LANGUAGE: Haitian Creole; French
RELIGION: Vodou; Roman Catholicism; Protestantism
To a large extent, Haitian history has been shaped by foreign powers: first Spain, then France, and finally the United States. A rich, lush land with a strategic location, Haiti has often been viewed as a valuable piece of real estate.
When Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola on 6 December 1492, he was greeted by the Taino/Arawak Indians. However, the Spanish conquerors exploited the indigenous population, and by 1550 the Taino/Arawak population had been almost entirely wiped out in violent uprisings or from inhumane forced labor and exposure to imported European diseases. In their quest for gold and other mineral riches, the Spanish resorted to bringing West Africans by force to the New World to work as slaves. The Spanish stayed on the island because it was strategically important as the gateway to the Caribbean, from where many riches were shipped to Europe.
Tortuga Island, off the northwest coast of Hispaniola, was the first French foothold. Reportedly expelled by the Spanish from the nearby island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts), the first French residents of Tortuga, joined by runaway slaves from Hispaniola, survived by curing meats, tanning hides, and pirating Spanish ships. They became known as buccaneers, from the Arawak word for smoking meats.
After a French settlement was commissioned on Tortuga in 1659, settlers started encroaching on the northwest part of Hispaniola. In 1670, the French made Cap Fran ais (present-day Cap-Haïtien) their first major settlement on Hispaniola, taking advantage of its distance from the Spanish capital of Santo Domingo. The western part of the island was commonly referred to as Saint-Domingue, which became its official name after Spain relinquished the area to France in 1697 following the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick. Relying on slavery, the French turned Saint-Domingue into one of its richest colonies. Coffee, sugar, cotton, and indigo from Haiti accounted for approximately 67% of France's commercial interests abroad and about 40% of its foreign trade. Because of the high death rate among male slaves, France continually brought new slaves from Africa; the number of enslaved Africans shipped to Haiti by the French totaled over 500,000.
In the mid-1700s, the number of runaway slaves, known as maroons, grew. From the safety of the mountains and forests, guerrilla bands of maroons attacked the French colonists. The colonial authorities, often with what was probably the forced help of the mulattos (a Spanish term for persons of mixed African-European heritage), were able to repel the attacks. However, when the Colonial Assembly refused to give mulattos the right to vote, even though they owned land and paid taxes, the mulattos also began to revolt.
But it was the slave rebellion of 1791 that set the colony on the path to independence. The mulattos fought against the French colonists who supported the monarchy, but not against those of the new French Republic, who wanted to give mulattos the right to vote. The slave forces were also split; some fought against the colonists, while others fought both the colonists and the mulattos. Competing for power over the area, Spain and Britain intervened and by 1794 they had almost gained control when tropical disease began to take its toll on their troops. Toussaint L'Ouverture, who had been one of the leaders of the slave rebellion in 1791, then made a crucial decision: he pledged his support to France. Although promising freedom, Spain had shown no signs of moving in that direction, while Britain had actually reinstituted slavery in areas under its control. The French Republicans seemed the best choice for freedom. Thus in 1796, when L'Ouverture rescued the French commander from mulattos seeking to depose him, L'Ouverture was rewarded by being named Lieutenant Governor of Saint-Domingue.
By 1800 L'Ouverture was in command of all Hispaniola. He abolished slavery, but in order to ensure stability and economic survival, he reinstated the plantation system, using enforced contract labor, and became a military dictator. However, he had never formally declared independence from France. In 1802 Napoleon sent forces to depose L'Ouverture, and again the French attempted to use the mulattos to attain victory. Forced into surrender, L'Ouverture was assured by the French that he could retire quietly. But a short time later he was arrested and exiled to France, where he died in prison. After this deception, the remaining Haitian forces rallied against the French. The French military was fighting the British in Europe as well as the Haitians, and in 1803 Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States to help finance his campaigns. On 1 January 1804, Haiti declared independence, becoming the second independent nation (after the United States) in the Americas and the first free black republic in the world.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a former slave who had commanded the black and mulatto forces at the close of the revolution, became the leader of the new nation. Knowing only military organization, he used the military to govern, beginning what became an established tradition of military rule. The newly independent Haiti was not formally recognized by the European powers. The United States, itself a slaveholding power, withheld recognition until 1862, after the slaveholding south had seceded from the Union, sending Frederick Douglass as its consul to Haiti. In 1838, Haiti received its long-awaited recognition from France, after final payment of its "independence debt" (begun in 1825) totaling 150 million French francs, its entire annual budget at the time. After the revolution, the collaboration of blacks and mulattos, which had won Haiti independence, turned to conflict. The black generals of the slave armies were also now competing for power and wealth. Thus, the early regimes of Haiti, whether led by mulattos or blacks, were dictatorial, keeping access to education, wealth, and power to themselves.
From its beginning as an independent nation, Haiti developed two distinct societies. The minority elite lived in towns and controlled the government, military, and trade; they imitated a European lifestyle, using the French language for government, commercial affairs, and education. The peasants, however, lived in the peyi andeyo, or "the country outside." The majority peasant population remained outside the formal political, educational, and economic structure.
In 1915, Haitian political instability, American trade and investments, growing U.S. concern over German interests and influence in Haiti, and Haiti's strategic importance to the United States led to a U.S. invasion and occupation that would last almost 20 years. U.S. intervention in smaller, neighboring nations (such as Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, and Nicaragua) to protect U.S. interests and promote regional stability was quite common during that period. Under the American occupation, Haitian figureheads were installed, but the United States had veto power over all government decisions, and the Marine Corps served as administrators in the provinces. The United States declared martial law, rewrote the Haitian constitution, took control of Haiti's finances, and passed legislation permitting foreigners to own land in Haiti for the first time since 1804. It also established the Haitian National Guard (Garde d'Haiti) as Haiti's first professional military force, which would later be used to create a repressive military regime. The occupation imposed stability and order. Infrastructure and health conditions improved; roads, schools, and hospitals were built using forced corvée labor. Guerrilla bands, led by Charlemagne Peralte, reacted against the occupation. Peralte was captured and assassinated by the U.S. Marines in 1919. When the United States withdrew from Haiti in 1934, the level of poverty and illiteracy remained unchanged. The United States left behind a legacy of anti-American feeling and a well-trained national military force. In the absence of any effective political or social institutions, the military remained the only cohesive institution in the country, apart from the Roman Catholic Church.
After a particularly chaotic period, during which attempts at democracy were made but ultimately failed, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a doctor who had served as a rural administrator, was elected president in 1957 in military dominated elections. Perceived as an honest and humanitarian public-health expert, as well as a proponent of black power, Duvalier initially enjoyed the support of both the Haitian army and the United States. However, Duvalier soon set out to build a family dictatorship by changing the constitution to solidify his power. Knowing that an independent military was a threat to his presidency, he created the elite Presidential Guard. To maintain power outside the capital, he created a rural militia, commonly known as the tonton makout, whose mysterious and brutal tactics terrified the population. Using corruption and intimidation, he created a new elite of his own; in 1964, Duvalier declared himself President-for-Life. Duvalier's regime was marked by terror, corruption, and extremes of wealth and poverty. During the 1960s, U.S. aid and support for Duvalier continued because of the regime's anticommunist stand and Haiti's strategic location near communist-led Cuba.
Naming his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude, as his successor, "Papa Doc" died in 1971. Although "Baby Doc" was not as brutal as his father nor as politically astute, he continued policies of arbitrary imprisonment and torture of perceived opponents. Corruption and poverty also continued, as did U.S. aid and support, much of which was siphoned off to Duvalier and his cronies. But it was opposition from young Haitians, as well as priests and nuns angered by the poverty and suffering, which eventually led to Duvalier's downfall. In 1983 Pope John Paul II visited the country and, appalled at the conditions there, declared that, "Things must change here." Under the institutional umbrella of the Catholic Church and galvanized by declarations in support of human rights by the Haitian Bishop's Conference, radio stations around the country broadcast uncensored news to the population, especially the sermons and speeches of a young Salesian priest in the slums of Port-au-Prince named Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Encouraged by a grass-roots church movement (Ti Kominite Legliz or TKL), antigovernment protests swept through Haiti in 1985. Alarmed as people took to the streets, the United States withdrew its aid and support and arranged for Duvalier to step down. After hastily naming a National Council of Government made up of former military supporters, Jean-Claude fled in 1986 to exile in France.
Conditions for the masses did not improve. On election day in November 1987, scores of Haitians were killed at polling stations by soldiers and former tonton makout around the country. But the opposition movement could not be quashed and during a string of revolving dictatorships the voice of Father Aristide continued to echo the frustrations of the population. Aristide preached about the need for a lavalas, a flood to cleanse the country of corruption and make it clean and new. In 1990 at the urging of friends and supporters, Aristide declared himself a candidate for president to counter the political machinations of the neo-Duvalierist sector. In the country's first free and democratic elections, on 16 December 1990, he was elected president with 67.5% of the popular vote. But the underlying structure of the society and its long tradition of violence, control, and retribution had not changed. There continued to be strong and sometimes violent opposition to Aristide and his followers by those allied to the ancien régime. Aristide pledged to clean up the corrupt and repressive apparatus of the past. Under a unique six-month mandate granted him under the 1987 constitution, allowing him full power to carry out any reforms deemed necessary, Aristide retired eight members of the high command of the Forces Armées d'Haïti (FAdH) and removed corrupt members of the judiciary. The military and the wealthy, however, continued to wield power, and in September 1991 the army staged a coup d'état, forcing Aristide into exile.
