In the song, the woman, Angelique, is told, “If you don’t know how to cook, wash, and iron, you need to go home to your parents.”
In the early 1900’s, if a wife did not fit his standards a Haitian husband had the right to send her back to her parents. Back then, people did not divorce; husbands simply returned wives they no longer wanted or fancied, and this practice was widely accepted.
In my mother’s village in 1954, a man named Neva returned his first wife to her parents after a year of marriage. He claimed, “She was a frumpy dresser” and that she looked like his house cleaner, not a “decent” wife. Two weeks after returning his first wife, Neva remarried a woman named Vévé. He had eighteen children altogether, eight of whom were with Veve.
Shockingly, even to this day many a Haitian woman stays with her husband whether he is “decent” or not; believing her security, welfare and social status are dependent the husband. These beliefs are symptomatic of a deeper issue a Haitian cultural context that unequivocally ascribes greater value to males than females. However, anyone who’s ever spent time living in Haiti will be hard pressed to deny that, ninety percent of the time, it is the wives that serve as the main source of household income – on top of managing the domestic necessities of cooking, cleaning and childcare . Nonetheless, Haitian women do not leave their marriages because misogynistic Haitian culture portrays them as their husbands’ possessions; to be leaned upon, exploited, and ultimately cast aside for newer models.
Parents of returned wives are left to pick up the pieces. The daughter returned by her husband constitutes a literal millstone around the family’s neck – imparting social ridicule and shame on all family members and virtually ensuring that the young woman, now perceived as an ill match for any eligible bachelor, will remain the ward of her parents until the end of their lives or hers. Akin to commercial policies on defective or damaged goods, a Haitian husband can return his wife to her parent without hassle or time limit.