Haiti Culture

About Haiti

 

Culture

Haiti’s culture was formed from a mix of European, African, and Caribbean-American influences.  These influences quickly replaced the customs of the original population of Taino Indians, who inhabited Haiti before the arrival of Europeans and Africans.

Haiti is considered a third world country where people are very poor and highly urbanized.  It has struggled economically after winning their independence, and has not found a solution to their poverty problems.  Things have not changed, and they still find themselves at the bottom of the economic power.

Haiti’s population is approximately over 8 million.  The population consists mainly of people of African descent.  With nearly three hundred people per square kilometer, the country is among the most densely populated areas of the Western hemisphere.  Most of the population lives in rural areas and depends heavily on agriculture.

Haiti is an independent republic of the Caribbean, occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola.  Its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island.  On the western side, Haiti faces the island of Cuba, separated from it by the Windward Passage.  The northern and southern coastlines are on the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, respectively.

Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, is the largest international port for external and internal commerce.  All other major cities of Haiti are located on the coastline.

 

Religion 

The people of Haiti are mainly Roman Catholic and Protestant, or Voodoo worshipers.  Voodoo has been the best known feature of Haiti and has gained an image of being a country of sorcery and zombies.  Rituals commemorating the lwa (spirits), lucky events, births and deaths involve dancing, drumming and spirit possessions.  Ceremonies are also performed to gain alwa’s favor, perhaps to heal disease or end a run of bad luck, and may include offerings of food, toys and even animal sacrifice.

 

Currency

The gourde (HTG) is the currency in use in Haiti, although the U.S. dollar is traded freely in any situation.  Throughout most of the twentieth century, the gourde was fixed to the U.S. dollar at a rate of five to one; the current rate is now approximately seven to one.  Seven gourdes, therefore, became known as “one Haitian dollar.”  Since 1991, the rates have been allowed to float.  They vary from 35 HTG to 45 HTG for US $1.00.  (Eight or nine “Haitian dollars” are equivalent to US $1.00.) Before buying, always be sure to ask what currency is being charged:  the price may be in gourds, “Haitian dollars,” or U.S. dollars.  The best strategy is to use a financial institution to convert money.

 

Travel

In cities, people travel primarily by taxi and private car.  For longer trips, converted station wagons are available that follow certain designated routes.  Pickup trucks and a type of small built-up bus called a taptap can be frequently seen.  They are usually decorated with proverbs, biblical verses, and political slogans.

There are few regional airports, all of which have flights to major city airports.  The main international airport being in Port-au-Prince.  Private and/or missionary planes may receive authorization to land at secondary airports.  Landings have to be pre-arranged and authorization secured through the aviation authorities.

 

Shopping

The streets are overflowing with shops and markets where merchants of all sorts are displaying their mix of local and imported wares.  Most items for sale are food, housewares, supplies, and clothing. There are no fixed prices or uniform selling practices in Haiti.  Prices vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and from merchant to merchant.  The norm is bargaining, and returning merchandise is never an option.  Merchants are usually mobile and move from place to place.

 

Healthcare

The public health system remains in disarray. The private health care sector has developed in recent years, but most in poverty-stricken Haiti cannot afford to pay the fees charged for services. With the public health system underfunded and understaffed, patients often have nowhere to turn but to free clinics.  Many nonprofit groups and organizations offer free clinics.  Unfortunately, most of these free clinics are reporting bed occupation rates at 100 % at all times and often the staff have no choice but to refer patients to public health facilities that they know are inadequate.

 

Creole – The Haitian Language

The languages spoken in Haiti include French for formal business communication and Haitian Creole (Baby French) for everyday interaction.  Although the language of instruction is French, recent changes have given Haitian Creole a more prominent status by requiring its use in schools.  More recently English has become commonplace in the country, due to the regular interaction with travelers and missionaries from the United States.

Review useful and popular words and phrases here.