Mantann, The Face of Wouzé

Wouzé a traditional Haitian term which means to water the grounds. To keep dirt and bacteria away but also to water plants. The act of “Wouzé“, really encapsulates the day in the life of a Haitian woman. It is a simple act that demonstrates a Haitian woman’s desire to protect and grow life. 

I wish you could have met Mantann.  A mysterious woman with that complex look all rural Haitian women have in their face. It’s the look of a woman who is serious about her business. Mantann was a serious woman.

I remember the first time I saw caravans of Haitian woman travelling along dirt roads on market day. Baskets on their head, switch in hand, donkeys anchored down with food to sell.  All serious women. They walk with purpose. They walk long. They walk far. They have to.

I can recall finally greeting one of these women with a simple, “Bonjou” while she walked briskly in her broken plastic sandals, feet white with dirt. Even though she carried a huge basket of vegetables on her head, unable to turn her head to look at me fully, she shifted her gaze from the front to the side where I was standing and her face made the most amazing transformation.

It was at that moment when I realised that for as long as I had life, I had never been truly greeted. That is, not like the way you are greeted by a Haitian woman. Even though her life depends on this flat-footed, back breaking trip she makes, somehow she is able to greet me from a place so deep, with so much love and so much beauty. She may not know or have ever heard the words “Namaste” but she knows how to say “The God in me sees the God in you.” It is in the way she looks at you. It is in the way she smiles. It is in the sweet tone of her voice.

Mantann was no different. A woman about her business. Whenever we would visit her village, she would often wouzé and sweep our yard. She would also make several trips to the water source for us, coming back with large buckets of water on her head. I don’t ever recall having a real conversation with her but I knew she thought of me as one of her own children.

One night I lay in my tent waiting for Rama to return from Gonaïves, the closest city where he had found a driver and truck to transport construction materials.

It was pitch black outside. Of course, no electricity. All I had was my flashlight. My tent was pitched on a mountain. I was all alone in the very middle of it. Surrounded by nothing but a star-filled sky. I wasn’t afraid though. Haiti was already my home. In fact, I hadn’t even considered any danger. Yet, outside I heard from a distance the sound of Mantann’s voice. “Jayatii – ou la?” “Are you there?” It shocked me. At this time of the night, Haitians don’t leave their homes. No one takes the chance for fear of “Loogawoo” snatching you. (Loogawoo being a man who only flies the skies at night) Yet I could hear her outside somewhere.  When I opened my tent, I came to find Mantann not too far away wrapped in a shawl. She had come to check on me. She asked about Rama and whether I had spoken to him and whether he was on his way. She had a look of concern. I thanked her and told her I was fine. Just then, some lights started illuminating all around us, flickering on and off. We could see that Rama and the truck were on its way.

That trip to her village was the last time I saw her. She wasn’t even 60 years old. Her greatest achievement being the four children she left behind: a lawyer, a nurse, a pastor, and a business woman. All her children living in the country’s capital, Port au Prince. They tell me they long to breathe the fresh air of their village but there is no opportunity for them there.

Mantann and her husband were successful farmers who managed to send all their children to school on sugar cane. I am told things used to be different back then but not any more. Seeds are hard to come by. Fertilisers are expensive. Droughts are plenty.

Mantann’s life is the life of so many Haitian women farmers.

They walk with purpose.

They work hard. 

They walk long. 

They walk far. 

They have to.

Mantann’s village is called Trassael. It is the birthplace of Wouzé. We serve the woman in this community in memory of Mantann and all the Jean-Rabel women who wouzé.

Mantann is probably in here. These are the women from her village, Trassael.