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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Scope and Contents
  • Biographical Note
  • Processing Information

  • Language of Material: Multiple languages
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain papers
    creator: Comhaire-Sylvain, Suzanne
    Identifier/Call Number: M1835
    Physical Description: 9 Linear Feet (22 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1898-1975
    Language of Material: French, English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Bantu
    Physical Location: Special Collections and University Archives materials are stored offsite and must be paged 36-48 hours in advance.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for research. Note that material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. Audiovisual materials are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital use copy.

    Conditions Governing Use

    While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.

    Scope and Contents

    The collection contains the research and writing of anthropologist Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain, as well as material from her siblings and husband Jean Comhaire. Her papers include manuscripts with field notes; newpapers ( La Voix des Femmes, Le Temps, L’Universitaire Colonial); published and unpublished articles; photographs of Haiti and her trips to Congo, Nigeria, Mali and other unidentified places; old maps of Haiti, the city of Port-au-Prince, the valley of Marbial, Kenscoff; songs and musical scores; phonograph recordings of voodoo ceremonies; personal and work related correspondence before, during and after World War II; and approx 500 photographs taken during Comhaire-Sylvain's research.
    Also included is material from Jean Comhaire, Georges Sylvain, Pierre Sylvain, and Madeleine Sylvain-Bouchereau.

    Biographical Note

    Suzanne Comhaire-Sylvain was Haiti’s first black female anthropologist. She studied in Kingston and Port-au-Prince before she obtained her Bachelor’s degree and Doctorate in Paris. Besides her interest in Haitian folklore and social issues of the condition of women in Haiti and Africa, her research focused on the origins of Creole language; an idiom considered juvenile and unworthy of study at the time. Although disregarded by her peers, her work sparked the interest of Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, who invited her to London where she became his research assistant while studying at London University and later at the London School of Economics. She also conducted research at the British Museum that resulted in her major work regarding the African roots of Haitian Creole.
    Suzanne traveled the world and conducted field research in Kenscoff and Marbial (Haiti), Kinshasa (Congo), Lomé (Togo) and Nsukka (Nigeria) worked with renowned anthropologists such as Melville Herskovits and Alfred Metraux who entrusted her and her husband Jean Comhaire with a mission of the UNESCO in Haiti. Suzanne also taught at the New School for Social Research in New York and was appointed member of the United Nations trusteeship council for Togo and Cameroon under French administration.
    Suzanne came from a very special family, her uncle Benito Sylvain was one of the founding fathers of the Pan African movement and her father George Sylvain (1866-1925) was an important figure of the resistance against the American occupation in Haiti. Suzanne was the oldest of a family of seven who impacted Haiti in a positive way. Her sister Yvonne Sylvain (1907-1989) was the first female gynecologist and obstetrician of Haiti. Madeleine Sylvain Bouchereau (1905-1970) was one of the founders of the Feminine League for Social Action (Ligue Feminine d’Action Sociale) which fought for women’s legal rights such as education, equality for married women and suffrage) while her brother, the poet Normil Sylvain (1900-1929) was the founder of La Revue Indigène. Finally, her youngest brother Pierre Sylvain (1910-1991) was a botanist who published several reports on coffee production in Ethiopia.
    Tragically, she died from a car accident in Nigeria in June 1975.

    Processing Information

    This collection was processed and listed by Fatoumata Seck and Elizabeth Horn. Regina Roberts, Sara Sussman, and Tim Noakes assisted in overseeing the project.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Music -- Haiti
    Haiti -- Maps
    Tales -- Congo (Democratic Republic)
    Women -- Social conditions.
    Congo (Democratic Republic)
    Comhaire, Jean
    Comhaire-Sylvain, Suzanne