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News from Haiti:

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Commentary: The St Rose fiesta in Grand River, Haiti
Published on August 26, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean Hervé Charles

The climax of religious/cultural festivals that take place in Haiti from July 16 to the end of summer is slowly coming to an end with the fiesta of St Rose on August 30 in Grand River. It is true there is still the fiesta of St Philomena (the popular saint venerated by believers but disqualified by the Catholic Church for lack of documentation) at the Bord de Mer Limonade, on September 6. There is also the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady on September 8 in Acul du Nord and in Dame Marie in the southern part of the country.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now.  He can be reached at
The fiesta of St Rose is special for me. It is the fiesta in my hometown, bringing to my mind reminiscences of young age, when family and friends would converge to my home for festivities that lasted the full month of August. There has been a brutal interruption like an earthquake that shook the entire Haitian family roots for the past 60 years. It has been propelled to all parts of the world due to political upheaval, environmental disaster and lack of proper institutions to root each one of those families into their idyllic setting.

St Rose was the initial name given to the region at its beginning. It may have baptized as such by the Dominican priests who were introduced in St Domingue in 1684. Because of the long river that passes through the city, the name has been changed to Grand River. It is the birthplace of Haiti’s founding father, Jean Jacques Dessalines, who was born in one of the city’s rural counties, Cormier. Jean Baptiste Chavannes, one of the precursors of the Revolution with Victor Oge, was also from Grand River.

Grand River has brought from its womb the first Haitian fabulist Jules Solime Milcent, a mulatto born of a French man and a Haitian Creole; he was educated in France and produced some of the first Haitian fables. He was also the producer of the first Haitian literary magazine: L’Abeille Haitienne.

The city is reputed for being the first site where the Adventist Church took root in Haiti in a setting known for the cruelty of the colonist owner of the habitation named Galliffet.

Grand River is the birthplace of Jean Price Mars, the favorite uncle of Haiti who liberated the country from the enslavement mentality of everything white is beautiful and better. Because of the presence of great priest-administrators like Father Daricad and later Father Jamier, the city has been reputed for producing intellectuals and excellent musicians. They were nation building leaders who inspired their zouialles to live a decent life filled with morality, the fear of God and the love of the nation.

Grand River is fortunate to have in this present time another pastor, Father Sem Jean Gilles, who has the reputation of building lives everywhere he has been in a mission, whether at Our Lady of Fatima in Cape Haitian or in St Raphael, Father Sem makes a difference. With the support of his assistant Father Wilson Cezard he is rebuilding a vibrant church to the naked eye.

He is proud to show me the big bell similar to Big Ben of London that has been repaired since he came to the parish. The big bell that rings for solemn occasions has been silent for the past 40 years, due to neglect and need of repairs. The statue of St Rose that was relegated to a corner in the parish house has been reintroduced in the church with a scale of lights surrounding the veneered saint.

The famous orchestra of Septentrional and Tropicana will be part of the celebration, with Septentrional playing on the 29th, the eve of the fiesta, and Tropicana bringing the big crowd on the 30th. The road to Grand River that was a nightmare has been ameliorated for the festivities; as such the trip from Cape Haitian airport to the city of Grand River takes only half an hour.

Grand River has a law school; some members of the Diaspora are contemplating building a school of nursing. Its hospital reputed in the past for the efficient management of the Mennonite Committee is now run by the Haitian Cuban medical cooperation.

Its vibrant industrial base owned by a Corsican family, the Novella, is all dead today. The Haitian government has just donated a public market to the city that may be the biggest in the country if not in the entire Caribbean region. Built by the Dominican architects it envelopes a whole city block. Will it be the harbinger of the Renaissance of the town?

It will depend on how the stakeholders, the citizens, the city fathers and the government understand Grand River can plays a crucial role in bringing wealth to the region as it has done for the past centuries. It is a preserved reserve for organic fruits and produce for the entire nation. The Grand River is a constant gold mine of gravel, sand and rock free for the taking, the government not caring enough to tax the entrepreneurs for this precious building material.

By transforming the city into a free zone, this large public market can attract merchants from Cuba and the Dominican Republic completing the triangle of commerce that links the citizens of some 33 million hearts that beat to the sound of compas, rumba and cha cha cha.

The visitors to the city have been transfigured by the green mountains filled with trees surrounding the city, compared to the usual naked and deserted ones that Haiti is reputed for. Its water has a natural savor and a propensity to lead you to a long life. Grande Rivier may have the largest number of centenarians in the country. Its roster of past presidents is unusual for a small town, some seven presidents have come from Grand River, the latest one being Henry Namphy.

Close to Milot, the royal palace and the Citadel, Grande Rivier should be registered as a must visit city when the tourists go to or come back from the Citadel, it is an oasis to step over for lunch, brunch and enjoy the true Haitian hospitality.

I am with the rest of the family redesigning the old family compound into a rest place where the tourist will feel welcome, making their stay in Haiti one of the most memorable ones in the Caribbean.
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