A Discovery of the Multicultural Haiti
Haiti has so many amazing attributes and characteristics that highlight the beauty of the country. From the arts, to the cuisine, to its landscape, Haiti’s essential element comes from the heart of the people.
Haiti’s charm and beauty can be uncovered through the unique histories and traditions of Haitian festivities. The culture of Haiti is diverse and unique, as it has been influenced by Spanish, African, and French histories.
Haitian cuisine, clothing, art, religion, music and dance reveal a rich multicultural tradition. Haitians take pride in their heritage, especially, in being the first, black-led republic independent republic and the first independent Caribbean state. Through the Haitian Revolution, Haitians liberated themselves from French rule and from slavery.
The people and country of Haiti have so much to offer. This is a distinct, one of a kind nation, as its culture, histories and traditions reveal.
The original inhabitants of Haiti were the Taíno people, an indigenous Arawakan-speaking group who inhabited the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. The Taíno civilization flourished in the Caribbean before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, the Taíno inhabited most of Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico.
When Columbus arrived in 1492, Taíno chiefdoms ruled the territories of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti). Haiti’s name is derived from the Arwarks and it is actually pronounced as “Ayti,” which means land of high mountains. The country was colonized in 1492 by Spaniards and later through French presence, prominent in 1625.
On Jan. 1, 1804, the island declared its independence.
HAITI’S DEMOGRAPHICS & RELIGION
Haiti’s population totals 11,067,777 and consists of black 95%, mixed and white 5%. The official languages are French and Creole, a language combination of French, African, and Spanish. The predominant religions are 54.7% Catholics, 28.5% Protestantism.
The Cathédrale de Milot, Cathédrale Notre Dame au du Cap Haïtien, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption are among the most visited places of worship by tourists.
Roughly half of the population practices voodoo in combination with other religions, most often Roman Catholicism. Vodou became a religion in Haiti, in 2003, yet it dates back to the early 16th century when it was practiced by slaves. The term Vodou or Voodoo is defined as a spirit or deity, and is centralized on the belief that spirits inhabit the unseen world.
The rituals are portrayed through prayer, song, dance, and gestures that are believed to restore balance and energy between humans and spirits. Haitian Vodou is a syncretic practice and combines aspects of the Catholic religion. For instance, the holiday calendar of Haitian Vodou is syncretized with the Catholic calendar.
Haiti’s religion, known as voodoo or Vodou, is one of the biggest aspects of its culture and has aided people through difficult times. “Many Haitians see Vodou playing a key role in the rebuilding now.” #Haiti #vodou #culture https://t.co/6tPeodqae2 pic.twitter.com/Nq9oQav0WB
— Language Svc Corps (@nlsc) September 24, 2020
Haiti’s holiday calendar starts on the first day of January, which is nationally known as New Year’s Day. January 1st also commemorates the country’s independence. On January 1st, 1804, Jean Jacques Dessalines, the emperor at the time, became the first leader of a free Haiti. Dessalines declared Haiti’s independence from France on this day when Haiti became known as a free republic. To celebrate this grand day, the country eats “Soup Joumou,” a pumpkin soup that symbolizes Haiti’s freedom.
Furthermore, Haiti is considered the first all black republic and first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. In celebration, Haitians fill their tables with holiday foods like ham served with fruit, stewed turkey, black rice (diri ak djon djon), fried plantains, yucca and cassava – followed by some Rhum Barbancourt. The country also decorates their homes with lights, flowers, flags, and different accessories to celebrate Haitian pride.
Port au Prince holds an annual parade to celebrate Independence Day.
To commemorate the holiday, Haitians sing the national anthem of Haiti (Himno nacional) known as La Dessalinienne, composed by Justin Lhérisson and Nicolas Geffrard.
Another important holiday is Carnival (Kanaval) which is celebrated two weeks before the Catholic season of Lent. Kanaval is celebrated with parades, dances, parties, and the wearing of festive dress and masks on the streets of Haiti.
Haitians dress up in traditional colorful garments and or disguise themselves as characters, like zombies or Loas (characters from vodou). This celebration highlights the peak of Haitian culture through the display of traditional clothing, dances, music, and art.
The Kanaval is generally celebrated in the month of February and ends on Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday. This is the last day before fasting for Lent and is followed by Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of the 40 days of Lent.
