Mar 08, 2020

Three Haitian Women who Changed the World

Li atik sa a an kreyòl.


Every March we celebrate Women’s History Month. This event is a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and recognize the impact they’ve had on our history. Today we celebrate the lives of three Haitian women who not only impacted history but had a hand in changing its course. To begin, we’ll talk about a woman who started a revolution: Cécile Fatiman.

Cécile Fatiman (sometimes spelled Fatimah) was actually born Cécile Attiman Coidavid circa 1775. The daughter of an African slave woman named Célestina Coidavid and a white Frenchman from Corsica, Cécile’s real name was obscured when she was transported to by slavers to Saint Domingue around the age of sixteen. There she joined the entourage of vodou priest Dutty Boukman and became a high vodou priestess, or manbo. It was as a manbo that Cecile made her most well-known impact on history.

In August of 1791, Cécile lead a vodou ceremony at Bois Caiman with hundreds of insurrectionists in attendance. Appearing to be possessed by the goddess Erzulie, she prophesied a revolt and adjured those in attendance to seek retribution against their French oppressors. This event is widely believed to be the first spark of the Haitian Revolution, as less than a week later Saint Domingue was under siege by Haitian rebels. In 1811, Cécile’s younger sister Marie Louise Coidavid became Queen Consort of Haiti until 1820. Cécile herself went on to become a First Lady in 1845 when her husband Jean-Louis Michel Pierrot took office as President of Haiti. She died a well-respected figure and a hero in 1887. She was 112.

Bois Caiman Ceremony lead by Cécile.

Cécile Fatiman helped spark a revolution that would lead to the only successful slave rebellion in history. For the next twelve years war was waged as freedom fighters sought their independence.

Sanité Bélair, sometimes called Suzanne Belair, was one of the few female fighters of the Haitian Revolution. She was born in Verrettes in 1801 as an emancipated slave or afranchi. She married Lieutenant Charles Bélair in 1796 and together they joined the army of his uncle, revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture. They fought in the war, side by side, and lead the charge during the uprising of l’Artibonite. Sanité was caught by the French army in 1802 and her husband turned himself in upon her capture so that they would be taken in together.

Charles Bélair was executed by firing squad and Sanité, being a woman, was to be executed by decapitation. She refused, demanding to be executed by firing squad, and refusing to wear a blindfold. She died a revolutionary hero, her likeness later memorialized on a commemorative 10 gourd banknote during the “Bicentennial of Haiti” as the only woman in the series.

Due to the bravery of people like Sanité Belair, on January 1st, 1804 the French colony of Saint Domingue became the Independent Empire of Haiti. The very first black republic. This historic event called for the creation of a new symbol of Haitian identity and pride.

Catherine Flon, the goddaughter of the Revolution leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, is widely regarded as a national symbol of Haiti’s independence. Though very little is known about her childhood, we do know that she was born in Arcahaie and her parents were textile traders. She learned to sew at an early age and grew to be a respected seamstress with her own workshop. When the war began, her parents fled to France but Catherine insisted on staying to help in the fight for independence. On May 18, 1803, on the last day of Congress at Arcahaie, Catherine was given strips of a destroyed French tricolor flag by her godfather. She stitched together the blue and red pieces, removing the white entirely and created the very first flag of Haiti. Her hometown of Arcahaie is now known as the “City of the Flag” and the birthplace of Haitian independence.

Catherine sewing the new Haitian Flag.

The Haitian Revolution was a hard-fought battle that ended in triumph. It even extended to the United States as the Louisiana Purchase was a direct result of the rebellion. These three women, and women like them, were essential to that triumph. Their bravery and sacrifice should be remembered and honored for years to come.

Here is a list of words in honor of women all over the world and their fight for equality.


English Haitian Creole translation
Women Fanm


Heroine Ewoyin

Fanm vanyan

Pillar Potomitan


Equality Egalite
Equal Egalego


Bias Paspouki



Opportunities Opòtinite
Rights Dwa
Women’s Rights Dwa Fam
Household Fwaye
Feminism Feminis
Feminist Feminis
Harassment Tizonnay


Leader Dirijan
Mature Woman Fanm Total
Mother Manman

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