After Aristide's departure, some 50,000 Haitians fled the island nation by sea, only to be forcibly returned to the country and later to refugee camps at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba by the U.S. Coast Guard. The repression unleashed by the military and their paramilitary allies known as attachés resulted in the deaths of some 4,000 citizens and the internal migration of over 300,000 people between urban and rural milieux. In 1993 General Raoul Cédras had agreed to step down in preparation for Aristide's return, under an agreement established at Governors Island, New York, but this was not honored. The United States, in concert with other countries, then applied pressure in the form of a trade embargo mandated by the United Nations, in order to pressure the coup regime to relinquish power. In 1994, after threats of a U.S. invasion, a U.S. negotiating team persuaded the military leadership to step aside so that the democratically elected Aristide could return to his rightful position. To ensure stability, UN troops led by the United States were sent to Haiti as a peace-keeping force. The military leaders went into exile, and on 15 October 1994, Aristide returned to power to begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding Haiti. In the 1995 legislative and municipal elections, the Lavalas movement overwhelmingly won the majority in Parliament and mayorships across the country. Presidential elections were held in December 1995, and former Prime Minister René G. Préval of the Lavalas coalition won resoundingly. The first peaceful transfer of power between two civilian presidents took place on 7 February 1996. Jacques-Edouard Alexis was named prime minister in May of that year.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of Haiti's political upheaval. Unable to organize elections in 1998, President Préval dismissed all members of the government whose terms had expired (which was all but nine Senate members) and replaced them with local officials. Préval and Alexis filled the Cabinet with Lavalas party loyalists, and Lavalas swept the first round of elections in August 2000. Angered at what they viewed as election fraud, opposition parties joined together to form the Democratic Convergence and boycotted the second-round elections in November, giving Aristide an easy win to become president again in 2001. Tensions between the Lava-las and Convergence parties continued to escalate, leading to outbreaks of violence. Despite efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS) to help stabilize the situation, things continued to deteriorate throughout 2001–2004 until Aristide finally resigned as president and removed himself to Africa.
With the help of the Organization of the American States (OAS) and the UN, Haiti established an interim government and then held free and fair elections in February 2006. Préval was elected to serve as president again and chose Alexis to once again serve as his prime minister. The UN Stability Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), established in 2004, remains in the country to assist in peacekeeping and continued democratic freedom.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The name "Haiti" comes from the Taino/Arawak word ayiti or hayti, which means "mountainous" or "high land." The Haitian homeland is the Republic of Haiti, which occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola (known in Spanish as La Isla Espa–ola) in the Caribbean Sea. Hispaniola is located approximately 1,100 km (700 mi) southeast of Florida, between the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. The Republic of Haiti has an area of 27,750 sq km (10,714 sq mi) including the islands of La Tortue, La Gonâve, Les Cayemites, La Navase, La Grande Caye, and Ile de Vâche. Haiti's total size makes it slightly larger in area than the U.S. state of Maryland. The coastline is irregular, and there are two mountain ranges that stretch across the southern peninsula and one that runs along the northern peninsula. Mountains cover fully two-thirds of the interior, and the fertile plains that lie between them are used for agriculture.
Haiti's climate is generally tropical, both hot and humid. There are two rainy seasons: April through June, and August through mid-November. Annual rainfall averages 140–200 cm (56–80 in), with very uneven distribution. Rainfall is heaviest in the southern peninsula and parts of the northern mountains, while the western coast is relatively dry. Temperatures in the summer vary from 29–35°c (85–95°f) in the coastal lowlands to 18–21°c (65–70°f) in the interior highlands.
Haiti was once covered with virgin forests, but much of the natural vegetation has been destroyed by agriculture, grazing, and the exploitation of timber. Indeed, Haiti is in an alarming state of environmental devastation due to deforestation and soil erosion. Only a fraction of the land is arable, and what is left of the forests is rapidly disappearing due to clearing of land for agriculture and burning wood for fuel. Haiti is in the process of becoming a desert. Viewed from the air, the state of Haiti's environment presents a harsh contrast to the Dominican Republic.
For the moment, however, pines, ferns, orchids, and other tropical trees and flowers can still be found. But the deterioration of natural vegetation has affected wildlife, which has lost its habitat. Once-common wild boars, guinea fowls, and wild ducks are now scarce, though caimans, flamingos, egrets, and small tropical birds can still be seen.
The population of Haiti was estimated at 8.9 million in 2008. Over two-thirds of the Haitians in the Republic of Haiti live in rural areas. Port-au-Prince, the capital, has a population of well over 1 million people, more than ten times the population of Cap-Haïtien, the second major city. Other major towns are Gonaïves, Les Cayes, and Jacmel. Almost all Haitians are descendants of the 500,000 enslaved West Africans who won their freedom from France in 1804. Haiti became the first modern independent republic where ethnic Africans made up the majority, which accounts for about 95% of today's population. About 5% have a mixed African-European heritage (traditionally the ruling class) or a solely European ancestry (mostly British and French). An even smaller minority have a Middle Eastern, North American, or Latin American ancestry.
About one in eight Haitians lives abroad, most of them in the United States. There are over 500,000 Haitians living in the United States, with the majority residing in either Florida or New York. The Haitian communities in the United States, particularly in South Florida, Boston, and the New York metropolitan area, have successfully established themselves as socially, economically, and culturally vibrant communities. Miami's Little Haiti is now an established community that has become a transitional place where recent arrivals and poorer Haitians settle temporarily until they become economically self-sufficient.
The two main languages of Haiti are Haitian Creole and French. Traditionally, the two languages served different functions, with Haitian Creole the informal everyday language of all the people, regardless of social class, and French the language of formal situations: schools, newspapers, the law and the courts, and official documents and decrees. All Haitians speak Haitian Creole, and about 80% of the population speaks Haitian Creole only. Since the vast majority of Haitians only speak Haitian Creole, there have been efforts to increase its usage. In 1979, a law was passed that permitted Haitian Creole to be the language of instruction, and the Constitution of 1983 gave Haitian Creole the status of a national language. However, it was only in 1987 that the Constitution granted official status to Haitian Creole. An official orthography was only developed in 1986, since Creole reflects Haiti's dominant oral culture. Only about 20% of the population speaks French, and only about 10% of the population can be considered bilingual in French and Haitian Creole. Fluency in French carries a high status in Haiti. Those who cannot read, write, and speak French often have limited opportunities in business and government. Creole-speaking Haitians argue that the powerful French-speaking minority uses French language requirements just to maintain its authority. Most Haitians who have lived in the United States also speak English.
The Haitian Creole language evolved from a mixture of African dialect, indigenous Taino/Arawak, the Norman French of pirates, and colonial French. Haitian Creole grammar (or syntax) has strong characteristics of African languages, while its vocabulary is mostly of French origin, with contributions from Spanish, African languages, and, much later, English. Contemporary Haitian Creole incorporates words of diverse linguistic origins, including: Caribbean, with kannari (earthen jar) and sanba (poet, musician); African, with houngan (Vodou priest) and zonbi (ghost); Spanish, with ablado (talker) and sapat (sandal); and English, with bokit (bucket). As for the words derived from French, it is important to note that they have been modified in pronunciation or meaning. As an example, the following are borrowed French words with their corresponding meanings in Haitian Creole: kriye (to scream or shout), to weep; bonbon (candy), sweets; boutik (small, exclusive store), a family-operated store; kabare (nightclub), cafeteria tray. There are also some Haitian Creole words that have retained the 18th century French pronunciation.
The Haitian Creole language is called Kreyòl by native speakers. Some scholars have begun using the term Ayisyen (Haitian) as a symbol of national identity and to distinguish it from the generic term "creole," which refers to a number of languages. A creole language is a natural language that arises when peoples with different languages live and work among each other, similar to a pidgin language. Pidgin utilizes a simplified base language for the purposes of trade, with generous contributions from other languages, used to fulfill special, but temporary, communication needs. Pidgins have been used by sailors, traders, and pirates. They are native to no one; in other words, no one speaks a pidgin as a first language. Since a pidgin is used only as a necessity, it is restricted in form and usage. However, when a pidgin becomes the native language of an individual (and subsequently, many individuals who form a speech community), a creole language is born. A creole language is not just a simplified form of a given language, but a full-fledged language that is capable of serving all the intellectual, psychological, and social needs of its speakers. Some examples of Haitian Creole proverbs are:
Yon sel dwèt pa manje kalalou. (You cannot eat okra with one finger—we must all cooperate.)
Chay sòti sout tet, tonbe sou zepol. (The load goes from the head to the shoulder—Problems go from bad to worse.)
Gras a diri, ti wòch goute gres. (Thanks to the rice, the pebble tastes of grease—good things rub off.)
Bon kòk chante nan tout poulaye. (A good rooster sings to all his chickens—a good person is sought after by everyone.)
Haitian culture reflects a profound reverence for one's ancestors, a phenomenon that informs a particular cohesiveness within nuclear families and which extends to the larger family or race. Respect for the ancestors (zansèt yo) is reflected in the official observance of January 2 as Heroes or Ancestors' Day, a national holiday one day after the celebration of Independence Day (January 1).
Folk tales are popular in Haiti. Stories are introduced by an invitation to hear a story. The person wishing to tell the story shouts out: "Krik!" If people want to hear the tale, and they nearly always do, they answer in chorus: "Krak!" The most popular folk tales concern the smart but mischievous Ti Malis and his very slow-witted friend Bouki, who may also be found in the folklore of certain regions in West Africa. Here is one example:
Ti Malise paid Bouki a visit one day. To his amazement, when he got to Bouki's lakou (yard), there was Bouki playing dominoes with his dog! "What a brilliant dog you have!" exclaimed Ti Malis. "He can play dominoes." "Ha!" said Bouki, "he's not as smart as you think. I've just won three out of five games!"
