La Gonâve is a sparsely populated island off Haiti’s Gulf Coast, stretching westward from Port-au-Prince Bay, 40 kilometers from Cabaret or Léogâne. The island coexists with the La Gonâve Arrondissement, one of Haiti’s original arrondissements. But did you know a US Marine Corps sergeant was proclaimed king of the island?
Faustin E. Wirkus, a United States Marine Corps Sergeant stationed in Haiti, was crowned “King of La Gonâve” by the island’s inhabitants in 1926 after saving their Queen from drowning. His reign ended when the USMC returned him to the US mainland in 1929.
Faustin E. Wirkus, the White King of La Gonâve
While on deployment, Marines do some pretty amazing and/or ridiculous things. That much is obvious to anyone who follows Terminal Lance on Instagram. What Marine Warrant Officer Faustin Wirkus did was impressive, but it was really just another day in the life of a US Marine. Marine. Except that this time, the Marine in question was crowned king of the island in a voodoo ceremony, and he ended up with a wife, whether he wanted to or not.
At this point, half of everyone is wondering what happened, and the other half is wondering if voodoo is why the warrant officers in your unit are so rarely seen. That’s why then-Sergeant Wirkus had to stop reporting for duty. Wirkus wasn’t opposed to hard work; after all, he was a United States Marine who grew up breaking coal from slate in Pennsylvania Coal Country.
Wirkus, on the other hand, had an island to rule. He and his fellow Marines arrived in Haiti in 1915. He spent much of his first year in and around Port-au-Prince. Germany had intervened in several Caribbean insurgencies. The Haitians deposed the American-backed dictator, and the Caco Rebels installed an anti-American president. (Source: Caribbean-Beat)
The Reincarnation of a King
So, on 18 July 1926, the white, square-jawed Polish-American marine Faustin Wirkus was crowned as the somewhat unlikely reincarnation of the black emperor, smeared with a chicken’s sacrificial blood. Wirkus recounted the event with zeal, relying on all the stereotypical throbbing drums voodoo clichés, but remained phlegmatically modest.
They made me a sort of king in a ceremony I thought was just a celebration of some kind. I learned later they thought I was the reincarnation of a former king of the island who had taken the name of Faustin I when he came into power. The coincidence was just good luck for me.Faustin E. Wirkus, US Marine Sergeant
Despite the clichés and an undercurrent of racism that was very much of its time, the events were actual, though it has since been suggested that they were a product of journalist William Seabrook’s imagination, whose lurid book The Magic Island published in 1929 popularized the story.
On the other hand, Beth Crumley is adamant about the integrity of Wirkus’ story. She also mentions that the coronation did not sit well with Haitian President Louis Borno, who visited the island in 1928. Soon afterward, Wirkus was transferred back to the mainland, where he remained until 1931.
When he left the Marines later that year, he decided to tell his story, and he wrote The White King of La Gonave with ghostwriter Taney Dudley. It was a huge success, and Wirkus became a popular lecturer. He died in 1945 after a career as a salesman and a brief military stint in 1939. (Source: Caribbean-Beat)
Image from Poles