Stop. Watch. Listen.

'Revolutions': enthralling podcast unpacks historic uprisings

We highly recommend you start with the gripping 19-episode sub series exploring the Haitian Revolution, the only successful slave rebellion in history

15 April 2018 - 00:00

AT A GLANCE:
WHAT: Revolutions, a historical podcast series that looks at some of history's great insurrections, the sub series on the Haitian revolution in particular.
WHO: Mike Duncan, podcast historian whose previous claim to fame was a detailed run through the entire history of Rome.
WHY LISTEN: For the sheer dramatic bloodiness of it all.
WHERE TO FIND IT: iTunes, wherever else you find your podcasts
FULL REVIEW:
A few years ago there was a series doing the rounds called Spartacus. Over four seasons the hyper-masculine drama detailed the fictionalised life of the famous rebel slave who had a global power quivering in their gladiator sandals.
The first season begins with a Thracian slave who gets captured, given the name Spartacus and eventually tamed. That season ends with a self-explanatory episode called Kill Them All.
The 19-episode unpacking of the Haitian revolution, the only successful slave rebellion in history, would fit perfectly in the "if you liked this [Spartacus] then try ..." section of a website. The only difference is that this story is entirely true.
Kicking off in the late 1700s, the podcast begins by giving us the origins of Haiti: the name is a corruption of the original Taino name of the island Haiti currently shares with the Dominican Republic. It eases the listener into a comprehensive understanding of the myriad seeds that the French colonialists sewed for their expulsion from the island.
From some horrific treatment of the native and slave populations to incoherent policy direction and straight-up arrogance one gets a picture of a French state that seemed eager for a fight but didn't bother training for it.
The next thing you know heroes like Toussaint L'ouverture are routing French forces, plantations are razed and the sneaky British are trying to take advantage of the fact that all hell is on the rampage in their rival auxiliary garden.More interesting, however, is that the story is complicated. It's not just a straightforward earnest slave versus evil master troupe. A number of the major heroes on the side of the Haitians who were black or mulatto* were slave owners who came into the tussle essentially advocating for slavery-lite, while some French participants were radical members of the abolitionist camp.
As white supremacy on the island gets threatened, however, the conflict settles into a pitched black supremacy vs white supremacy battle and, spoiler alert, the blacks win.
In a deliciously dramatic shift from the often conciliatory manner in which black leaders emerge from these conflicts, the leaders of the Haitian Revolution decide to "Kill Them All".
We can grandstand about who was right and wrong and whether it worked or not until our Twitter fingers turn blue - but the fact is that this rendition of the Haitian Revolution is enthralling and probably deserves a television remake.
*Mulatto is an umbrella term for Haitians of mixed descent with one's proximity to whiteness incurring further classifications. For example, a quadroon was a person who was one quarter black.

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