Perhaps the most popular form of humor and amusement are riddles. There is a definite form for the riddles. The person "throwing" the riddle or tire pwen says: "Tim-tim," and those who want to hear it reply: "Bwa sèch." Then the riddle is given. If they get it, they announce it. If they give up, they say "Bwa sèch," which means they eat dry wood, the penalty for not getting the riddle. The riddles themselves are very difficult. They require a transition from the literal problem to quite fanciful and figurative answers. Here are several popular riddles:
- They serve it food, it stands on four feet, but it cannot eat.
- I enter white, I come out mulatto.
- Three very large men are standing under a single little umbrella, but not one of them gets wet. Why?
- When I sit, I am taller than when I stand.
- How many coconuts can you put into an empty sack?
- A table.
- It is not raining.
- A dog.
- Only one. After that the sack is not empty.
Religion is an integral part of Haitian life and culture. Vodou (a mixture of African animism and Christianity, also known as Voodoo) and Roman Catholicism are the two main religions. The majority of Haitians are Roman Catholic, although efforts by Protestant missionaries have increased the number of Protestants in Haiti in the past decade from about 15% to almost 30%. Because Vodou is nonexclusive, many Catholics also practice Vodou. Most Protestants do not, however. All three religious sectors are organized at the national level and are officially recognized. The Haitian government does not impose any restrictions on missionary activities, religious instruction, or religious publishing.
Popular misconceptions about Vodou have created negative stereotypes concerning its practices and its adherents. Depicted in books and movies as a cult of sorcerers who practice "black magic," Vodou is in fact a religion based on ancestral spirits, tribal deities, and universal archetypes such as the goddess of the sea, all of whom generally help and protect. Although lacking a fixed theology and an organized hierarchy, this religion has its own rituals, ceremonies, and altars that practitioners do not find to be at odds with Roman Catholicism. Vodou keeps alive old African beliefs while borrowing freely from Christianity. In fact, many Roman Catholic symbols and prayers have blended with Vodou rituals and traditions to make for a unique syncretic and typically Haitian religion. For example, pictures of Catholic saints are painted on the walls of temples to represent the Vodou spirits; at funerals, it is not uncommon for Vodou ceremonies and rituals to be performed for family members first, followed by a more public traditional Roman Catholic ceremony presided over by a priest.
Vodou is derived from a synthesis of African religious beliefs. The word Vodou comes from the Fon language of Benin (formerly Dahomey) in West Africa and means "spirit." When Africans of various tribes were brought to Haiti as slaves, they brought with them their beliefs in spirits who acted as intermediaries with a single God Almighty; some of these spirits were ancestors of the living, while others represented human emotions and forces of nature. In time, a system of beliefs and spirits unique to the slaves of Haiti was formed. These spirits, or lwa, are inherited or bought by families and can be called upon for help; they can be paid to bring good fortune, to protect, or to attack enemies. Payment is usually in the form of food, drink, or other gifts offered during rituals. Vodouists attribute the good as well as the bad to the spirits. The Roman Catholic clergy, although opposed to Vodou, have a more benign view of it than do Protestants.
Commemorative Haitian holidays include Independence Day (January 1) and the Anniversary of Jean-Jacques Dessaline's Death (October 17). Dessalines was a former slave who led the slave armies to victory in 1803 and became the leader of Haiti after the revolution. The Anniversary of the Battle of Vertières is on November 18, which pays homage to the final battle fought in 1803 during the struggle for independence. The landing of Columbus on Hispaniola in 1492 is commemorated on December 5. Other holidays include Ancestors' Day (January 2), Carnival (all three days before Ash Wednesday), Pan American Day (April 14), Labor Day (May 1), Flag Day (May 18), and New Year's Eve (December 31).
Haitians observe many traditional Roman Catholic holidays, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday (movable, usually in late March or early April), Feast of the Assumption (August 15), All Saints Day (November 1), All Souls Day (November 2), Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas Eve (December 24), and Christmas Day (December 25).
RITES OF PASSAGE
Major life transitions, such as birth, marriage, and death, are marked by religious ceremonies, often including both Voudou and Christian rites.
Many Haitian values are traditional and conservative. Haitians value community cooperation and usually have close extended-family ties. Many are religious and have a strong work ethic as well as a deep respect for authority and societal laws. Education is particularly important, since it is a means of social mobility.
Haiti's unusual history has created a unique culture that is different from the Spanish Caribbean cultures and is dualistic in nature: European vs. African, French vs. Creole, mulatto elites vs. the black masses, urban vs. rural, Christianity vs. Vodou, etc. For Haitians, the color of one's skin, the languages one uses, and the work that one does are all connected and have always been important aspects of interpersonal relations.
Manners are also important in Haitian society. Greetings are exchanged whenever boarding public transportation, walking into a doctor's office, entering a store, etc. When greeting friends, men generally shake hands, women will exchange two kisses, as will men with female friends. Children are taught early on to respect their elders and to greet formally visitors to their home.
It is not unusual for men to refer to each other by their last name, and many individuals are referred to by nicknames. For example, the firstborn male in a family is often given the nickname Fanfan. A woman named Dominique may be called Dodo by her friends and family.
The poverty in Haiti is reflected in the health statistics of its population. The infant mortality rate is the highest in the Americas, with one in eight children dying before the age of five. Average life expectancy is about 52–57 years. Some 80% of the population live below the poverty level and with over 50% living in abject poverty. Unemployment and underemployment are rampant—an estimated two-thirds of the workforce do not have formal jobs.
The population is afflicted by a number of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, parasitic infections, and malaria, since a majority of the people live in malarial areas. Poor sanitation contributes to these illnesses: less than half the population has access to clean water, and only 4% of the rural population has electricity. In 1982, the U.S. Center for Disease Control mistakenly classified Haitians as a high-risk group for AIDS, in part because early studies wrongly suggested that the disease originated in Haiti. Although the high-risk classification was finally dropped in 1991, AIDS is a problem in Haiti, responsible for at least 24,000 deaths and infecting another 280,000 (over 5% of adults).
Another factor contributing to poor health conditions is the lack of medical services. Political repression caused many doctors to emigrate, and the few remaining ones tended to locate in the capital, where they catered to those who could afford their services, although this pattern has also changed in recent years. Currently there about 2.5 doctors per 10,000 people in Haiti. Religious and social service agencies have established clinics, but the number of people who require services cannot be accommodated. Rural areas are especially lacking in health services because of poor infrastructure. Given the lack of modern, professional health services, it is not surprising that many of the people rely on traditional herbal remedies and religious healers to diagnose and treat illnesses.
Haitians place great importance on family life. In rural areas, the extended family has traditionally been the social unit. However, deteriorating economic conditions, which brought many peasants to the cities in search of work, have caused a shift in society: the nuclear family has replaced the extended family in certain urban areas. But family ties remain close, and family members tend to be supportive of one another; inter-generational conflicts are rare but increasing because of urbanization and efforts to identify with the world at large.
Men and women play complementary roles in Haitian families, generally sharing household and financial responsibilities. Women assist in farmwork, performing such tasks as weeding and harvesting. At home, women are generally responsible for child care and the daily household tasks, while men do heavy chores, such as gathering firewood.
The most common form of marriage among poorer Haitians is known as plasaj, a kind of common-law marriage. Although the Haitian government does not recognize plasaj as legitimate, this relationship is considered normal and proper among the poor. Although wealthy Haitians may openly disapprove of the practice, many affluent Haitian men have children by mistresses and provide financial support for their second "family." A man or woman may have a number of plasaj relationships in a lifetime. Children born from one plasaj relationship regard offspring from another plasaj as brothers and sisters and often live in the same household without conflict. If parents separate, a child may take either the father's or mother's last name.
Haitians value both their family reputation and their children, and they take pains to ensure that all children receive equal inheritances. Children are considered a gift from God and are treated accordingly. Children also provide security in old age.
The Haitian mode of dress tends to be informal, conservative, and well-groomed. Comfortable, lightweight Western-style clothes are typically worn, made especially of cotton and linen fabrics. School children all wear uniforms. Men often wear a loose-fitting shirt called a guayabera, similar to those of other countries in the region and Latin America. While the wearing of pants by women is no longer inappropriate, most women, especially in rural areas, continue to wear skirts or dresses.
Traditional clothing tends toward a hand- embroidered denim shirt for men, in cotton, linen, or denim; and for women, an embroidered short-sleeved blouse, a colorful skirt, and a scarf wrapping the hair.
To supplement food and grain imports, Haitians grow corn, rice, beans, bananas, mangoes, avocados, and various other tropical fruits and vegetables. A typical meal will generally include one or two varieties of rice, usually prepared with either red or black beans. It will almost always feature plantain, which can be prepared in a number of ways, usually parboiled then cut into slices that are pressed flat and deep- fried. Chicken is very common for those who can afford it; this, too, is generally deep-fried. Other typical meats include goat, beef, and pork. The latter is often fried and barbecued (grio) and is very popular. Seafoods are especially favored including barbecued lobster, shrimp, and many varieties of fish.
Vegetable dishes include green beans, potatoes, squash, okra, cabbage, eggplant, and salads with generous slices of avocado. Most Haitians prefer a spicy sauce, resembling American cole slaw, which is fiery hot. Only a dash of piklès is needed to enhance a dish. Desserts include cake or tarts, often with pineapple garnish.
Haiti's first schools were established shortly after the Constitution of 1805, which mandated free and compulsory primary education. While education has been promoted in principle, a comprehensive and accessible school system never developed. Today, the majority of Haitians receive no formal education, and only a small minority are educated beyond primary school.
