Rhum Barbancourt is the critically acclaimed, prize winning and world renown Rum liquor that is a representation of the country of Haiti. This fine liquor drink is owned and drunk in most Haitian households and is also sold worldwide. I wanted to learn more history about Rhum Barbancourt, so I started to do some research and stumbled upon quite the interesting story. The story of the legal battle and family feud between the two biggest rum exporters in the country of Haiti: The Berling SA company and The Society Rhum Barbancourt company. The story begins and ends with two brothers L'Abbe Barbancour and Dupre Barbancour.
The Berling SA company states the Barbancour family was in the Brandy and Cognac liquor business since 1765 when Louis Barbancour began selling fine liquor in the colony of Haiti or Saint Domingue. Louis Barbancour had two sons L'Abbe and Dupre Barbancour who grew up in the family business. In 1862 the two brothers, likely middle aged men, decided to form a company together in the Damiens region of Port-au-Prince close to the sugar cane plantations. They began creating high quality Rum from the local Haitian agricultural alcohol "Clairin" which was made from sugar cane juice.
Contrarily The Society Rhum Barbancourt company states that in 1862 Dupre Barbancour, the consul general of Liberia in Haiti, solely decided to form his company and solely began creating high quality Rum from the local Haitian agricultural alcohol "Clairin". The Society Rhum Barbancourt company does not state that their family was involved in the Brandy and Cognac business since 1765 and they do not claim Louis Barbancour as one of their ancestors.
The Barbancour brothers or Dupre Barbancourt solely, decided to imitate the process of making fine French Cognac. The company bought local "Clairin" and distilled it a second time in copper pots, similar to the double distillation process used to create Cognac. Then they aged it for a set number of years in French oak barrels, similar to the Cognac aging process, and designated the quality 3 star or 5 star depending on if the Rum was aged for 4 years or 8 years. The Berling SA company states that In 1906 after working together for 40 years, the two families decided to separate the business. The elderly Dupre Barbancour died shortly after in the year 1907.
The Berling SA company started to sell their Rum under the name of Jane Barbancourt, the granddaughter of L'Abbe Barbancour, who owned and operated the company. The Society Rhum Barbancourt company began to sell their Rum at the same time under the name of Rhum Barbancourt. The Society Rhum Barbancourt company was owned and operated by Nathelie Gardere, Dupre Barbancour's wife, who passed it along to her family members as she did not have any children with Dupre Barbancourt.
However by then their was a fierce disagreement between the two companies as to which had the final legal right of using the Rhum Barbancourt trademark to sell their fine liquor product. In the year 1906, the Haiti Sun newspaper had ads for both Jane Barbancourt Rhum and Rhum Barbancourt. Also in the year 1906, the Jane Barbancourt company published a story in the Haiti Sun newspaper that stated there was a wicked plot by the Rhum Barbancourt company to discredit Jane Barbancourt's family and her company. The following week the Haiti Sun newspaper retracted that story saying there was not enough evidence to confirm this plot.
In 1950 The Jane Barbancourt company lost the long legal battle over the trademark name of Barbancourt to the Gardere family and changed its name to The Barling SA company, likely a merger between Jane Barbancourt's last name and her husband's last name of Siegfried Rudolph Linge. In 1999 the company changed it's name to The Berling SA company likely in honor of Jane's husband who was from Germany. The Berling SA company now sells it's Rhum Vieux L'Abbe in honor of Jane's grandfather.
So I decided to review historical records and documents to better be able to understand and discern the likely facts from these two historical accounts from The Berling SA company and The Societe Rhum Barbancourt company. First things first, there is no typo in the title of the article or in my spelling of the Barbancour brothers last name. Reviewing the records of early colonial settlers in 1765 in Haiti or Saint-Domingue I have found four individuals with the last name Barbancour and no individuals with the last name Barbancourt. Interestingly enough I have found a male with the name of Louis Barbancour and a female with the name of Louise Barbancour. It is thought that Louis Barbancour came from the Bourdeaux region of France. Furthermore I have found in a 1791 newspaper, The Gazette, in an article discussing a meeting of the white colonists of the Damiens region of Port-au-Prince, there is listed among the members a Barbancour but no Barbancourt.
So one asks themselves, where did the last name Barbancourt appear from? Luckily reviewing many typewritten documents from the 1700's-1900's it provided my problem solving mind with a theory of what may have happened. My theory is that Rhum Barbancourt was actually sold in 1865 to the early 1900's as Rhum Barbancours: obviously spelled differently. The typed manuscript at that time used a long lower case letter S that looks like a lower case letter T. But the written rules of grammar stated that these long S letters are supposed to be written in the middle of a word or as the first S in words with a double S but never at the end . Below is a photographic examples of the long lower case letter S.
