How This Secret Meeting Helped Our People's Spirits

haitian people sitting together
Briona Lamback
September 4, 2023

They gathered under the glow of the night, tip-toeing down the path toward the meeting spot because no one could know they were there. A liquor bottle made its way around the circle; before anyone knew it, the calenda had begun.

Calendas were part dance gatherings and part rituals for healing and spiritual warfare. A participant would stand in the center while musicians played wooden drums and violins accompanied by calabashes filled with small stones. 

The group called on ancestors to seek messages of advice, caution, and healing. By the end, everyone was on their feet dancing counterclockwise, following the sun’s direction, clapping, and singing call-and-response style songs.

These meetings included folks from multiple ethnicities across the diaspora, including the Creole families enslaved in Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, and those who were first-generation, newly enslaved on the island. 

Their collectiveness inspired a powerful solidarity based on their Blackness, shared experience, and aligning spiritual beliefs.

While they were doing them, colonial powers were trying to suppress everything. In February 1761, the Council of Le Cap condemned calendas as “abuses” of religion due to their unsupervised nature.

But our people persisted nonetheless.

Like our ancestors, who knew the importance of preservation and plotting their freedom together, we must understand that liberation rests on the shoulders of our community.

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