In 1978 primary schools, both urban and rural, were merged under the auspices of the National Department of Education (DEN). The education system was then restructured: 10 years of basic education, consisting of three cycles (4-3-3 years), are followed by 3 years of secondary education. Curriculum and materials were also changed. One major change was the use of Haitian Creole as the language of instruction in the first four grades. Other instructional innovations were grouping children by ability and an emphasis on discovery learning rather than on memorization. By 1981, primary school enrollment in urban areas had more than doubled from 1970 figures. School nutrition programs and support from private development agencies contributed to the increased enrollment, but rural enrollments continued to be low. Moreover, dropout rates remained high: 50% in urban areas, and as high as 80% in rural areas. Despite the reforms, obtaining an education in Haiti remains an elusive goal for most. Though education is highly valued, the majority of Haitians do not have access to it. Even though education is technically free in Haiti, it remains beyond the means of most Haitians, who cannot afford the supplemental fees, school supplies, and uniforms required.
The Haitian curriculum requires learning many subjects in detail. Rote learning and memorization are still the norm. Grading and testing are very strict and formal in Haiti; it is much more difficult to attain a grade of B (or its equivalent) in Haiti than it is in the United States. Therefore, Haitian students tend to attach great importance to grades and tests, even quizzes. In Haiti the teacher addresses all students by their last names and has total authority over the class. A student speaks only when asked a question. As a sign of respect, Haitian students do not look their teachers in the eye, but keep their heads down in deference. There are no parent-teacher organizations in Haiti and parents are not routinely asked or encouraged to participate in school matters and decisions. In Haiti, if a parent is called to school, it generally means that the child has committed a great transgression.
Despite recent developments, major obstacles remain in helping the masses in Haiti achieve literacy, which stands at just over 50%. To that end, a literacy program was given ministerial status in 1995 in order to develop a nationwide institution to further the teaching of Haitian Creole. Although many sectors of the population do not see the value of becoming literate in Haitian Creole, this attitude is changing as Haitian Creole's usage in the media, in government, and in literature has increased. Even so, among the poor, who tend to view education as a means of escaping poverty rather than as a means for learning, French continues to be prized. While the reforms had sought to make Haitian Creole the language of all primary grades, the government was forced under pressure to limit its use to the first four grades only. Instruction in the secondary level remains almost exclusively in French.
Haiti's uniqueness is reflected in the originality of its paintings, music, and literature. Artists and musicians, drawing from the rich folk life and vitality of the people, have created internationally recognized works and sounds. Haitian paintings have long been recognized around the world; works by better-known Haitian artists have been exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States and France. Handicrafts such as woodcarvings and tapestries employ a similar style. Haitian music, like Haiti itself, is an original blend, containing elements of African drum rhythms and European dance music.
Haitian kompa and more recent rasin (Vodou-influenced) musical styles are among the most popular genres in Haiti today. Every year Haitian bands compete for the best song during the Carnival season, and recent entries reflect other influences of the Caribbean region through the utilization of reggae, dance hall, and rap styles.
Haiti has also produced writers, poets, and essayists of international standing. Attempts to write Haitian Creole date back to the 18th century, but because of its low status in Haiti, until recently there was little interest in writing in anything but French. Haitian literature has been written almost exclusively in French; however, with the recognition of Creole as an official language, novels, poems, and plays are being written increasingly in Creole. In 1975, the first novel to be written entirely in Haitian Creole was published—Dezafi by Franketienne poetically depicts Haitian life.
Although in decline since the 1950s, about 66% of the labor force in Haiti still works in agriculture. Deforestation, land erosion, and a declining economy have prompted many farm workers to migrate to the cities or abroad. The main cash crops are coffee and sugarcane. A large number of Haitians work in the Dominican Republic as braceros, under grueling conditions. Bracero is a Spanish term for a migrant farm worker, someone temporarily hired, usually for a harvest. In the Dominican Republic, Haitian braceros are used to harvest sug-arcane, which is still cut by hand with a machete. Although secretly crossing the border is officially illegal, the Haitian government does not strictly enforce the immigration law.
Soccer is the national sport. During the quadrennial World Cup competition, virtually the entire country roots for the national team of Brazil. In rural areas cockfighting is also popular, but only as an informal sport on the weekends. For men, a typical social game is dominoes or cards. For the more affluent, tennis is becoming an increasingly popular sport.
Children may often be seen playing hide-and-seek, hop-scotch (marelle), round dances, and marbles. Organized sports in school or local leagues include basketball for girls and soccer for boys.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
The expressiveness of the Haitian people is evident in their rich oral tradition, which includes storytelling, proverbs, riddles, songs, and games. Storytelling in Haiti is a performance art. The storyteller uses a different voice for each character in the story and may sing songs as part of the narrative.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Haitian handicrafts often make use of mahogany, sisal, and straw. Haitian craftspeople are particularly skilled in wood-carving, weaving, and embroidery. Wooden sculptures, intricate plaques, and furniture (especially chairs with caned backs and seats) are popular handicrafts, as are embroidered dresses, skirts, blouses, costumes, and men's shirts. Wrought iron items are also a part of Haitian folk art, including candle holders, coffee tables, lamps, and animal figures.
Every year before Christmas, artisans fashion often elaborate works of art known as fanal out of white cardboard and tissue paper within which lighted candles are (carefully!) placed.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and among the 25 poorest in the world. The elite, about 10% of the population, earn 50% of the national income, while unemployment ranges from 30% to 70%. The penetration of transnational companies into the Haitian economy has contributed to the influx of peasants into Port-au-Prince. These changing demographics have caused both urban problems and social changes. While peasants have traditionally depended on the extended family and cooperative labor to survive, urban slum dwelling has weakened this aspect of the social fabric.
Another problem is Haiti's extreme state of deforestation. With wood fuels accounting for most of the country's energy consumption, deforestation of the once green, tree-covered land is now critical. The most direct effect of the destruction of trees has been soil erosion, which has made most of the land unsuitable for farming. The fluctuation of prices for agricultural products in the world market has also contributed to the decline in agriculture. The fall in coffee prices and the fluctuation in sugar prices have had a major impact on agricultural production and planning.
Negative stereotypes and cultural misunderstandings about Haiti are still prevalent, and many Haitian American youngsters lack a sense of ethnic pride because of the negative publicity related to the political turmoil that hinders Haiti's chances to progress socially and economically. As a result of problems such as prejudice and difficulty in English, younger Haitians sometimes present themselves at various times as African Americans, Caribbean Americans, West Indians, or Haitian Americans, depending on the current sociopolitical climate in both Haiti and the United States.
Officially, there is no discrimination against women in Haiti. Women have recently held prominent positions in both the public and private sectors, and a Ministry for Women's Affairs was established in 1995. For some Haitians, however, women's roles are limited by tradition. Peasant women remain largely in the traditional occupations of farming, marketing, and housework. In general, Haitian women have been more active in the labor force than women in other Latin American countries, perhaps because the rewards for their labor are greater. In the coffee industry, marketers (persons who transport coffee beans to local and urban markets to sell) are almost exclusively female and are known as "Madam Saras." Income earned from agricultural production belongs to both husband and wife, but income earned from nonfarm business activities does not have to be shared with the husband, and, as a result, many women are economically independent.
Rural Haitian girls, however, are at great risk of exploitation. The abject poverty of rural Haitians has led many to send their children to the cities to work as unpaid domestic servants, known as restevek in Haitian Creole. There are estimates that over 300,000 children in Haiti, three-fourths of them girls, are resteveks. The children often work long hours, receive little food, and some are known to be beaten or sexually abused. Human rights organizations such as the National Coalition for Haitian Rights are working to eliminate this practice, with minimal success so far.
Portions of this article were excerpted from The Haitians: Their History and Culture. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1994.
Abbott, Elizabeth. Haïti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 1991.
Civan, Michele Burtoff. The Haitians: Their History and Culture. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1994.
Delva, Joseph Guyler. "Haitian Food Crisis Sending Refugees to the Sea," http://www.reuters.com/article/americasCrisis/idUSN4M218228 (24 April 2008).
Laguerre, Michel. The Military and Society in Haïti. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.
National Coalition for Haitian Rights. "Restavek Campaign," http://www.nchr.org/hrp/restavek/overview.htm (24 April 2008).
Nicholls, David. Haiti in Caribbean Context: Ethnicity, Economy, and Revolt. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.
Ott, Thomas O. The Haitian Revolution, 1789–1804. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1973.
Perusse, Roland. Historical Dictionary of Haiti. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977.
Savain, Roger E. Haitian-Kreol in Ten Steps: Dis Pa Nan Kreyòl Ayisyen-an. Rochester, VT: Schenkman Books, 1993.
U.S. Department of State. "Background Note: Haiti," http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1982.htm (24 April 2008). USAID. "Haiti," http://www.usaid.gov/policy/budget/cbj2006/lac/ht.html (24 April 2008).
—by D. K. Daeg de Mott
ETHNONYMS: Ayisyens, Haïtiens, Haytians
Identification. The Republic of Haiti is the second-oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, and it is the only one with a French-Creole background and an overwhelmingly African culture. Large communities of Haitians exist outside Haiti, especially in the Dominican Republic, on other Caribbean islands, in Central America and northern South America, and in North America. The second-largest Haitian community, after Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, is in New York City, with about 500,000 members.