I believe that the word Barbancours was first mistyped deliberately or by mistake as the word Barbancour(long lower case letter S): as the written rule of grammar was to not use this type of letter at the end of a word. Then later this was mistranslated to Barbancour(lower case letter T) due to the similarities in the two lower case letters. However more importantly if this theory is correct it would mean that the early Rhum bottles were sold with the plural word for Barbancour, the word Barbancours, which would imply collaboration between at least two family members of the Barbancour family. These family members could have been L'Abbe and Dupre Barbancour as stated by The Berling SA family. However there is no easily found historical documents with the names of L'Abbe Barbancour or Dupre Barbancour. This is my theory on how two innovators of fine quality Haitian Rhum liquor were lost in translations. So "Cheers" from Haitian Street Art: whether you are drinking a glass of 5 star Rhum Barbancourt or a glass of 5 star Rhum Vieux Labbe.
Written by: Philippe Leveille or Philippe Léveillé 9/2018
When the ship with the captured Allada people landed on the Northeast coast of Haiti in the Bay of Cap Haitian, they disembarked the captives. Then the Allada captives were quickly and efficiently sold to the agricultural plantation owners as slaves for labor in the fields. Former Prince Gaou Ginou was bought by the family of Pantaleon Guisbert de Breda(1666-1738) who was a retired naval soldier that pursued business and wealth in his middle age. Pantaleon Guisbert de Breda built many agricultural sugar plantations in the plains of Cap Haitian and a sugar processing plant a few miles from the city of Cap Haitian. The Breda plantation when Pantaleon retired and passed away was inherited by his daughter Marie-Anne de Breda(1708-1761) who married a man in 1726 named Le Comte Louis de Noe(1691-1730). They had a son who subsequently inherited the Breda plantation, Louis Pantaleon de Noe(1728-1816). When former Prince Gaou Ginou arrived to the Haitian shores of Cap Haitian, he was sent to a Breda plantation at Haut du Cap to work the fields with the other Allada slaves.
Toussaints Louverture was raised as a privileged slave due to the leadership position that his father Gaou Ginou had on the Breda plantation. He was a small, scrawny and intelligent boy in his childhood. As a teenager he was allowed to pursue higher education through a family friend, Pierre Baptiste, an educated African man who resided nearby. Pierre Baptiste taught the young and ambitious Toussaint Louverture to read and write in French. He also taught him the basics of mathematics, history and economy. Toussaint followed in his father's footsteps and began in leadership positions. Initially in charge of the labor of his fellow African slaves he got promoted to family coachman in charge of transportation and finally as a head steward of the sugar processing plant. Due to his hard work and loyalty he also earned the trust of the heir Marie-Anne de Breda, her son Louis Pantaleon de Noe and the managers the Breda family hired.
Toussaint Louverture at the age of 33 in 1776 purchased his freedom from the Breda family but continued to work at the Breda plantation as a salaried employee. The following year Toussaint married an African woman Suzan Simone Baptiste(1742-1816) and they had 3 sons, from eldest to youngest, Placide Louverture(1781-1841), Isaac Louverture(1786-1854) and Saint-Jean Louverture(1791-1804). Toussaint as a free African man purchased and leased out agricultural plantations and accumulated personal wealth. Most of his plantations were coffee plantations and included the Ennery, Descahaux, Sancey, Beaumont, Neuville and Roufittier plantations. In Toussaint's memoirs he wrote that by the time the Haitian Revolution began in 1791, he was a wealthy business man worth over half a million francs.
Jacques Enguerrand Gourgue(1930-1996) was a versatile Haitian painter whose genius encompassed all of his artwork. His paintings inspire admiration due to the balance and mastery of different artistic movements. His artwork throughout his life evolved as he incorporated different styles, topics, expressions, emotions and social aspects into his work. His art depicts the truthful, enchanting, difficult and at times painful aspects of his life experience and his art reflects on the life of his Haitian compatriots. Gourgue refused to be limited or excluded in the scope of his artistic expression as a Haitian artist.
Jacques Gourgue created wonderful paintings in the following artistic styles. Naive/Primitive art which is characterized by figurative art of popular topics. Realism art which is characterized by representative art of subject matter truthfully; excluding subconscious, supernatural or artificial elements. Surrealism art which is characterized by interpretative art of subconscious dreams, human imagination and distortion of reality. Graphic art which is characterized by linear intense art which is defined by line elements.
