This exhibit explores how people remember trauma through auditory cues. Our focus is the Haitian earthquake of January 12, 2010. This earthquake is colloquially referred to as goudou goudou, an onomatopoeia for the sound of the earth shaking.
The very mention of the earthquake’s nickname evokes the auditory memory of the experience for survivors, but the sound of the earthquake was different for each survivor. We examined survivors stories and experiences to see what their auditory memories of the trauma contained.
We found three ways of interpreting the sound of the earthquake:
Some survivors used onomatopoeia, or the formation of a word by imitation from an associated sound. This is done when the abstract sound is beyond comparison or best described through recreation.
Others used comparison sounds to make sense of the events. Often, this is done via analogy. “It sounded like…” This was commonly used for abstract sounds in order to make it understandable.
Some survivors focused on one common sound during the experience. Often, this was an everyday noise that was out of place within the context of the earthquake, but many survivors experienced a sort of tunnel-vision for these routine auditory experiences, blocking out all other sounds.
These personal testimonies, along with the sound associated with trauma, are included in the exhibit below.
“He heard a locomotive noise… then decreed it was the sound of all that port au prince was breaking up.”
- Dany Laferrière “The World Is Moving Around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake” (link).
Dany Laferrière was in Haiti during the earthquake, documenting his experience in his memoir. He compared the moving sound of the earthquake to a train or “locomotive”.
“After the earthquake struck, Sebastien recalls, he heard his mother screaming as she ran outside. His sister was taking a shower and had fallen and hit her head. He couldn’t tell what was going on – at first, he thought someone was shooting at the house.”
Sebastian was 14 at the time of the earthquake in Haiti. His family had losses from the earthquake, but overall was more fortunate than others. Sebastian recalls his confusion at the time of the quake, believing the sound he heard was gunshots.
“I think I was under the rubble for about two hours. Buried somewhere in what had been the kitchen, a mobile phone had been left to charge, and now it kept ringing."
- Laura Wagner
Laura Wagner is an American who was in Haiti doing research at the time of the earthquake. She was crushed under rubble from the earthquake, recalling the constant sound of a ringtone playing repeatedly.
“And if you go through the streets, you can just — you can hear....I can hear it right now. It’s just people either singing and praying”
Jesse Hagopian is an American who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. His wife is an HIV educator, and they were in the country on a mission trip. Jesse describes the horror of walking through the streets in the aftermath of the earthquake. He specifically speaks about the constant sounds of praying and singing in Creole.
The sounds in this recording are collected from a video where women and children were singing in tent cities, after being displaced from their homes after the earthquake.
“I could hear her screaming. And I think that meant that the ground below her was getting loose, was suffocating her, because that was happening to me too”, Kloos said. “That was the last time I heard her.”
Erin was a student volunteer working with orphaned children in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Her friend died in the disaster, Erin recalling her countless screams.