Location. Occupying 27,750 square kilometers on the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic, Haiti lies between 18° and 20° N and 72° and 74° W. It is 90 kilometers southeast of Cuba, 187 kilometers northeast of Jamaica, and about 1,000 kilometers from Florida. Its topography ranges from flat, semiarid valleys to densely forested mountains; about one-third of its area lies 200 to 500 meters above sea level, and the remaining two-thirds is covered by three mountain ranges. The highest point of elevation is La Selle Peak (2,680 meters). The mean temperature is somewhere between 24° C and 27° C; averages for the hottest and coolest months differ by perhaps 5° C, although temperature variations on any given day may be as great as 12° C. Temperature decreases three-quarters of a degree per 100 meters of elevation. Port-au-Prince, with an elevation of 40 meters, has a mean temperature of 26.3° C, but Pétionville, at 400 meters, records 24.7° C, and Kenscoff, at 1,450 meters, enjoys 18.5° C.
Demography. Demographic information is at once scarce and unreliable. According to educated estimates, the total population of Haiti is about 6.5 million. Port-au-Prince has a population of about 740,000, and the second-largest city, Cap Haïtien, has about 70,000 inhabitants. Regional cities that can boast populations of 10,000 to 50,000 are Les Cayes, Gonaïves, Port-de-Paix, Jacmel, Jérémie, Saint Marc, and Hinche. The single recent census for which information is generally available was conducted only in urban centers in 1971; a 10 percent sample survey was used to estimate the population in rural areas. The total population calculated from that census was 4,314,628, 79.6 percent of it rural.
Linguistic Affiliation. The language spoken by all Haitians is usually referred to as Haitian Creole. For most of modern history, however, the official language of government, business, and education has been French. At best, only about 8 percent of the population, the educated elite, speaks French well—and then only as a second language. Another 2 to 7 percent uses French with a lesser degree of competence. Traditionally, the elite has used the requirement of fluency in French to exclude the general population from competing for positions in government and business. Haitian Creole, which has often been seen as a nonlanguage in which sophisticated thoughts cannot be expressed or, at best, as a poor imitation of French, is coming into its own, and the prestige of French is rapidly declining in Haiti. In the early 1990s both Creole and French were the country's official languages.
At the time of European contact, anywhere from 60,000 to 4 million Indians inhabited the island of Hispaniola. The indigenous population rapidly succumbed to the ravages of disease, slavery, and brutality, and the Europeans soon had to look to Africa for the labor they needed to work their plantations. In the colonial period (1492—1804) sugarcane plantations were established and slavery instituted in Saint Domingue, as the French called their territory on Hispaniola.
A series of minor uprisings culminated in the slave revolt of August 1791. By 1796, White supremacy was at an end, and within the framework of the French Republic, Black rule was established under the leadership of a former slave, the charismatic Toussain Louverture. In 1800 Napoleon sent 28,000 troops under his brother-in-law, Gen. Charles Leclerc, to retake the colony and reenslave the Blacks. By 1803, however, Haitians had defeated Napoleon's troops, and on 1 January 1804 Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Toussain's successor, proclaimed the independence of Haiti.
In the postindependence period (1820-1915) Haiti became a focal point of debates about the effect of emancipation and the capacity of Blacks for self-government. Many slave insurrections in the southern United States were consciously modeled after the Haitian example.
The U.S. military occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 for pressing economic and strategic reasons. The major, though certainly unintended, results of the occupation were the increasing Black consciousness of the elite, the suppression of peasant movements, the training of the army, and the concentration of sociopolitical power in Port-au-Prince.
The postoccupation period (1934-1957) was characterized by a succession of undistinguished administrations, with one notable exception: the government led by President Dumarsais Estimé (1946-1950), which many view as a highly progressive era in Haitian politics that probably spelled the end of mulatto political domination. Important developments during his presidency were the entrance of Blacks into the civil service, increased pride in the African heritage, greater interaction with other Caribbean nations, the beginning of peasant integration into the national polity, and, especially, the rise of the new Black middle class.
François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, president from 1957 to 1971, established his power base largely among this middle class. Duvalier carried out a brutal campaign of oppression against his opponents, and Haiti was increasingly isolated from the international community. When Duvalier's 19year-old son, Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc"), became president in 1971, a new economic program guided by the U.S. government was put in place; U.S. private investment was wooed with such incentives as no customs taxes, a minimum wage kept very low, the suppression of labor unions, and the right of U.S. companies to repatriate their profits.
With little gain from fourteen years of rule by a second Duvalier, Haitians finally reached the end of their patience and overwhelming public protests led to the ouster of Jean-Claude on 7 February 1986. An interim government, the Conseil National de Gouvernement (CNG) headed by Lieut. Gen. Henri Namphy, took charge. Elections for president and for seats in the national assembly, set for 29 November 1987, were aborted by army-sponsored violence. In January 1988 the CNG held sham elections and announced that Leslie Manigat had won the presidency. About four months later, Manigat's attempt to play off one segment of the army against another led to his own ouster, and Namphy declared himself president. On 17 September 1988 Namphy was forced out of the National Palace and leadership was handed over to Lieut. Gen. Prosper Avril. Jean-Bertrand Aristide of the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD) was elected president on 16 December 1990 and assumed office on 7 February 1991 but was deposed on 30 September 1991. The military ousted him a little more than seven months later, but no state (except the Vatican) recognized the military government. After considerable vacillation, the administration of U.S. president Bill Clinton forced the military leaders to leave Haiti, and in October 1994 Aristide was reinstated under heavy U.S. military sponsorship.
With 75 to 85 percent of the population living in a rural setting, the majority of Haitians can be classified as peasants: they live in dispersed villages loosely connected by trade routes. Scattered within these villages are huts of wattle and daub surrounded by gardens, fields, and outbuildings. Regional centers once had considerable cultural and commercial importance, but since the first U.S. occupation, Port-au-Prince has become disproportionately dominant.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. About 65 percent of the labor force are small landowners engaged in agriculture (one of the highest proportions of peasants in any country); only about 7 percent are in manufacturing. One percent of workers are involved in construction and 27 percent in other sectors. Agriculture is precarious because the countryside is 95 percent deforested, and 25 percent of the soil is undergoing rapid erosion. Haiti's primary products are coffee, sugar, rice, and cocoa. Its light manufacturing enterprises produce shoes, soap, flour, cement, and domestic oils. Its export industries produce garments, toys, baseballs, and electronic goods for the U.S. market. Despite this small-scale industrialization, the annual per capita income is estimated at $380. The current instability of the government is having deleterious effects on the national economy.
Industrial Arts. Many people engage in part-time craft work, particularly in the manufacture of wood utensils, tools, and furniture. Formerly, many of these items were destined for the tourist trade.
Trade. Most commercial exchange is carried out in open-air markets. The market women are justly famous both for carrying heavy loads of merchandise and for bargaining with great skill. Haiti's economy is closely tied to that of the United States; a sizable portion of its exports go to North America, and it is dependent on governmental and nongovernmental U.S. aid.
Division of Labor. In rural areas, men generally handle agricultural production, and women take charge of the produce. The women depend on the men to provide a product to sell, and the men depend on the women for domestic labor.
Land Tenure. A crucial problem facing the newly independent Haiti was access to land. Having failed in its attempt to reinstate the plantation system of colonial Saint Domingue, the government distributed much of the land among the former slaves. Currently, from 60 to 80 percent of the farmers own their own land, although few have clear title, and the plots are fragmented and small. Fairly large plantations do exist but not nearly to the same extent as in Latin American countries. The state owns land, but the government has rarely shown a sustained interest in agriculture.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Marriage. The plantation system and the institution of slavery had a profound influence on domestic entities. Additionally, the laws of the early republic reinforced the tendency of the rural population to avoid legal and church marriages. The most recognizable kinship pattern in rural Haiti is the somewhat patrilineal extended family living in a cluster of households linked through legal, ritual, consanguineal, and affinal ties and headed by the oldest male member.
In addition to conventional church weddings, longterm monogamous unions, and neolocal nuclear-family households, there are socially accepted unions without formal sanction, couples who do not coreside, fathers who do not participate actively in rearing their children, and households without a nuclear family at their core.
In writing about Haiti, anthropologists often avoid the word "family"; instead they use "household," which embraces the wide range of relatives—direct and collateral, on the sides of both parents—that the Haitian "family" typically includes.
Inheritance. The complexity of the domestic unit and the varieties of household types do create inheritance problems. In general, all children from all the varieties of conjugal unions have equal rights of inheritance, but, in practice, residents, contacts, and personal feelings are important determinants of who inherits.
Socialization. Because both adults and children may change residential affiliation with relative ease and frequency and enjoy a variety of temporary residential rights, children often come into contact with a relatively large number of adults who may discipline and train them. In general, a great deal of emphasis is placed on respect for adults, and adults are quick to use corporal punishment to ensure that they receive it. Fewer than half of the rural children attend school, and only about 20 percent of those complete the primary grades.
In 1995 Haiti was in the process of reestablishing its political and social institutions under a democratic administration. Agreements with the U.S. government and international finance agencies had created a difficult set of parameters within which a move toward more social equality and justice was being attempted.
Social Organization. One result of the land reform in the early 1800 was that the largely mulatto elite fled to the cities and, with no land of their own, made their living from taxing peasant markets and the nation's imports and exports. This elite also practiced the religion of the slave owners, Roman Catholicism. Driven by fear of a renewed French occupation, the bulk of the population retreated into the mountainous interior, inside a ring of magnificent forts. What emerged from these displacements was a nation with a very small European-oriented, Roman Catholic, mulatto elite residing in several coastal urban centers and a large, scattered Black population that farmed the interior and worshiped in the ancient African manner.
