Considered one of the top defenders of Haitian culture and identity, Jean Price-Mars studied medicine in France and frequented discussions of racial issues in the Sorbonne, the Musée du Trocadéro and the College of France. He dedicated much of his life to ethnological and historical studies of the African origins of Haitian society. He also served as a diplomat and politician for more than fifty years.
Price-Mars was born in 1876 in Grande Rivière du Nord, Haiti. He was raised in a middle-class family and was educated at the elementary level by his Protestant father, Jean Eleomont Mars. From an early age, he got involved in intellectual activities and joined pre-avant-garde and literary groups. Among the events that marked his life and influenced his future and thinking was the military occupation of Haiti by the United States from 1915 to 1934. For Price-Mars, the outrages perpetrated against the population during the occupation and the eventual resistance by the rural workers demonstrated the tensions between the dominant and working classes. It also reflected how the elites were not capable of promoting the common well-being of Haitians.
In 1930, Price-Mars ran for president of the Republic of Haiti and although he lost that election, he did become a senator until 1932. He later served as International Affairs Minister, rector of the University of Haiti, representative of his country at the United Nations and ambassador to France during the government of François Duvalier (1957-1971), among other posts.
This important figure in Haitian history also wrote several books that currently serve as references for researchers in various disciplines. Among these are Ainsi parla l’oncle (What The Uncle Said), published in 1928, and La République d’Haïti et la République Dominicaine (The Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), a thorough study of the political and cultural relationships between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, whose first edition appeared in 1953 and in which the author developed the concept of “collective Bovarism.” Price-Mars used this term to describe how Dominicans denied their ties to Haiti by considering themselves to be heirs to the Spanish culture (in other words, white), even though the Dominicans were and are a predominantly black society with essentially African roots, like the Haitians.
Along with other intellectuals, Jean Price-Mars founded the Haitian Geography and History Society in 1922 and was the first director of the Haitian-American Institute. His civilizing influence and his confidence in education as an instrument of human evolution made him one of the best known Haitian personalities internationally. He died March 1, 1969 at 93 years of age.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: April 14, 2012.
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