Polish Haitian History and Culture

  • January 28, 2019      Joy Marie Salgado

Port-au-Prince – Plenty of people view the present state of the world with an idea of multiculturalism through the continuous global connections people are able to do now. There are more opportunities for traveling and even settling down in countries thousands of miles away from a person’s birthplace. Moreover, there is beauty in constantly discovering something new through travel. One may be that of learning about the ethnicities of people in different parts of the world.

How would it feel to learn about a certain culture and an entire ethnicity that has a history that originates from a military legion by Napoleon? This history is what brought the community called Poloné or La Pologne in the country of Haiti. The Poloné is a community that partially descended from the Poles, who came to Haiti during the slave rebellion from 1802 to 1803. This is a different type of multiculturalism as this was brought about by the immigration and migration of people who saw a good place to build a community.

A Fight for Freedom That Made History

What exactly sent Poles to Haiti? People from Poland started fighting for their freedom from various nations who tried conquering parts of Eastern Europe. During this crucial period, the Poles were allies with France. In return, Napoleon’s French Army received assistance from Polish military forces that remained as distinct units.

Napoleon’s French troops had to face a struggle in the shores of Haiti as well. As a part of their military move, Napoleon sent his men to Saint-Domingue (former name of Haiti) to fight during the Haitian Revolution. When Napoleon made this move, around 5,000 Polish troops were sent as well.

This is an interesting part of the Polish Haitians’ history because as the slaves of Haiti revolted for their freedom against France, they faced Poles who tried to fight for their freedom as well but needed the help of France. That crucial detail later became a factor in getting the Poles to move to the Haitians’ side. When the Poles switched sides, many of the Polish soldiers joined the fight of the Haitian slaves under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. In 1804, the Haitians won over France. Many perished on both sides, yet there are hundreds of Poles who remained in Haiti that started a community called the Village of Cazales.

A Struggle and a New Home

Even though Poles fought and perished beside the Haitians, the locals did not receive the white men well. This led the Polish soldiers to find a home in the remote parts of the island, which later led to the creation of the village of Cazales. The name may have come from the Creole word kay, meaning “home” and a common Polish last name among the soldiers, Zalewski: Kay Zalewski (“home of Zalewski”).

Nowadays, this village remains as a major part of the Polish Haitian community. Members of this community have distinct features that are uncommon for the local Haitians. The people of Cazales have light skin and blue eyes. The growth of the community influenced the Creole culture in the country, with their practices shaping the religious practices of the locals. These later became imprinted in Haitian Voodoo, particularly the voodoo Loa Erzulie Dantor which closely resembles the Black Madonna.

Image from Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nygus/