The largely Black peasantry has always regarded the government as having little relevance to their lives. Haiti's regional political units, called départements, are further divided into several arrondissements, each with an administrative center. Arrondissements consist of several communes, which usually coincide with church parishes. Each commune is divided into sections rurales, each of which is headed by an appointed chef de section, who reports to the commandant of the commune, who in turn reports to the préfet of the arrondissement. The limited contact rural Haitians normally have with the government is, for the most part, with the chef de section.
Social Control. Criminality is rare, and, for the most part, the rural population, in deference to village elders, polices itself. The urban areas have police and courts, mainly modeled after the French system.
Conflict. Governments in Haiti have been run primarily by members of the elite, and despite the early and heroic independence of Haiti from France and the elimination of slavery, the attitude of the elite classes of Haiti has traditionally been a neocolonial one. Nativism, negritude, and the increasing use of Creole have made all Haitians more aware of their Haitianness, but tensions exist between the affluent city dwellers and the poor peasants and shantytown residents. Aside from a very small but moderately influential group of Middle Eastern merchants, the population of Haiti is exceptionally homogeneous, both culturally and linguistically.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Although the majority of the population is nominally Roman Catholic and although Protestant missionaries have won a number of converts in the poorer rural areas, the religion of Haiti is still Vodun, an ancient religion that focuses on contacting and appeasing ancestral spirits (lwa ), which include both distant, stereotyped ancestors and more immediate relatives, such as dead parents and grandparents.
Religious Practitioners. Vodun is a particularly egalitarian religion; both men and women serve as priests (ouganyo and manbo-yo, respectively; sing ougan and manbo ).
Ceremonies. As many of its rituals are performed in the context of sickness and death, Vodun is primarily a system of folk medicine that attributes illnesses to angry ancestors; it consists of appeasement ceremonies, including divination rites, which are used to find the cause of illnesses; healing rites, in which a Vodun priest interacts directly with sick people to cure them; propitiatory rites, in which food and drink are offered to specific spirits to make them stop their aggression; and preventive rites, in which ancestors are offered sacrifices to help head off any possible future trouble.
Arts. In the 1940s Haiti burst into the consciousness of the art world with an astonishing display of paintings, and its artists received worldwide attention for their so-called primitive or naive art. In 1944 the Centre d'Art was founded in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is also renowned for its literature, despite its high rate of illiteracy (85 percent). Major themes include concepts of negritude, which foreshadowed the Black Power and post-World War II anticolonial movements, and Vodun. The most famous novel in Haitian Creole, Frankétinne's Dézafi, is about the revolt of a colony of zombies.
Medicine. Although Western medicine has been available to the urban elite since the early 1960s, there were only 887 physicians in Haiti in 1988 (Wilke 1993, Table 804). In the rural areas, curing depends on a rich body of folk knowledge that includes herbal medicine and Vodun. The peasants nevertheless suffer from malnutrition and many diseases. Measles, diarrhea, and tetanus kill many children, and the daily per capita caloric intake for 1988 has been estimated at 2,011 (Wilke 1993, Table 824). Only about 38 percent of the population has access to potable water. Tuberculosis is the most devastating disease, followed closely by dysentery, influenza, malaria, measles, tetanus, and whooping cough. Eye problems are endemic in Haiti; the chief causes of blindness are cataracts, glaucoma, pterygium (a growth over the cornea), and scarring of the cornea.
Ferguson, James (1987). Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Laguerre, Michel S. (1982a). The Complete Haitiana: A Bibliographic Guide to the Scholarly Literature, 1 900-1980. 2 vols. Millwood, N.Y: Kraus.
Laguerre, Michel S. (1982b). Urban Life in the Caribbean: A Study of a Haitian Urban Community. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman.
Laguerre, Michel S. (1993). The Military and Society in Haiti. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
Lawless, Robert (1986). "Haitian Migrants and Haitian-Americans: From Invisibility into the Spotlight." Journal of Ethnic Studies 14(2): 29-70.
Lawless, Robert (1988). "Creole Speaks, Creole Understands." The World and I 3(1): 474-483; 3(2): 510-521.
Mintz, Sidney W. (1995). "Can Haiti Change?" Foreign Affairs 74:73-86.
Nicholls, David (1979). From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour, and National Independence in Haiti. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Weinstein, Brian, and Aaron Segal (1984). Haiti: Political Failures, Cultural Successes. New York: Praeger.
POPULATION: 6.6 million
LANGUAGE: Haitian Creole; French
1 • INTRODUCTION
Sharing the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti occupies a rich, lush land in a strategic location. Much of its history has been shaped by three foreign powers: Spain, France, and the United States.
When Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola on December 6, 1492, he was greeted by the native people (Taino/Arawak Indians). By 1550, however, this native population had been almost entirely wiped out due to mistreatment, violent uprisings, and disease. The Spanish used the island as a shipping point to send riches to Europe.
The French began to settle on Tortuga, an island off the northwest coast of Hispaniola, in 1659. The first French residents, joined by runaway slaves from Hispaniola, survived by pirating Spanish ships, tanning hides, and curing meats. They were known as buccaneers from the Arawak word for smoking or curing meats. In 1697, the French took over the western part of the island, San Domingue, and turned it into one of its richest colonies. Coffee, sugar, cotton, and indigo (a blue dye) from Haiti accounted for nearly one-half of France's foreign trade.
In the mid-1700s, the number of runaway slaves, known as maroons, grew. From the mountains and forests, guerilla bands of maroons attacked the French colonists. When the mulattoes (persons of mixed African-European heritage) were denied the right to vote even though they owned land and paid taxes, they also began to revolt.
The Haitians won their independence early in the nineteenth century. The fight for independence began in 1791 when Toussaint L'Ouverture, an ex-slave, led a rebellion. On January 1, 1804, Haiti declared independence with Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a former slave, as the leader of the new nation. The only method of organization he knew was the military, so he used it to govern and began a tradition of military rule. Haiti was the second independent nation in the Americas (the first was the United States) and was the first free black republic in the world.
From its beginning as an independent nation, Haiti developed two distinct societies. The minority elite lived in towns and controlled the government, military, and trade. They imitated a European lifestyle and used the French language for government, commerce, and education. The peasants, the majority of the population, were excluded from the formal political, educational, and economic structure.
From the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, a series of dictators ruled Haiti. The American military occupied Haiti from 1915 until 1934. When the United States withdrew, they left behind a legacy of anti-American feeling and a well-trained national military.
After a very disorganized period, François Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc," was elected president in 1957. Using brutal tactics Duvalier created a rural militia to intimidate the population. In 1964 he declared himself president for life, and passed that office down to his nineteen-year-old son Jean-Claude, known as "Baby Doc," when he died in 1971.
Haitians angered by the poverty and suffering in their country began antigovernment protests. Jean-Claude Duvalier fled to exile in France in 1986. In 1990, a Roman Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected president of Haiti. It was the country's first free democratic election, and Aristide was elected with almost 70 percent of the popular vote. In September 1991 the army under General Raoul Cédras, seized power and forced Aristide into exile. After Aristide's departure, some 50,000 Haitians fled by sea.
After refusing to honor his agreement to step down and allow Aristide to return to the presidency, Cédras was forced from power by the United States and the United Nations. On October 15, 1994, Aristide returned to power and began the difficult task of rebuilding Haiti. UN troops led by the United States were sent to Haiti as a peacekeeping force. In December 1995, former Prime Minister of Haiti, René G. Préval, was elected president. Haiti's first peaceful transfer of power between two civilian presidents took place on February 7, 1996.
2 • LOCATION
The name "Haiti" comes from the native Taino/Arawak word ayiti or hayti, meaning "mountainous" or "high land." The Republic of Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. The Republic of Haiti includes several small islands and covers 10,714 square miles (17,239 square kilometers), making it slightly larger than the U.S. state of Maryland. Two mountain ranges cover fully two-thirds of the interior. The fertile plains that lie between the two ranges are used for agriculture. The coastline is irregular and the country is composed of two peninsulas. The climate is tropical, hot and humid. Due to deforestation and soil erosion, only 11 percent of Haiti's land is now arable (able to be farmed).
The population of Haiti was estimated to be more than 6.5 million in 1995. Over two-thirds of Haiti's inhabitants live in rural areas. Port-au-Prince, the capital, has a population of well over 1 million. Almost all Haitians are descendants of the 500,000 enslaved West Africans who won their freedom from France in 1804.
3 • LANGUAGE
The two main languages of Haiti are Haitian Creole and French. All Haitians speak Haitian Creole, while only about 20 percent of the population speaks French. It was only in 1987 that the Constitution granted official status to Haitian Creole. Fluency in French carries high social status in Haiti, and those who cannot read, write, and speak French may have limited opportunity in business and government.
The Haitian Creole language evolved from a mixture of African dialect, the native Amerindian language, the Norman French spoken by pirates, and colonial French. Haitian Creole words show a variety of linguistic influences, including African (houngan, or Voudou priest and zombi, or ghost); Spanish (ablado, or talker); English (bokit, or bucket); and Caribbean (kannari, or earthen jar). Words borrowed from French (and their Creole meanings) include kriye, to weep; boutik, a family-operated store; and kabare, cafeteria tray.
Examples of Haitian Creole proverbs are:
Yon sel dwèt pa manje kalalou.
(You cannot eat okra with one finger)—we must all cooperate.
Gras a diri, ti wòch goute gres.
(Thanks to the rice, the pebble tastes of grease)—good things rub off.