The topics of Gourgue's artwork is refreshing, fearless and innovative and exposes his state of mind. His main topics are the reality of the voodoo religion; including religious ceremonies and religious objects, the experience of the Haitian peasant; including the deforested, dusty and barren landscape and poverty of daily life in cottages with less than adequate protection or supplies, the analysis of various still life; including flowers, fruits, religious objects and people, the interpretation of his subconscious thoughts, the exposure of his nightmares and the revelation of his dreams.
Jacques Enguerrand Gourgue was born in October 1930 in Port--Prince Haiti and spent his childhood in a home on Poupelard Avenue. His father was a French psychiatrist and his mother was a housewife and practicing voodoo religion priestess. His elementary school education was obtained at the Jean Marie Gouilloux School. His favorite thing to do in school was to draw and to paint art. He continued his education and received his Middle School and High School education at the Alexandre Petion School. Throughout his education Gourgue continued to grow and excel artistically though he never received a formal art education at an art institute.
In 1946 at the age of 16 Gourgue joined the Center for Arts for art training which was founded by American watercolor artist Dewitt Peters in 1944. Early on he was recognized as an emerging Haitian artist because of his immense talent, energetic vitality and immense creativity. In 1947 at the age of 17 one of his paintings "The Magic Table" which illustrates a livestock head with a flow of tears on top of a table with various voodoo religious objects in a small house inhabited by small demon-like minions was purchased by the New York Museum of Modern Art and is currently in the permanent museum collection. A few years later in 1949 at the age of 19 he won first place in painting in a nationwide contest that was held at a cultural festival celebrating the Bicentennial of the founding of Port-au-Prince.
In 1950 Gourgue participated in the creation of the Art Plastic Foundation whose mission was to train and educate Haitian artists and broaden Haitian cultural influence. The new art training center was created because of the emerging distrust by many evolving Haitian artists of the Center for Arts due to it's political ties to the US Embassy and the promotion of Haitian art as "Primitive and Naive" worldwide. However most Haitian artists were still grateful of the increased worldwide exposure at museums and art galleries provided by the Center for Arts, so though a young artist Gourgue realized the importance of the international exposure and shortly thereafter re-joined the Center for Arts.
In the 1960's Jacques Gourgue continued to intrigue, shock and delight the international art community. He emigrated to Madrid, Spain during this time and started a new life there. He got married, had children and continued to learn and grow as an artist in Europe. While in Spain he spent hours analyzing, inspecting and de-constructing European art masterpieces. He continued to train in different artistic styles and learning from art colleagues. This is called his Spanish Period due to influence of modern European art in his paintings. He did however stay emotionally and physically connected to his home country of Haiti during this period and traveled back to his homeland every year. Gourgue spent over 30 years in Spain during this period until his return back to Haiti in 1992. Unfortunately the talented and innovative Jacues Enguerrand Gourgue became ill and passed away in June 1996.
Written by: Philippe Leveille 8/2016
Bassin Bleu or the Blue Basins is a spectacular series of cascading waterfalls pouring in sequence into three beautiful turquoise blue rock pools in the Southeast region of Haiti, close to the city of Jacmel. The water source for the waterfalls originates from the riverbed of the Jacmel river in the mountains above Bassin Bleu. Bassin Bleu is also an isolated sanctuary as the waterfall and rock pools are hidden and surrounded by the local lush vegetation. The three natural rock pools that the waterfalls spill into are named Bassin Clair, Bassin Bleu and Bassin Palmiste. Basin Bleu is popular tourist attraction as it's intense natural beauty has made it into a Haitian national treasure. Most tourists and local Haitian nationals visiting this attraction call it an experience of a lifetime that will never be forgotten.
According to Haitian Folklore water nymphs and mermaids live in the caves and they come out to swim in the pools and sun-bathe on the rocks when people are not in the area. So unfortunately your chances of having a sighting of water nymphs and mermaids are extremely low. However if you have the opportunity to visit this wonderful site you will see tourists and local Haitian nationals enjoying a swim the cool crystal blue water of the basins, taking stunning photographs, diving into the rock basins and enjoying themselves tremendously.
The three main ways of getting to Bassin Bleu from Jacmel are by off-road vehicle, as along the way the vehicle has to cross over the shallow Jacmel river, by horseback or by a full day of hiking. Local guides assist tourists on the their journey to Bassin Bleu from the nearby town of Grand Fonds. The guides have grown up in the area and have been traveling to Bassin Bleu since childhood. They know the history of the area, the landscape, the best places to swim and the best diving spots. The local guides also carry a short rope as to get to the rock pools you have to climb down a large rock with foot-holds. Many times the guides will showcase their confident diving skills, diving off the mountaintop into the wonderful pools below.
