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Hannah Jakobsen Chant populaire
(selection and translation)

Latibonit son dlo k travèse manman
Li pa travèse papa
Hounsi kanzo ban m lè pou m aletranje
Etranje yo ki ban mwen dan yo
Ki pa ban mwen kè yo
Fè lanmou Ayizan
Fè lanmou

Agwewoyo, m pa prese
Agwewoyo, m pa prese pale ak moun sa yo
Je m la m ap gade yo
Tou sa ki di byen je m la je m la
Tou sa ki di mal je m la
Agwewoyo, m pa prese

The Artibonite is a river that flows through its mother
does not flow through its father
Hounsi kanzo, let me go to a foreign land,
the foreigner who shows me his teeth
without giving me his heart
Make love to me, Ayizan
Make love to me

Agwewoyo, I’m in no hurry
Agwewoyo, I’m in no hurry to speak to those people
Transfixed, I watch them
All the good they say, I see it, I see it
All the bad they say, I see it
Agwewoyo, I’m in no hurry

Despite its inherent orality, the folksong lends itself well to transcription, allowing us to consider it in new ways. This song, published in Creole and French in PEN Haïti’s journal Demanbre, has been termed by ethnomusicologists like David Yih a song of resistance. Here, it’s a poem of resistance, and the repetition that is conducive to musicality contributes to a persistence that centers the piece. In this written form, its reader has time to unravel the dimensions of meaning that can be veiled by references. The potentially unfamiliar characters that populate the song are rooted in Vodou and in Haiti’s geography: the Artibonite, Hispaniola’s most impressive waterway; hounsi kanzo, Vodou’s lowest level of initiation; Ayizan, the spirit (loa) of trade, associated with initiation; and Agwewoyo, the spirit who captains the ship to the afterlife. Vodou has long defined Haiti in the imaginaries of richer, more “Western” countries, and has a history of misrepresentation and persecution. This is a song of resistance to Catholic antisuperstition campaigns. It also resists caricaturization of Vodou, the erasure of Haitian cultural production, and of oral literatures. [HJ]
Hannah Jakobsen is a translator, editor, and writer whose work has appeared in Electric Literature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She also works as an educator and lives in Los Angeles, California.
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