Redemption Songs

Bradley Pierik

A colleague and I were driving through the Haitian countryside with Enoch, our host and dear friend, after an intense week in the mountain villages. Bob Marley’s voice came through the stereo.

Old pirates, yes they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I from the bottomless pit
But my hand was made strong by the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation triumphantly
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom
Cause all I ever have, redemption songs

For the first time I realized what these words mean. I was kidnapped and sold. But my hand was made strong. All I have are redemption songs, songs of freedom.

Haitians are descendents of slaves. Their country was born when they fought off their captors. And life didn’t get much easier – Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere even before the earthquake and cholera epidemic. Bob Marley is singing about Haitians as much as Jamaicans. And it was my European greatgreat…grandparents who bought and sold Enoch’s African ones. And Marley’s. But he sings redemption songs. Triumphantly! And just yesterday we were repeatedly welcomed in Enoch’s village with “Bon jou famille,” “Hello family.” How can this be?

I told Enoch of when Bob Marley got shot just before a peace rally. Even with his bandmates in hiding he didn’t cancel the concert, saying, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

I don’t know how he can sing of redemption after slavery, and of peace after being shot. And I don’t understand how, with all that we represent as white men, Haitians can welcome us as family. We certainly haven’t earned it. I have a lot to learn about redemption.