On your journey to Bassin Bleu you will encounter lovely art displayed in the city of Jacmel and Grand Fonds. Also local food and beverages are available at the restaurants and also from street vendors. In an effort to preserve the integrity of Bassin Bleu and to help the local economy, there are restrictions on the daily number of visitors and an entrance fee is collected at Grand Fonds. It is recommended that visitors call ahead to check availability on the date they plan to visit Bassin Bleu.
Written by: Philippe Leveille 5/2016
Encouraged by DeWitt to create art pieces Liautaud started creating art from the steel of flattened oil drums which were readily available in Croix des Bouquets. The empty steel oil drums were dumped in the area along with other industrial waste from companies located in Port-au-Prince. Liautaud became one of the many artists featured in the 1978 ground-breaking Haitian Primitive and Naïve Art Exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum of Art which was the first major exhibit of Haitian art in the United States. He was later featured in the international French art exhibit " Magicians of the world" which focused on native art from around the world. His art work can be found in many museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Liautaud trained many apprentice artists who learned to create beautiful art pieces from him and developed their own style. This was the start of the Haitian metal art movement.
Empty used steel oil drums are no longer readily available, they are now imported to Haiti inside ship cargo containers and are sold to the Haitian metal artists. There may be other sources of flat steel sheets but Haitian artists rely on the used steel oil drums for the beautiful patina it provides to their metal art. On the other hand some artists have started to paint the metal art to provide a colorful alternative of Haitian metal art to art lovers. Haitian metal art is beautiful and durable and can be displayed inside or outside of a home or business.
The Haitian Flag has an emotional and extraordinary origin for everyone who is Haitian. Toussaint Louverture who originally lead the revolutionary war against the French colonists led his war with the French Tricolor flag of vertical blue, white and red bands with the slogan " Live Free or Die". After Toussaint was deceived by the French government and unjustly imprisoned in prison, where he eventually died, the revolutionary war was led by the revolutionary leader Jean Jacques Dessalines. Jean Jacques Dessalines initially led his army with the French tricolor also, however he removed the French rooster and the initials R.F. on the middle white band which stood for Republique de France.
In December 1802 Alexandre Petion, a revolutionary leader, fought in a battle with the French colonists on the Cul-du-Sac plain and lost his tricolor which was seized by the French colonial army. This flag was then presented in the French press as false proof that the Haitian revolutionary army was fighting for liberty for the slaves only and not for freedom from the French. When Petion read the article he had it sent to Dessalines and wrote to him strongly advising the creation of a different flag for the revolutionary army. Dessalines after reading the article and Petion's letter grabbed a French tricolor and ripped out the white band and ordered the red and blue vertical bands be joined to form a new flag. He then ordered all troops of the Haitian revolutionary army to carry this new flag in battle. The removal of the middle white band to create the new Haitian revolutionary flag according to Haitian lore symbolizes the removal of oppression by the French "white" colonists. The combination of the blue band and the red band according to Haitian lore symbolizes the African slaves(Blue band) fighting alongside the Mullato's(Red Band) during the revolutionary war.
Jean Jacques Dessalines had a meeting the following year called the Congress of Archahaie in May 1803 where leaders from the North and South of Haiti assembled. At this meeting they agreed to the establishment of a united command for the revolutionary army led by Dessalines and on the last day May 18, 1803 they agreed on the official establishment of the new flag created by Dessalines for the Haitian revolutionary army with the slogan of Liberty or Death written on it. Catherine Fione, who was a revolutionary hero and Dessalines god-daughter sewed the new flag during this meeting.
The Haitian flag has had changes throughout history but the original symbol of freedom from slavery and oppression will never be lost. In 1805 Dessalines changed the colors to vertical black and red bands after declaring himself emperor of the Empire of Haiti(North), which was later adopted by Emperor Henry Cristophe. However the Republic of Haiti(South) in 1806 re-established the blue and red bands under president Alexandre Petion. Alexandre Petion also changed the flag to a horizontal bands from vertical bands and added the coat of arms of the Republic of Haiti placed on a white square in the middle of the flag. The coat of arms of the Republic of Haiti consists of a palm tree in the middle, surmounted by a red and blue liberty cap. Underneath the palm tree are six flags, two cannons, two ship anchors, a single drum, cannon balls, one axe, long guns and broken chains representing liberation from slavery and oppression. Underneath these items is a banner which reads "L'Union Fait La Force" which translates to "Unity creates Strength". Later during the 19th century between 1849 to 1859 after president Soulouque was proclaimed emperor of Haiti he changed the flag to black and red vertical bands with his own coat of arms. In the 20th century under the dictatorship of Jean Duvalier between 1964 to 1986 he changed the flag to black and red horizontal bands and altered Petion's coat of arms to include black and red flags. The current flag of the Republic of Haiti is now blue and red horizontal bands with Petion's original coat of arms.
