Alfred Avril was a septuagenarian farmer living in the hills of Haiti. Like most farmers, he spent much of his days tending to and harvesting crops; but Avril was a different kind of farmer. When he was finished tilling, watering, and gathering, he would fence – the art of wielding small swords. Unlike the contemporary sport, however, let’s remove the pristine white shoes, gloves, and protective gear, and replace the sword with a machete. Yes…the large knife commonly used for chopping off the top of coconuts and limbs!
Avril was a master of tire (ti-ray) machèt (pulling machetes) – Haitian machete fencing – a Creole martial arts form that marries elements of traditional African stick-fighting with that of classical European fencing. Tire machèt is a cultural tradition that many believe originated during the days of the Haitian revolution, when many slaves used farming tools as weapons to rebel against slave owners.
Third Horizon Media – “a Miami-based Caribbean artist collective and media company dedicated to capturing the sights and sounds of the Caribbean and the so-called third world,” – initially stumbled upon a video from the Haitian Machete Fencing Project and flew to Haiti to train with and film Avril, who taught the art form to members of his family and the community. During this time, they began a Kickstarter campaign to reconstruct Avril’s home and school, which were both destroyed during the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. All of this resulted in a short documentary – Papa Machete – which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January, shortly after Avril’s death. The filmmakers have since established the Alfred Avril Memorial Fund to help his widow and grandchildren.
Papa Machete was most recently screened at the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia.
Take a look at the trailer below.
Photos Courtesy of Papa Machete/Facebook