Jean Price-Mars

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Jean Price-Mars

Jean Price-Mars (15 October 1876 – 1 March 1969), born in Grande Rivière du Nord, was a Haitian teacher, diplomat, writer, and ethnographer. Price-Mars served as secretary of the Haitian legation in Washington (1909) and as chargé d'affaires in Paris (1915–1917). In 1922 he completed medical studies that he had given up for lack of a scholarship. After withdrawing as a candidate for the presidency of Haiti in favor of Stenio Vincent in 1930, Price-Mars led Senate opposition to the new president and was forced out of politics. In 1941, he was again elected to the Senate. He was secretary of state for external relations in 1946 and, later, ambassador to the Dominican Republic. In his eighties, he continued service as Haitian ambassador at the United Nations and ambassador to France.

Negritude movement[edit]

His writings championed the Negritude movement in Haiti, which "discovered" and embraced the African roots of Haitian society. Price was the first prominent defender of vodou as an actual religion complete with "deities, a priesthood, a theology, and morality." He argued against the prevailing prejudice and ideology, which rejected all non-white, non-Western elements of the cultures of the Americas. His Haitian nationalism contrasts, in its embrace of Haitian cultural identity as African through slavery, with the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which prided itself for being Spanish.

Price-Mars' attitude was born when he witnessed the active resistance to the 1915 to 1934 United States occupation of Haiti by the campesinos. He deplored the elite's abandonment of the tradition that focussed on the country's liberation from French colonialism, but he took pride in the conduct of the poor. He attacked the elite for their "inability to promote the welfare of the Haitian masses".


He coined the term "collective Bovarism" to describe the elite in identifying themselves with elements of European ancestry while denouncing any ties to their African legacy. The term comes from Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary" in which Emma Bovary is anxious to escape from social conditions which define her, but upon which she looks down. He noticed that the elite were composed almost exclusively by people of mixed ancestry, who embraced their "whiteness", while the rest of the majority shared much of the same features, but his disdain for the elites spread beyond the racial purity of "Bovarism".

It also spread to their economic and political influence implied by their status. He understood that their power base in the state system relied heavily on the taxation of crops, especially of coffee, the chief export, grown by the campesinos who had come to the country's defense when the elites had abandoned it to protect their own interests.

He also attacked the elites' role in education of the country. The elite justified their position and control as those whose responsibility it was to civilize the masses. However for Price-Mars, to educate is to civilize. Therefore, he gives considerable attention to educational programs. He examined the "intellectual tools" available in Haiti and challenges the elite for their responsibility by virtue of their position and cultural formation in the western mold to promote such progress among the masses.

He ultimately came to embrace slavery as the source of the Haitian identity and culture. The culture and religion formed among the slaves which they used to rebel against the Europeans became the building blocks for a Haitian nation.

Notable works[edit]

Some of his most notable works are the book Ainsi parla l'oncle (1928), which was translated into English as "So Spoke the Uncle", La Vocation de l'elite (1919), La République d'Haïti et la République Dominicaine (1953), and De Saint-Domingue à Haïti (1957).

Further reading[edit]

  • Jean Price-Mars and Haiti, by Jacques C. Antoine. Three Continents Press. 1981
  • San Miguel, Pedro L. (2005). The Imagined Island: History, Identity, and Utopia in Hispaniola. United States: The University of North Carolina Press. pp. 67–97. ISBN 0-8078-5627-4. 
  • Schutt-Ainé, Patricia; Staff of Librairie Au Service de la Culture (1994). Haiti: A Basic Reference Book. Miami, Florida: Librairie Au Service de la Culture. p. 105. ISBN 0-9638599-0-0. 
  • The Religious Imagination and Ideas of Jean Price-Mars (Part 1), by Celucien Joseph, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion Volume 2, Issue 14 (December 2011):1-31
  • Joseph, Celucien L. From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)