During Holy week, Haitians have a “Rara Festival” which is a colorful music festival to commemorate the last seven days of Lent. Musicians fill the streets playing vaskens which are cylindrical bamboo horns, drums, tin trumpets, and all songs are sung in Haitian Creole.
Attendees dress in vibrant colors or paint themselves to show their excitement, respect, and pride for their culture.
Haitian Christians traditionally celebrate Holy Week with a “Holy Week Salad” which consists of eggs, beets, cabbage, carrots, and turnips. For Good Friday, Haitians eat fish and rice with beans and beets. Easter celebrations differ depending the country’s regions.
Observers go to mass, some serve others in prison stations or hospitals, and others spend their time in leisurely activities like, flying kites and participating in kite contests during Easter weekend; a popular Haitian tradition. The kites are made with decorative paper and other creative materials.
The next holiday is Labor & Agricultural Day, which is celebrated on May 1st. Haiti’s economy is agriculturally-based and consists of a large workforce. Haiti celebrates this holiday to honor the hard working people of Haiti.
The capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, holds an annual agricultural-industrial fair. The event takes place on public grounds and commemorates business owners. The streets are colorfully decorated and filled with parades, feasts, and cultural activities. Business owners are given the opportunity to showcase their products and services to the community.
Next, Haitians celebrate Flag and University Day. On this day Haitians celebrate the creation of the national flag and the importance of the education system. In 1803, the first Haitian Flag was created by Jean-Jacques Dessalines who designed the flag based on the French flag, but only used the red and blue horizontal lines.
The red symbolizes Haitian mulattos, and the blue represents the black population. There is a white square in the center of the flag which has the coat of arms to represent freedom. The palm tree represents independence. The flag’s motto reads, “L’ Union Fait La Force” which means, “Unity Makes Strength.”
Flag Day is celebrated along side the education system, as schools and colleges pass down the knowledge of Haiti’s traditions and history.
In June, the religious celebration of Corpus Christi honors the eucharist believed to be the bread of communion. There is usually a large street procession and a large number of Haitians attend this event.
On the 15th of August, Haiti celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. There is a mass service, a religious procession, prayer, pilgrimage, and a cultural festival in honor of this day.
Most families spend the day together and attend to activities and have a special meal. A common and popular spot for this day is the beach. On October 17, Haitians celebrate the death of Dessalines, a historical re-enactment of Dessalines’ life and the history of Haiti.
On November 1st and 2nd, the Saints and Souls are celebrated. Many Haitians attend mass, decorate the graves of their loved ones, and commemorate their lost ones. There are many rituals involved especially for those who practice the Vodou religion. Haitians attend the cemeteries and bring candles, flowers, coffee, beer, and food to offer the spirits.
On the 18th of November, Haiti’s president gives a speech to remember the Battle of Vertieres in Port au Prince. There are celebratory and patriotic events that are held throughout the country to commemorate this day, the last great battle in the Second War of Haiti’s Independence and Haiti’s victory in 1803.
The beginning of December, is a joyous time for the people of Haiti as the Christmas season begin. Many Haitians shop for Christmas trees or cut them down from the mountains. Nativity scenes are created to commemorate the arrival of Jesus Christ as part of the Christian tradition.
On the 24th of December, the children clean and shine their shoes and fill it with straws for Saint Nicholas, in hopes to receive candy. Homes are decorated with lights and decorations in honor of the holiday. There is a Christmas Eve mass, caroling throughout the city, dinners, gift giving, and the cultural celebration of Christmas Day.
At the core of annual holiday celebrations, is the delicious and varied Haitian cuisine. Traditional Haitian cuisine is a combination of Spanish, African, French, and Taino flavors. A typical Haitian dish consists of rice, red beans, and a side dish. Following are a variety of popular dishes.
“Riz et pois” is a centerpiece of the Haitian daily meal. The dish is served with chicken, pork, beef or goat meat and also fried plantains.
Diri ak djon consists of rice and mushrooms, and is another traditional dish. This dish is prepared on special occasions and is served with shrimp, crab, or lima beans.
Griot, another favorite meal, incorporates pork, chilis, oranges, and lemons, for a tasty sweet and sour plate.
Banana Pesées, a Haitian fried plantain is usually served as a snack or side, or with Pikliz, a relish, and is also served with meat.
A traditional dessert is sweet potato pudding, or “pain patate” and it can be served cold or hot.
