ Rodney Salnave (1 October 2016). "L'origine du nom Boukman". Bwa Kay Il-Ment. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  18. ^ Rodney Salnave (25 October 2016). "Boukman ne savait pas lire". Bwa Kay Il-Ment. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  19. ^ Rodney Salnave (28 May 2017). "Boukman n'était pas le chef de la révolution haïtienne". Bwa Kay Il-Ment. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  20. ^ Rodney Salnave (14 August 2017). "Boukman n'était pas musulman". Bwa Kay Il-Ment. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  21. ^ "Haiti country profile". BBC News. 7 July 2021.
  22. ^ Haitian Bicentennial Committee Archived 26 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine (2004)
  23. ^ Orr, Niela. Critic's Notebook: Hollywood, Obama and the Boxing-In of Black Achievers ‘‘The Hollywood Reporter’’. December 18, 2014.


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