My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.
When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants. These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries. Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:
Haitian Proverb (Creole)
Konstitusyon se papye, babyonet se fe
The constitution is made of paper, but the bayonet is made of steel
“This one requires a bit of history about Haiti. It was the first country where slaves gained their freedom and became the first nation to create one after a fight. It happened under the Napoleonic rule. And at the time, it was the richest colony that France had, so a lot of the money that it needed actually came from Haiti. Then when they lost Haiti, the French got their coffer drained so much that they couldn’t’ make ends meet. And it was because of that, that they sold a chunk of the United States called the Louisiana Purchase. So it was because they lost Haiti, they had to find other means to raise money, so they sold Louisiana and that whole area in the United States. The Haitians created the constitution, but it’s gone through so many constitutions to the point where constitutions don’t matter anymore. The way you make a difference is you get your armaments to fight. That’s what drives change. It has nothing to do with constitution. Unlike us in the United States, we can depend on our constitution because theres stability. But in so many countries there is no such thing. Somebody else comes into power, you have a new constitutions, somebody else comes into power, you have a new constitutions—it’s meaningless. But what does matter is who has the guns. It’s like people pay attention to that cause constitutions don’t’ matter.”