Thanks to a series of videos posted on the online social network Reddit, an obscure martial art with roots in Haiti’s history of slavery and rebellion is gaining new attention from a much wider audience.
Machete fencing emerged around the Caribbean in the colonial period and is rooted in combat practices used by the rebel slaves who rose up against their French oppressors in the Haitian revolution of 1791 to 1804. T.J. Desch-Obi, a scholar on the part-sport, part-art form, said that the tradition has been kept alive by secret societies that requires initiates to learn the practice.
"When I found out that there was an actual martial art using the machete, and that somehow it was wrapped up in the history of the Haitian revolution, I knew I had to go to Haiti to train,” journalist Jason Jeffers, one of the founders of the Haitian Machete Fencing Project, told AP.
The project aims to showcase and preserve the vanishing practice through a number of ways, including an upcoming summer training session and a short, crowd-sourced documentary about an elder machete fencing instructor named Alfred Avril.
"At the moment I am about to fight with the machete, I can see it all unfold in a dream,” said the 70-year-old man whose skills have been honed through decades of practice and mystical visions.
In an AP phone interview from Britain, Michael Rogers, the co-founder of Haitian Machete Fencing Project, expressed his hopes that spotlighting the tradition for visitors will help his aging teacher and preserve machete fencing for generations to come.
"I'm also hoping that other masters in other parts of Haiti will come out and show their stuff,” he said.
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(Photo: David McFadden/AP Photo)