|Sans Souci Palace in Milot, Haiti.|
The Caribbean nation of Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles archipelago. The country has a rich and distinct culture which is a blend of several cultures with significant French, African, Spanish, and indigenous Taíno influences.
Ethnicity, Language, And Religion
Haiti is home to a population of around 10,788,440 individuals. French and Creole are the official languages of Haiti. Roman Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians account for 54.7% and 28.5% of Haiti’s population, respectively. A significant section of Haitians also adheres to indigenous religious beliefs. 10.2% of the population do not follow any religion.
Haitian cuisine is a Creole cuisine that is a blend of the different culinary styles contributed by the many cultures inhabiting the country like French, Spanish, Arabic, African, and indigenous Taíno. The cuisine is characterized by simple dishes with a dash of bold and spicy flavors. Potatoes, beans, corn, rice, and plantains are the staples of the diet. Tropical fruits are also very popular in Haiti. The climate of the country supports the cultivation of many fruits. Rice with red kidney beans topped with tomatoes, onions, and red snapper, is a common dish. It is called Riz National. The dish is usually accompanied by bouillon, a soup with various potatoes, tomatoes, meats, and spices. Chicken, goat meat, and beef are frequently eaten. Tchaka is a hearty stew of Haitian cuisine that consists of squash, meat, and hominy beans. Cornmeal porridge called mais moulin, a thick vegetable stew called Légume Haïtien, Boulette or seasoned bread-bounded meatballs, etc., are other dishes eaten in Haiti.
Beer and rum are the most common alcoholic beverages. Clairin (a distilled spirit prepared from cane sugar) and Crémas (a creamy and sweet alcoholic beverage) are some local specialties.
A variety of fruit juices, non-alcoholic malt beverages, soft drinks, milkshakes, Haitian coffee, etc., are also popular in Haiti.
Literature And The Arts
Haiti’s literature has a relatively short history beginning with the independence movement in the country against French colonial rule in the late 18th century. During this time, many literary works were produced by Haitian writers focussing on nationalism and the movement for independence. Since then, Haitian literature has been inspired by the various phases of turmoil interspersed with periods of peace associated with the post-independence history of the country. As most of the Haitian writers are from the intellectual elite classes who are imbued with French culture, their writings also reflect significant French influences.
Haitian art features bright colors, sly humor, and innovative thoughts. The beauty of the country’s landscapes and the cultural aspects of a Haitian’s life are most commonly portrayed on canvas. Folk religious practices and rituals, wild animals, etc., also serve as themes for Haitian art and reminds of the African origin of much of its population.
Often public vehicles and wood boats in the country are painted with bright colors and interesting themes. The country’s artisans also produce a variety of wood, metal, and stone handicrafts that often cater to the tourist markets in the Caribbean region.
Like cuisine, literature, and arts, the music and dance scene of Haiti also draws inspirations from the cultures of the various settlers in the country. Over a period of centuries, the music of the country has greatly evolved to give rise to unique genres and styles of music like rara parading music, mini-jazz rock bands, twoubadou ballads, hip hop kreyòl, etc. One of the most popular of these new musical styles is compas and méringue.
Like most other Caribbean islanders, Haitians love to sing and dance. The people dance on the streets during festivals like the Carnival and rara celebrations. Dancing during informal parties, church socials, and evening-outs with friends is very common. A type of religious dance inspired by African Vodou practices is performed by Haitians holding on to their ancestral beliefs. Social dance music is popular in the country. European dance forms like waltz, polka, quadrille, etc., are also performed by Haitians.
Football is Haiti’s most popular sport. It is played both professionally and informally throughout the nation. Haiti has its own national football team as well as hundreds of small football clubs at the local level. Football is a great source of entertainment for people. Men in the country socialize over a game of football. Stade Sylvio Cator in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince is used to play the game. It has a current capacity of seating 30,000 spectators. Basketball is also growing in popularity in Haiti. Tennis, swimming, weightlifting, fencing, and athletics are some of the other sports played in the nation.
Life In Society
In rural areas, both genders participate in agricultural work. The urban workforce, however, has a very small proportion of women. Many professions like that of construction workers, mechanics, general laborers, etc., have only men as employees. Even the white-collar jobs in the country are mostly held by men. In recent years, the number of women in the health and academic sector has increased to some extent. While women in Haiti’s elite urban society enjoy a good life, women belonging to the impoverished urban majority class are often vulnerable to abuse. The high unemployment rates make them susceptible to exploitation by their employees, partners, or other members of society. In rural areas, many women act as marketers and travel between urban and rural areas to sell their local produce. Such women usually have a certain degree of control over the financial affairs of their family.
Most people belonging to the elite and middle classes of the Haitian society marry. Marriage is not common among the lower classes.
Cohabitation without marriage is more popular and is recognized by both society and law. Often, couples have children outside of marriage or marry when their children grow old. About 10% of Haitian men have more than one wife and maintain separate families. Such a practice is not legal but is often sanctioned by the community.
Households are generally nuclear in nature. While men are generally the owners of the houses, women act like the central figure that nurtures and cares for the family residing in the home.
While young, children are pampered a lot. However, in the rural areas, children are trained to assist their parents in their work at an early age. In the urban areas, children of the elite and middle classes are steered towards higher education so that they find respectable jobs in society. The urban poor, however, often have no choice but to engage their children in paid work. Fosterage is a system where some children are sent to live with other families to perform domestic chores for the family with the expectation that they will be well-fed and if fortunate enough, receive education sponsored by the foster family.
The Haitians are very expressive people and display emotions very openly. They greet each other extensively and it is considered rude to not do so. They also love to socialize and gossip with friends and family. Same-sex friends hold hands or hug each other frequently to display their friendship. The people of Haiti are also known to be good hosts who are very helpful to strangers visiting their country.
By Oishimaya Sen Nag
•culled from www.worldatlas.com