Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance

Monday, January 1, 2001
Beverly Bell

Haiti, long noted for poverty and repression, has a powerful and too-often-overlooked history of resistance. Women in Haiti have played a large role in changing the balance of political and social power, even as they have endured rampant and devastating state-sponsored violence, including torture, rape, abuse, illegal arrest, disappearance, and assassination.

Beverly Bell, an activist and an expert on Haitian social movements, brings together thirty-eight oral histories from a diverse group of Haitian women. The interviewees include, for example, a former prime minister, an illiterate poet, a leading feminist theologian, and a vodou dancer. Defying victim status despite gender- and state-based repression, they tell how Haiti's poor and dispossessed women have fought for their personal and collective survival.

The women's powerfully moving accounts of horror and heroism can best be characterized by the Creole word istwa, which means both "story" and "history." They combine theory with case studies concerning resistance, gender, and alternative models of power. Photographs of the women who have lived through Haiti's recent past accompany their words to further personalize the interviews in Walking on Fire.


"This is painful reading; it shows much suffering but also much remarkable transcendence. Bell's book vocalizes this, but its point is not merely archival. These testimonies are meant to move readers to action."—Publishers Weekly, 12/3/01

"In this moving book on opposing tyranny and degradation, activist Bell . . . gives face to the numbers by providing a forum for indigenous women to speak about their lives. . . . An antidote to cynicism, the book not only introduces American readers to an array of courageous role models but also proves that change is possible."—Library Journal, January 2002

"The women Bell interviews, many of whom are veteran activists in Haiti's grassroots democracy movement, recount stories of being raped, struggling to feed their families, and being subject to political torture. . . . Bell does her best to balance the painful lives of the women she interviews with the recognition that under such conditions, mere daily survival of the body and the spirit takes tremendous resilience. . . . Perhaps one day the small acts of rebellion that Bell celebrates may help to create a movement capable of political transformation, so that the example of Haiti once again frightens the powerful of the world."—Kimberly Phillips-Fein, Voice Literary Supplement, 1/22/02

"Walking on Fire provides powerful, moving witness to the desperate struggle of these women to protest and—more important—survive. The women who speak out in the pages of Beverly Bell's book offer an eloquent portrait of a poverty that is unrelenting in its meanness."—Amy Wilentz. The Women's Review of Books, Vol. XIX, No. 6, March 2002

"Rarely does the voice of Haitian women in Haiti fighting for their rights emerge so clearly to relate their own experiences, battles, and hopes. . . .Despite the harshness of their lives, the honesty and healing potential of the women somehow rises above the unimaginable and lands at the readers' feet."—Macollvie Jean-Francois. The Haitian Times, January 30-February 5, 2002