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Haiti

Culture & Identity

WARNING: Diseases are rampant in Haiti, please read this travel warning before going!

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.

Ethnicity

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.

Language

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.

Religion

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 religions.

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).

Dress

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.

Behavior

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.

Identity

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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This page was last updated: December, 2013