4 • FOLKLORE
Haitian culture reflects a profound reverence for one's ancestors. Ancestors' Day is a national holiday, celebrated on January second, the day after the celebration of Independence Day on January first. Folktales are popular in Haiti. Stories are introduced by an invitation to hear a story. For instance, the person wanting to tell the story shouts out: "Krik!" If people want to hear the tale, and they almost always do, they answer in chorus: "Krak!" The most popular folktales are about the smart but mischievous Ti Malis and his slow-witted friend Bouki. Here is one example:
Ti Malis paid Bouki a visit one day. To his amazement, when he got to Bouki's lakou (yard), there was Bouki playing dominoes with his dog. "What a brilliant dog you have!" exclaimed Ti Malis. "He can play dominoes." "Ha!" said Bouki, "he's not as smart as you think. I've just won three out of five games!"
Another popular form of humor and amusement are riddles. (See 17-Recreation.)
5 • RELIGION
Religion is an integral part of Haitian life and culture. The two main religions are Roman Catholicism and Voudou, or Voodoo, a mixture of African animism (belief in spirits and nature) and Christianity. Many Haitians practice both these religions at the same time. There are also Protestants of various denominations. The Haitian government does not impose any restrictions on religion or missionary activities.
Unlike the "black magic" reputation it has in books or movies, Voudou is in fact a religion based on ancestral spirits, tribal deities, and mythic figures such as the goddess of the sea. It keeps alive old African beliefs while borrowing freely from Christianity. At funerals, it is not uncommon for Voudou ceremonies and rituals to be performed for family members first, followed by a traditional Roman Catholic ceremony presided over by a priest.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Haitian holidays include Independence Day (January 1); the Anniversary of revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines' death (October 17); the Anniversary of the Battle of Vertières (November 18); and the landing of Columbus on Hispaniola in 1492, commemorated on December 5. Other holidays include Ancestors' Day (January 2), Carnival (the three days before Ash Wednesday, in February), Pan American Day (April 14), Labor Day (May 1), Flag Day (May 18), and New Year's Eve (December 31).
Haitians also observe traditional Roman Catholic holidays, including Good Friday, Easter Sunday (in March or April), the Feast of the Assumption (August 15), All Saints' Day (November 1), All Souls' Day (November 2), Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas Eve (December 24), and Christmas Day (December 25).
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Major life transitions, such as birth, marriage, and death, are marked by religious ceremonies, often including both Voudou and Christian rites.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Many Haitian values are traditional and conservative. Manners are very important in Haitian society. Greetings are exchanged when entering a public place, such as an office or a store, or when boarding public transportation. When greeting friends, men generally shake hands. Women will exchange two kisses, the same as men do with female friends. Children are taught early to respect their elders and to formally greet visitors to their home.
It is not unusual for men to refer to each other by their last names. Individuals are often called nicknames, for example, the firstborn male in a family is often given the nickname Fanfan. A woman named Dominique may be called Dodo by her friends and family.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
The poverty of Haiti, one of the thirty poorest countries in the world, is reflected in the health statistics of its population. The infant mortality rate is the highest in the Americas, and life expectancy, at approximately fifty-six years, is the lowest in the Caribbean. Malnutrition is widespread, especially among the young and the poor. About 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, although this has been changing in recent years.
In 1984 less than 20 percent of the population had toilets. Poor sanitation and lack of medical services contribute to a number of infectious diseases that afflict Haitian people. These include tuberculosis, parasitic infections, and malaria.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
In rural areas, the extended family has traditionally been the social unit. As peasants came to the cities in search of work, the nuclear family replaced the extended family. Men and women generally share household and financial responsibilities. Officially, there is no discrimination against women in Haiti, and a Ministry for Women's Affairs was established in 1995. In the coffee industry, those who transport coffee beans to markets are almost all female and are known as "Madam Saras." Women do not have to share income from nonfarm activities with their husbands. These women can be economically independent.
The most common form of marriage among poorer Haitians is known as plasaj, a kind of common-law marriage. Although not recognized by the government as legitimate, plasaj is considered normal and proper among the poor. A man or woman may have a number of plasaj relationships in a lifetime. Children born to the same parent from different plasaj relationships regard each other as brothers and sisters, and often live in the same household. If parents separate, a child may take either the father or the mother's last name. Children are considered a gift from God. Haitians also make sure that each child receives an equal inheritance.
11 • CLOTHING
Comfortable, lightweight Western-style clothes, often made of cotton and linen fabrics, are typically worn in Haiti. School children all wear uniforms. Men often wear a loose-fitting shirt called a guayabera, similar to other countries in the region and in Latin America. While it is acceptable for women to wear pants, most women, especially in rural areas, continue to wear skirts or dresses.
The traditional folk costume for men is a hand-embroidered shirt made of cotton, linen, or denim fabric. Women traditionally wear an embroidered short-sleeved blouse, a colorful skirt, and a scarf wrapped around their hair.
12 • FOOD
Haitians grow corn, rice, bananas, mangoes, avocados, and other tropical fruits and vegetables. A typical meal usually includes one or two varieties of rice prepared with either red or black beans. Almost all meals feature plantains (very similar to bananas), which are usually parboiled, sliced, and deep fried. Those who can afford it eat deep-fried chicken. Other meats include goat, beef, and pork. Pork is often fried and barbecued (grio) and is very popular. Haitians especially favor seafoods, including barbecued lobster, shrimp, and many varieties of fish.
Vegetables include green beans, potatoes, squash, okra, cabbage, and eggplant. Salads are served with generous slices of avocado. Most Haitians love a spicy, very hot sauce called pikles to enhance their dishes. Desserts include cakes or tarts, often with a pineapple garnish.
13 • EDUCATION
The first schools in Haiti were established shortly after 1805, but an accessible school system never developed. Despite education reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, dropout rates remain high: 50 percent in urban areas and 80 percent in rural ones. Education is highly valued, but the majority of Haitians do not have access to it. Technically, education is free in Haiti, but most cannot afford the supplemental fees, school supplies, and required uniforms.
The Haitian curriculum calls for many subjects to be learned in great detail, usually by memorizing. Grading and testing are very strict. It is much more difficult to achieve a grade of B in Haiti than it is in the United States. The teacher calls all students by their last names and has total authority over the class. A student speaks only when asked a question, and does not look the teacher in the eye but keeps his or her head down as a sign of respect. There are no parent-teacher organizations and if a parent is called to school it usually means that the student is in serious trouble.
Today the majority of Haitians receive no formal education. Only a small minority are educated beyond primary school.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
The uniqueness of Haiti is reflected in the originality of its paintings, music, and literature. Works by the better-known Haitian artists have been exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States and France.
Haitian music is an original blend of African drum rhythms and European dance music. Haitian kompa and the Voudou-influenced rasin are the most popular musical styles in Haiti today. Each year during Carnival, bands compete for the best song. Recent entries incorporate reggae and rap styles.
Haiti has produced writers, poets, and essayists of international reputation. Attempts to write in Haitian Creole date to the eighteenth century, but because of its low status, Haitian literature has been written almost exclusively in French. With the recognition of Creole as an official language, more and more novels, poems, and plays are being written in Creole. In 1975, the first novel to be written entirely in Haitian Creole was published. It is titled Dezafi and was written by Franketienne. It describes a poetic picture of Haitian life.
Riz et Pois Rouges
(Rice and Red Beans)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 to 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 medium green pepper, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 cup white rice, uncooked
- 2 15-ounce cans of kidney beans, drained
- ¼ pound ham, chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teapoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2½ cups boiling water
- Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic, and green pepper, and fry until onion and green pepper soften, about 3 minutes.
- Combine with remaining ingredients in a 2-quart casserole.
- Preheat oven to 350°f.
- Cover casserole and bake until all the liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 55 minutes.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
About two-thirds of the labor force in Haiti still works in agriculture. The main cash crops are coffee and sugarcane. Deforestation, land erosion, and a declining economy have prompted many farm workers to migrate to the cities or abroad. A large number of Haitians work in the Dominican Republic as braceros (migrant workers) under grueling conditions. Migrant farm workers are hired temporarily, usually for a harvest. Harvesting sugarcane is still done by hand with a machete.
There are estimates that more than one hundred thousand children in Haiti are held in forced domestic labor, which is called restevek in Haitian Creole. Young children from rural families are "adopted" by wealthy city dwellers to work as unpaid domestics. These children often work long hours, and are underfed and mistreated.
16 • SPORTS
Soccer is the national sport. During World Cup competition, held every four years, practically the entire country roots for the Brazilian national team. In rural areas cock-fighting is also popular, but only as an informal weekend sport. For men, a typical social game is dominoes or cards. For the more affluent, tennis as a sport is increasing in popularity.
Children play hide-and-seek, hopscotch (marelle), round dances, and marbles. Organized sports in school or local leagues include basketball for girls and soccer for boys.
17 • RECREATION
Storytelling in Haiti is a performance art. The storyteller uses a different voice for each character in the story and may sing songs as part of the narrative. Telling stories, proverbs, riddles, and singing songs exemplify the rich spoken tradition of the Haitian people.
Perhaps the most popular form of humor and amusement is riddles. There is a definite form for the riddles. The person "throwing" the riddle or tire pwen says: "Tim-tim," and those who want to hear it reply: "Bwa sèch." Then the riddle is given. If they get it, they announce it. If they give up, they say "Bwa sèch," which means they eat dry wood, the penalty for not getting the riddle. The riddles themselves are very difficult. Here are several popular riddles:
- They serve it food, it stands on four feet, but it cannot eat.
- I enter white, I come out mulatto.
- Three very large men are standing under a single little umbrella, but not one of them gets wet. Why?
- When I sit, I am taller than when I stand.
- How many coconuts can you put into an empty sack?
- A table.
- It is not raining.
- A dog.