Written by: Philippe Leveille 10/2015
The Citadelle is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere built between 1805 to 1820 by Henry Cristophe on top of a 3000 foot tall mountain, Bonnet a L'eveque, in northern Haiti to protect the country from a re-invasion by the French. The fortress was commissioned by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a prominent leader of the Haitian revolution, in 1803 and built by Henry Cristophe a prominent general who later became King of the Kingdom of Haiti. The massive fortress was built by up to 20,0000 workers forced into labor, many of which died during the 15 year process. The fortress covers an area of over 10,000 square meters, the walls are 40 meters high and 4 meters thick. From the base of the mountain to the front portion of the Citadel, travel is achieved by a 7 mile winding trail. The front of the Citadelle resembles the bow of a battleship, and when it is a clear day with clouds floating past, the massive fortress gives the illusion of a stone battleship floating in the air.
The Citadelle is a magnificent fortress that was acknowledged as a World Heritage Site in 1982. Each aspect of the Citadelle demonstrates a built in defensive strategy against invasion. Henry Cristophe's plan if attacked by France was to burn the countryside to eliminate resources for the invading army and to retreat to the Citadelle. The Caribbean biologic environment provided a defensive advantage for the Haitians as most were immune to diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and cholera but not the French. The Citadelle had royal quarters for the King and his family and a store house with food and water for 5000 troops for up to a year. The Citadelle was built inland and was protected from coastal attacks by battleships. The Citadelle was built on top of a 3000 foot tall steep mountain, making it difficult for invading infantry and cavalry to attack it. The top of the mountain provided the Citadelle inhabitants a 50 kilometer 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside. This allowed view of the inland valleys, the nearby bay in Cap-Haitian, the border of the Dominican republic and the Atlantic ocean making it difficult to ambush the Citadelle. The Citadelle was originally fitted with 365 cannons that were purchased or donated from various countries. Each wall in the Citadelle was built to defend against attack. The Citadelle has cyclindral ramparts making it difficult to climb, one side wall of the Citadelle drops off directly into a near vertical mountainside and the front of the Citadelle which resembles a bow of a battleship provides a limited triangular profile to attack. The walls are about 40 meters tall and 4 meters thick making it difficult for an invading army to destroy or climb over. The top of mountain can only be accessed by a narrow trail that is 7 miles long.
Henry Cristophe was convinced the French would attempt a re-invasion but this never occurred and the Citadelle was never used in war. Henry Cristophe ended up committing suicide after suffering a stroke, his mind affected by syphilis and his troops planning to overthrow him by shooting himself with a silver bullet and being buried in the Citadelle. If legend is correct, his troops had reason to overthrow him as he was known to be cruel. There is a legend of Henry Cristophe ordering his troops to stand in line and march off the wall of the Citadelle and drop to their death until ordered to stop marching to prove their loyalty. The Citadelle continues to stand today, having withstood many earthquakes, with about 100 cannons left and numerous piles of cannonballs. It is a testament to the resilience, dedication, intelligence and commitment of the early Haitian revolutionary leaders.
Written by : Philippe Leveille 8/2015
The Haitian Revolution was the first successful slave rebellion that created a free African origin republic. African people were brought to Haiti to work in the agriculture fields as slaves. However when the slaves escaped from their oppressors, the slaves hid in remote mountainous areas and survived by small scale agriculture and hunting. The escaped slaves would then travel back to the plantation to free their family, friends and loved ones. These slaves were called Neg Mawon. Neg currently in Creole means man, however during the Haitian revolution it was a derogatory word used by French colonists to describe African people based on their skin color. Mawon in creole means hiding, missing, marooned and stranded. This was the condition that the escaped slaves found themselves in after having escaped the plantation fields. In 1791 an escaped slave named Boukman formed an army from escaped slaves and started to fight the French colonists. Then this army of escaped slaves led by General Toussaint Louverture and General Jean-Jacques Dessalines fought of the French army sent by Napoleon. After many years of fighting the escaped slave army had a defining victory at the Battle of Vertiers on November 18, 1803. Shortly afterwards Haiti declared its independence on January 1, 1804.
Written by : Philippe Leveille 7/2015