Trois Machetes Review

I mentioned last week that the Clintons have done some real harm in Haiti. In the name of transparency I will provide evidence of the most obvious and egregious ways that the pair has compounded Haitian suffering, rather than alleviate it. 

Bill Clinton’s decision to send surplus rice from Arkansas, where he is from, to Haiti during his presidency decimated Haitian rice farming.  

Yes, he apologized. But the damage has been done and cannot be undone.

Like the pig eradication program that decimated the creole pig, a staple of the Haitian agricultural sector in 1978, the Haitian farmer to this day, has yet to recover from the rice debacle. 

You may say, “But that was Bill, not Hillary’s doing.” Well, let’s look at Hillary’s track record excerpted from Johns Hopkins University student newsletter: 

Hillary Clinton and her husband have been heavily involved in Haitian aid and intervention, both in the 1990s and with the 2010 creation of the Clinton-Bush Haiti fund. The aid programs tied to the Clintons have been heavily involved in forced or coerced sterilizations of Haitian women, a huge reproductive rights issue. A 1993 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development outlines a goal for intervention in Haiti of establishing 23 sterilization facilities. Yet it also suggests the “elimination of the practice of requiring physician visits.” Essentially, this document states that the sterilization of Haitian women is more important than regular pap smears or pelvic exams.

Read the full article here:

I digress, but not really. 

Trois Machetes

This week’s review is about a lovely short that I watched as part of the New York African Diaspora International Film Festival that I’ve been raving about. It’s going on for one more week in case you have a bit of time on your hands 🙂

The film, set in Haiti, is called Trois Machetes (Three Machetes). In fact, as a brilliant example of recentering focus, the machetes are actually the protagonists of the film. Their handlers are Saint-Juste, a grossly exploited agricultural worker, his son, Dorvil, a young man who hopes to travel to Chile to make something of himself, and a preteen “orphan”, Benjamin, who lives with them. 

For those who know anything about Haiti and their spiritual tradition, Vodou, they’ll recognize the presence of the lwa (spirit/god) Ogou, often associated with the machete, throughout the film. Ogou is not only the god of war, but it is he who opens roads. He is the lwa of travelers. As such, he is the one before whom Dorvil kneels at the Vodou ceremony he attends. These two aspects of Ogou—war and road openings—clash in the film, culminating in what the audience can assume is a tragic end. 

Along with the machete, the audience will recognize the prominence of the color red, also associated with Ogou. We see it in Dorvil’s red shirt that he wears sometimes around his neck, the red handle of his machete, distinguished from those that Saint-Juste and Benjamin carry, which have black handles. And most obviously at the Vodou ceremony that Dorvil attends to ask Ogou to open the way for him to travel to Chile. As soon as the god begins his descent, a red satin scarf is tied on the body and around the machete of his horse. 

The film is beautifully rendered with lots of close-ups that linger on aspects of the film that the filmmaker, Matthieu Maunier-Rossi, wants to draw the audience’s attention to: the designated placement just outside the house of each of the three’s machetes. Sainte-Juste’s slamming the machete into a coconut tree so that he can sharpen it, the complexity of Benjamin’s emotions evident on his face even though he says barely a word throughout the entire film. 

These close-ups are reinforced by haunting music that tells of long-held pent up male vital energy that is on the verge of boiling over. The music and the masterful cinematography keep the audience on edge, especially as the machetes are not only featured, but centered. 

This last bit leads me to another point that I want to make; that is, the ubiquitousness of machetes in rural African and Caribbean environments. It is nothing to see people walking along a path holding machetes, or friends gathered together on the road, chatting, laughing, their machetes resting at their sides, or being used to gesticulate, to point or make a point. 

Because it’s a tool, not a weapon. 

Of course there have been many instances when machetes have been used to harm. The news is replete with such stories (I just watch another film from Kenya, The Letter, about the murders a few years ago of the elderly by their younger relatives who wanted to take their land).

What I’m pointing to is a worldview. 

I’ve always marveled at this way of rural African and Caribbean people’s thinking about machetes; have been quite enamored with it, in fact. 

Trois Machetes does a brilliant job of illuminating the two sides of the machete as both tool and weapon. For most of the film, the machete is a tool, used to dig holes so one can defecate, to dig up the soil so that seeds can be planted, to open coconuts to sell at local bars for a few coins, for youth martial arts training. But in those last moments of the film, lasting just a few seconds really, the machete becomes something else, channeling the tornado-like swirling energy that has been stored in Haitian male bodies and that has had nowhere to go for centuries. Such energy—the domain of Ogou—meant to be creative and life-giving, rightly becomes destructive and death-dealing in the face of centuries of blocked roads. 

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