Haiti is also known for the alcoholic beverage, “ Rhum Barbancourt.” It is a rum made from pure dark sugarcane and aged in oak barrels. This drink is credited to Dupre Barbancourt, who emigrated to Haiti from France in 1862. It is one of the most popular tourist souvenir, and is considered a customary product of Haitian culture.
A popular non alcoholic beverage is a papaya smoothie called, Ji papay. Most Haitians drink fruity beverages made of oranges, pineapple, mango, guayaba.
Haitians share a unique sense of taste because of the multicultural fusion shared within their cuisine.
When it comes to a signature style of dress, Haiti has one of its own. A traditional clothing set for a woman is a dress, known as the Quadrille or Karabela.
It is an off-the-shoulder top, matched with a skirt. It is generally red and blue to resemble the Haitian flag and styled with ruffles or lace. Haitian women are very fashionable and like to wear bright colors and accessorize. They also wear a headscarf or a turban as an accessory to their everyday outfit.
As for the men, when dressing up, they typically wear guayabera which is a loose shirt, worn untucked and made of two closely sewn pleats running vertically. To complement the dressy shirt, men wear trousers. Traditional clothing is often worn for cultural celebrations in honor of Haiti’s heritage.
Children usually dress in casual clothing for example the boys wear shorts and a comfortable shirt and the girls wear dresses/ skirts or shorts.
Throughout some of the cities in Haiti, art is displayed on the walls of the streets. Street art is one of the most expressive ways to display civilian emotions. The artists who create street art amplify the voices of the citizens and create a societal and communal representation.
— GOALS Haiti (@goalshaiti) June 14, 2017
For those who are interested in cultural and historical art, some of the most famous art galleries/museums in Haiti include, Galerie Monnin, Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, Galerie d’art Nader Haiti, Galerie Marassa, and El- Saieh Gallery. Galerie Monnin is an art gallery, showcasing the artistic and cultural history of Haiti through realism.
The Musee du pantheon national Haitien (MDPNH) is a history museum that showcases cultural artefacts of Haiti’s history and celebrates its national pride.
Galerie d’art Nader Haiti displays Haitian culture by combining local products such as Haitian paintings, handcrafts, local coffee, rum, beer and music. This gallery is known to have the largest collection of Haitian art, including over 17,000 artworks.
Galerie Marassa is known for its Caribbean art promoting social and cultural projects.
El- Saieh Gallery centers around different painting styles, impressionist portraits, and surreal settings to represent a classic perspective of Haitian art.
Music and Dance
There are two main types of Haitian music: folk and popular music. Haitian Folk music is founded on Haiti’s history and is unique because it focuses on particular influences of the country’s past.
Through listening to this type of music, listeners can learn about the rich history of Haiti. Haitian Folk music is accompanied by Haitian dances such as Affranchi; a colonial dance; Kontradans; a Haitian Contra dance, and Méringue.
Popular music is a favorite among the youth who enjoy the spoken lyrics by the artists. Haitian popular music consists of Rap Creole, Alternative Caribbean (Haitian Rock), Kompa, Mini Jazz, Raisin (Vodou Rock), and Zouk-Love (Sensual Music).
Visiting the island of Haiti is the best way to immerse oneself in the rich traditions, cuisine, art, and music. Haitian traditions blend West African, Colonial European, and Latin American customs. Haitians are proud of their independence, accomplishments, and heritage.
Haitian families preserve their traditions to ensure they survive for the future generations. The joy of Haitian life is imprinted in the arts, its savory cuisine, and the craft of dance and folktale. The Haitian welcoming spirit brings visitors to the island from all over the world.
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My name is Vianna Villacorta, I am currently a senior at Mount Saint Mary’s University Los Angeles. I am majoring in Spanish Studies with an emphasis in translation and plan to pursue a business degree. I am American, but I come from a Mexican and Salvadoran background. I am interested in writing about the social issues Latin American countries are facing in the world today such as, education and health. I have traveled to many different countries and regions in Latin America such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. The common factor these countries have are the lack of support and funding from the government. I believe the voices of the habitants of these countries need to be projected to the world to raise awareness. As a Latin American Correspondent, I plan to expand my knowledge, language, and culture of my Latin Heritage. I am thankful to be a part of this experience, in hopes of addressing and helping raise social issues in parts of Latin America. I know this opportunity will help me be a more well-rounded and professional person because of the different connections I will be making with other professionals.