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Culture & Identity
WARNING: Diseases are rampant in
Haiti, please read this travel warning
Way of Life
Life in Haiti is diverse. From mountains to beaches, from urbanites to rural dwellers,
from the farmers to industrial workers, life in Haiti is diverse. However, the people
generally seem to cling to one identity and often share the same attitude, which
is relaxed and one that welcomes all as friends and family.
The way of life begins with this easy going attitude. Time seems unimportant, as
does much of the material possessions many people strive for, instead family is
the center of the culture and life revolves around family and doing what's best
for one's family, even if that means going to extremes to support their family.
Although the people do share the center of their lives in family, the daily schedule
and way of life differ in many other ways. Nearly half the population lives in rural
areas and of those with jobs, most work in agriculture. For these famers life tends
to be occupied with long days based on the sun, weather, and seasons. During busy
times of the year the whole family helps in the fields, while most down time is
spent in the home with family. Of course many of these people rely on their community
for survival as people come together to celebrate, mourn, or help with a project.
For the urbanites life is more diverse. Over half of the people seeking jobs in
Haiti are unemployed and many of these people live in the cities (although they
live everywhere in the country). Life in the cities ranges from wealthy business
persons in nice cars living in mansions on the beach to entire communities and neighborhoods
that consist entirely of make shift housing. The extremes in the way of life in
Haiti are best seen in the cities as many people live quite comfortably, while many
others struggle to survive day to day. Even many people with jobs feel obligated
to work long hours to keep their jobs as there are so many unemployed people waiting
for an opportunity.
No matter the circumstances, family is still the center of life for many people
and education is considered very important. Today education is much more widely
available than it was even a decade ago, but school standards and facilities remain
diverse. Today most children are educated in international or private schools, but
few of these schools even have good facilities. Few teachers have a teaching degree
or any higher education and many schools are housed in temporary structures. However,
education is important to the people so these schools are well attended.
For many outsiders life in Haiti may seem dire and in many cases it is, but the
people have survived for centuries by uniting together and focusing on family. Work
and education are to benefit the family and this remains the center of life, although
for many people little else in life is certain in Haiti, although the people continue
to push forward.
Nearly all of Haiti considers itself of
African descent, many of whose ancestors were brought to the region by the
slave trade. These slaves came from all parts of Africa, but it seems most arrived
from what is today known as the Congo, Benin, and Nigeria. Many of these people
are a combination of ethnicities though, including ethnic Africans with scant traces
of ethnic Europeans and American Indians.
Both French and creole are official languages in Haiti,
although most people tend to speak creole as their native language. This language
is similar to French, but has numerous foreign introductions, most notably from
English. The people generally speak creole amongst themselves, but use the more
formalized French in official settings, such as business and schools.
Roman Catholics make up most of Haiti's population
consisting of about 80% of the people. Nearly all of the other 20% are Protestant
in some form with about half of these people being Baptist. Also, many of voodoo's
rituals have been incorporated into the local religions so Haiti's definition
of Catholicism or Protestantism may differ slightly from how others define these
Catholicism is a Christian religion that is one of the first Christian religions
(founded after the death of Jesus in about 30-33 AD). Catholicism believes that
there is a single God who created everything, a savior, the son of God, Jesus Christ
who is the forgiver of sins, and there is the Holy Spirit, which makes up the last
part of the Holy Trinity. Catholics follow the teachings of the Bible, consisting
of the Old and New Testaments. Much of the faith is based on the life and teachings
of Jesus, which is found in the gospels (in the New Testament).
The traditional dress in Haiti for women is a dress called a karabela dress.
This dress tends to be a long, loose-fitting dress with short sleeves and a ruffled
blouse. This dress can come in numerous colors and styles, but tends to be in red
and white or a similar color pattern.
Today the karabela dress and other traditional clothing is only worn on
special occasions for festival and performances. Today nearly everyone in Haiti
wears modern western-styled clothing and, due to the country's many beaches
and hot weather, they can be fairly liberal in their dress as shorts and short-sleeved
shirts are common. However, as a visitor to Haiti try to dress for the occasion
as in religious, political, and business settings the dress is more conservative
and formal as pants and long-sleeved shirts are common. However, due to the warm
weather an many beaches, the dress is more often than not on the casual side.
The Haitians are conservative in most aspects of their lives and this is best seen
in their behaviors, dress, and dining etiquette. They tend to dress and act conservatively,
much of which is based on the doctrines of their Catholic faith. However, there
is also great variety in the way the Haitians behave as the country is quite diverse
ethnically and geographically.
As a visitor to Haiti try to follow the lead of the locals
by dressing conservatively (see above for details), dining in the local etiquette
(see our Haiti Dining & Food Page), and avoid
sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, and business unless initiated
by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth,
or getting noticeably drunk in public.
Haitians define themselves as "Haitians," but
what this means is up for debate. The Haitians have little loyalty or faith in their
government as economic progress and standards of living have improved little in
recent decades so it is generally not a nationalistic definition. However, the people
are not ethnically identical either so it is generally not an ethnic definition
either. Being Haitian is defined more by the culture and way of life of the people
on an everyday basis. Although few locals may define it in this way, it seems all
Haitians agree their language (French creole), their food, and their lifestyle are
uniform aspects of their society and their people; these traits are arguably the
best ways to define what it means to be Haitian. To a lesser degree, the people's
ancestry is also included in this identity; most Haitians are ethnic African and
many Haitians proudly call their country the first "Black Republic."
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