- Only one. After that the sack is not empty.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Haitian craftspeople are particularly skilled in woodcarving, weaving, and embroidery. Wooden sculptures, plaques, and furniture (especially chairs with caned backs and seats) are popular crafts. So are embroidered women's dresses, skirts, and blouses, and men's shirts. Wrought iron items are also part of Haitian folk art, including candle holders, coffee tables, lamps, and animal figures.
Every year before Christmas, artisans use white cardboard and tissue paper to make elaborate works of art called fanal, in which lighted candles are carefully placed.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A very small percentage of the population earns more than 60 percent of the national income. Unemployment is estimated to be as high as 70 percent. Peasants have traditionally depended on the extended family and cooperative labor to survive. Families living in urban slums do not have even these supports.
Wood as a fuel accounts for 75 percent of the country's energy consumption. Deforestation of Haiti's once green, tree-covered land is now critical. This destruction of trees has caused erosion of the soil, which in turn has made most of the land unsuitable for farming. Fluctuations in the price of coffee and sugar on the world market impact agricultural production and planning in Haiti.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Portions of this article were adapted from The Haitians: Their History and Culture. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1994.
Abbott, Elizabeth. Haïti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 1991.
Betty Crocker's International Cookbook. New York: Random House, 1980.
Laguerre, Michel. The Military and Society in Haïti. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.
Embassy of Haiti. Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.haiti.org/embassy/, 1998.
World Travel Guide, Haiti. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/ht/gen.html, 1998.
Identification. Haitians are Blacks from the island of Haiti, which occupies one-third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. The other two-thirds of Hispaniola is occupied by the Dominican Republic. Contemporary Haitians are descendants of African slaves imported by the French colonists to work on the sugar plantations in the eighteenth Century. Haiti has been an independent nation since 1804 when a slave revolt overthrew the French government. Haitians in Haiti are a homogeneous group, with the major distinctions based on social class and urban-rural residence. Ninety percent of the population is rural, and the other 10 percent is mostly mulatto and forms the elite. In the United States, the Haitian population is composed of naturalized U.S. citizens, legal immigrants, legal nonimmigrants (students, government workers), children born in the United States, and undocumented aliens and refugees. The large number of Haitians who have come to North America since the mid-1970s has made the group highly visible and has resulted in their being the victims of economic, political, and residential racial discrimination. Haitians see themselves as distinctively Haitian, with the identities of West Indian or Black being of Secondary importance.
Location. In the United States, Haitians live primarily in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami. Perhaps as many as one-half live in New York City. In Canada, Haitians live mainly in Montreal.
Demography. Estimates place the Haitian population in the United States at about 800,000 with perhaps as many as one-half that number classified as undocumented aliens or refugees. About a quarter are children born in the United States. In Canada, Haitians number about 25,000. In both countries, most Haitians have arrived in the last thirty years.
Linguistic Affiliation. Haitians speak Haitian Creole, which is a distinct language, not a dialect of French. About 8 percent, most of whom are the elite, also speak French. Because of regular contact with the United States, the use of English, especially in cities, is increasing. In North America, most recent immigrants speak Haitian Creole, while those who came earlier and their American-born children speak English.
History and Cultural Relations
Haiti is unique in a number of ways: it is the second oldest independent nation in the New World; it is the only nation in history to achieve independence through a slave revolt; it is the poorest nation in the hemisphere; and its culture is the most strongly African culture in the New World. Migration to North America went through four stages. During the period of French colonization in the 1700s some French and their slaves migrated to the southern colonies and settlements. The period of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803) brought some 50,000 Whites and Blacks to North America, with most settling in cities in the East and the South. From 1915 to 1934 Haiti was occupied by the United States and thousands of middle-class Haitians immigrated to the United States. Most settled in cities, establishing businesses or obtaining professional employment, and eventually assimilated into mainstream society. From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers, first François "Papa Doc" and then his son, Jean-Claude. The Duvaliers' repressive rule drove thousands of middle-class Haitians north from 1957 to 1971.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Haitian "boat people" began arriving in Florida. Unlike most of the earlier Immigrants, they were mainly rural, poor, uneducated, and male. After 1977 the number of these immigrants increased dramatically, making them highly visible and leading to often repressive government action including deportation or internment in detention camps. Although the courts put an end to most of these abuses, the public stereotyped Haitians as poor, illiterate, illegal aliens. Haitians were then identified as an at-risk group for contracting the AIDS virus, a classification that was later rescinded by the government. Not surpisingly, Haitians who have arrived since the 1970s and constitute the majority of those in North America, are subject to various forms of racial and cultural discrimination. Because of linguistic and cultural differences, they usually do not affiliate with the African-American community or with Black West Indians. The children born in the United States, however, adopt English as their primary language and associate with African-Americans.
In the cities where they have settled, Haitians tend to live in the same neighborhoods and often on the same blocks and in the same buildings. In New York, the major Haitian communities are in Queens and Brooklyn, with Queens seen as the home for those who are more affluent and own their own homes. "Little Haiti" in Miami is probably the most distinctively Haitian community in North America, with numerous businesses operated by Haitians and with an almost exclusively Haitian clientele.
As mentioned above, Haitians who settled in North America before the 1970s often started small businesses or found skilled or professional employment. They either became part of mainstream economy or continued to serve the Haitian community. Those who have arrived since the 1970s include some with business experience in Haiti who have opened businesses in Haitian communities. But most of the recent immigrants have been poor and uneducated and work at lowlevel, low-paying jobs. Unskilled factory work and maintenance work are common for men, and many women work as domestics. Many Haitians live in poverty in slum neighborhoods, often sharing dwelling units and pooling resources to help pay the various legal and travel costs involved in bringing relatives to North America. In some cities, economic self-help organizations and church or government-backed programs have developed to provide economic and other assistance. For undocumented immigrants, who seek to avoid government contact, finding and holding regular employment is even more difficult. Among Haitians immigrating to Florida, some have become migrant farm workers, following the crops as they ripen up and down the eastern United States.
Kinship, Marriage and Family
The networks of kin ties and various family forms in rural Haiti have largely disappeared in urban North America. In fact, many Haitian families in North America are fragmented, with some having members still in Haiti, and others with members in two or more places in North America or elsewhere. Ties are regularly maintained among such kin, however, with the ultimate goal of family members settling near one another. Household composition in North America is often determined by the economic status of the household and its role in the chain migration process. In the North American context, male dominance in the family has disappeared and Haitian families are more egalitarian. In two-generation families, in which the children have been born in North America, conflict has emerged between parents who speak Haitian Creole and emphasize Haitian culture and children who speak English and identify with the African-American community. Education has been markedly difficult for Haitian children because of the language difference and because Haitian parents, while valuing education, Traditionally vest considerable authority in the schools and play a less active role than do White American parents.
Social Organization. Haitians identity themselves as such and generally do not identify with the African-American, Black West Indian, or other Caribbean communities in North America. They have also chosen not to seek political or economic representation through established African-American or Latino political channels. Whatever their self-identity, once Haitians enter public schools or the work force, they are identified by Whites as Blacks and treated as such. In Canada, Haitians were encouraged to settle in Quebec and Montreal because they were thought to be French-speaking. But rather than learn French, some have chosen to affiliate with English-speaking Canadians through their choice of churches and schools for their children.
There are clear distinctions in the Haitian-American community between those who arrived in the past and those who arrived recently and between the poor and the wealthy (bon moun). These distinctions are manifested in behavior, speech, place of residence, and degree of identification with the Haitian community. The wealthier, and more recently, the economically stable tend to live in suburbs, whereas the poor remain in the inner cities. In some communities there is a division between those who prefer to speak French and those who prefer Creole.
Political Organization. Haitian neighborhoods, including Little Haiti in Miami, are notable for the relatively few Haitian associations and organizations that have developed. In Miami, for example, the Haitian Chamber of Commerce is the only Haitian business association of any importance. Haitian neighborhoods are also notable for their peacefulness and the absence of conflict. Haitian politics center on Political developments in Haiti. From Duvalier's taking of power in 1957 until the present, the Haitian community in the United States has been active in opposing his regime and attempting to replace him. Haitians have also tried to become active Politically in the United States, with only limited success.
Religion and Expressive Culture
The major religion in Haiti is Voodoo, an ancient religion that combines elements of ancestor worship with the worship of the recently deceased. Voodoo rituals often take place at the time of illness or death and involve healing the sick and appeasing angry ancestors. In Haiti, some Haitians are Roman Catholics or Protestants. In North America, Haitians belong to or form their own Roman Catholic, Baptist, and other churches. Some are Jehovah's Witnesses. The existence of Voodoo in North America is poorly documented; when it is practiced it is evidently in private so as not to draw attention from the outside community, which sees it as a pagan cult rather than a legitimate religion.
As in other areas of life, Haitians in North America provide the Haitian community with its own music, dance, entertainment, social clubs, theater, and radio programs.
See also Black Creoles in Louisiana, Blacks in Canada
Laguerre, Michel S. (1984). American Odyssey: Haitians in New York City, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Lawless, Robert (1986). "Haitian Migrants and Haitian-Americans: From Invisibility into the Spotlight." Journal of Ethnic Studies 14:29-70.
Richman, Karen E. (1984). "From Peasant to Migratory Farmworker: Haitian Migrants in U.S. Agriculture." In Haitian Migration and the Haitian Economy, edited by Terry L. McCoy, 52-65. Gainesville: Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida.
Stepick, Alex (1982). "Haitian Boat People: A Study in the Conflicting Forces Shaping U.S. Refugee Policy." Law and Contemporary Problems 45:163-196.
Woldemikael, Tekle M. (1988). Becoming Black American: Haitians and American Institutions in Evanston, Illinois. New York: AMS Press.