The following post is from one of CBF’s field personnel, Nancy James. Nancy and her husband Steve are CBF field personnel in Haiti.
An interesting cultural event has been taking place in Haiti in the last few weeks. Since January 1, men and women have been inspired to get together for the sake of “unity.” Someone was inspired to gather people together for the sake of solidarity and to show that Haitians can have the spirit of carrying out a very difficult challenge. They have decided to show the world that they can carry a tree, together with the help of people along the way, all across the country, from the south to the north.
The custom of “working together,” is called a kombit, in Creole and it was a way of life for the people. There is a kombit for grating cassava, a kombit for building a house, a kombit for planting to name a few. It was a community event that brought together people to accomplish a difficult, mundane task. A kombit made the task, whatever it was, not so difficult because “many hands make light work,” and brought with it singing, dancing and often a bit of humor and “moonshine,” to lighten the load. No one got paid for the work although a meal was offered at the end of the task. It was taken for granted as part of life to help your neighbor with something that needed to be done. It’s not unlike the American practice by the Amish community or farm communities of a “barn raising.”
Work kombits are still practiced today but people expect to get paid for their work, and I have heard people in Haiti lament that one doesn’t see the spirit of the kombit as it was in the days gone by. When we first came to Haiti in the 70’s and 80’s, we would often hear the haunting chant of the kombit, but we rarely hear them anymore. The effort to carry the tree from the most southern and western part of Haiti from the town of Leziwa to the most northern and eastern town Wanamet, is called Kombit Pote Kole or Yon Pa Kita Yon Pa Nago, was incredibly difficult. All along the way, people were invited to help carry the carved and polished tree, weighing 500 lbs, from one town to the next, neighborhood to neighborhood. Sometimes it was women only carrying the log. Accompanying the tree would be a car with speakers and music and a police car to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. Throngs of enthusiastic people helped carry the tree to the next town and some even walked alongside all across Haiti.
A few days ago, the tree carried by twenty or so people came by the cross road of the University and the National Highway. A friend and I went to see it as it passed by. I could hardly see the tree for all the people running alongside the tree, in front and behind. It passed the university crossroads at the end of January after traveling for 24 days. Hundreds of people came to participate in cheering the tree and its carriers along. “We can do it!” “Keep on keeping on!”
I witnessed the tremendous energy and sweat that it took to carry this heavy, cumbersome log, day in and day out and marveled at the perseverance and determination to make it all the way to their goal of some 700 kilometers from south west to north east Haiti. They believe that by achieving their goal all the way to the town of Wanamet, the Haitian people will show themselves and others that they can be unified to overcome their problems. This fete was carried out with no money being paid to carry the log.
We pray that the people of Haiti will continue in the spirit of this great accomplishment to show themselves and the world that they can work together for the good of their country… “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible!” Matthew 19:26