Located in the Caribbean, Haiti occupies 10,714 square miles with an eastern border with the Dominican Republic. Many consider the island a melting pot of many cultures, such as French, Spanish, African, and West Indian. According to Merriam-Webster, culture is defined as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. With the merging of cultures, Haiti has adapted and created a bright, unique, and colorful culture with heavy influences on art, music, religion, voodoo, and festivals.
Although an independent nation, Haiti has faced many hardships that have created difficulties across the island. These hardships range from natural disasters to political turmoil to social differences among the citizens. Despite the many divides that have attempted to collapse the nation, culture continues to thrive within the borders of the tropical island.
Originally Arawak Indians inhabited the Haitian land around 900 A.D. until 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered the island. Spaniards came along and killed off the Arawak Indians and the island was vacant for many years.
In the middle of the 17th century, the French settled in Haiti. African slaves were brought to the island to harvest their sources of income, which included coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, and cotton. Beginning in 1791, the slaves rebelled against the French and in 1804, Haiti gained independence from France. This victory caused Haiti to be the first black nation to gain independence in the world. 80 years later, Haiti was split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Pillai, 2018).
Being located in the Caribbean, Haiti is classified as having a tropical, humid climate.
Although average temperatures are in the mid-80 degrees Fahrenheit, during the winter, frost can happen in the areas of the island that are at higher elevations. Trade winds do not affect the nation based on its geographical location because the Dominican Republic takes the brunt of it. The most humid areas of the island are in the northern and eastern parts of the mountains (Ferguson, 2019). Although humidity is present in this region, there are parts of the island that experience droughts throughout the year. The vast contrast in rain can cause famine and unsuccessful agricultural farming. The southern area of Haiti is most susceptible to experiencing hurricanes, although the entire island can feel the effects of a tropical storm. In 2008, a thread of severe tropical storms caused vast damage and the death of around 800 people across the island (Ferguson, 2019).
In terms of complex terrain and the effects it has on movement, Haiti’s dense wildlife has decreased since the 17th century. As the population increased and the need to make room for both agricultural land and urban infrastructure, many forests have been destroyed. With the forests that are left, the terrain is composed of evergreens, fern trees, orchids, cacti, and acacias in various parts of the island. Mangrove swamps can be found on the coastlines, which have begun to disappear over the years. With the decline in natural vegetation, wildlife has also decreased because of the lack of habitat. Movement across terrain is not severely restricted, as there are not many densely vegetated areas throughout the island.
The ratio of rural and urban living in Haiti has almost split down the middle. As of 2015, the Encyclopedia of Britannica reported that 41.4% of the island was rural and 58.6% was urban living. Overall, Haiti is heavily populated. Much of the rural living is composed of farming land that is close together and manned by the owners of their small plots of land. The urban life on the island spreads through five or six towns, including Port-au-Prince. In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to infrastructure and high numbers of death and injury. Much of the infrastructure that remains in the urban areas of the island is old-fashioned-style buildings and shanty-style homes.
According to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, as of 2000, the population was composed of three different ethnic groups. 94.2% of the population was of African origin, and only 5.4% were a mix of European and African descent, also referred to as Mulatto. The remaining 0.4% of the population was primarily European (Ferguson, 2019). Due to the various ethnicities that inhabit Haiti, the language of Haitian Creole was developed. French and Haitian Creole closely resemble one another, but the syntax for Haitian Creole closely resembles the Creole languages of nations in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. In daily life, Creole is the common operational language during daily life, but writing in this language is much less frequent, whereas French occurs in more informal social settings and within the school systems.
Although there is no official religion in Haiti, many of the citizens practice Roman Catholicism. Vodou is another religion followed throughout Haiti. Vodou believes the Gods and many other traditions come from West African and European religions. The premise of Vodou is to recognize Loa, who is the pantheon of spirits who oversees the universe, and to honor the dead (Makofsky 2019). Priests or priestesses’ can convey messages that they receive from Loa that deliver guidance for individuals. As of 2003, the Encyclopedia of Britannica reported that 54.7% of the population follows the Roman Catholic religion. Baptist is the next most population religion taking up 15.4% of the population. Pentecostal is nearly half the percentage of Baptists at 7.9% and 2.1% practice Vodou. Although the difference between those practicing Roman Catholicism and Vodou is vast, nearly 80% of all Roman Catholics also practice Vodou (Ferguson, 2019).
Music is a very large part of Haitian culture. Musical influences come from French, Spanish, and American music. The most important instrument found in Haitian music is the drum. The most popular known music in Haiti is Zouk, Rara, Compas, Haitian Rap, and Haitian Jazz. Much of the music has a medium-to-fast tempo and is taken from the Vodou ceremony and traditions (Pillai, 2018). Music is also incorporated into the annual festivals. The festivals or Carnival that are put on resemble Mardi Gras. The citizens put together floats, wear costumes, play local music, and danced in the streets. A well-known Haitian festival is the Rara Festival. Rara is a style of music and dance in Haitian culture, which is played during Easter. The Rara Festival is similar to the other festivals put on with dancing in the streets, costumes, music, and floats. Occasionally, the Rara Festival is used for patrons to protest concerns and speak political messages (Makofsky, 2019).
Haiti and its culture it’s unlike many other parts of the world. The rich cultural influences that structure the way of life throughout the island exemplify how important culture and patterns are to society. Knowing the historical conflicts, weather effects, terrain, rural and urban living, population demographics, religious influences, and cultural interests aid in gaining a better understanding of what Haiti is composed of. Although an independent nation, Haiti has faced many hardships that have created difficulties across the island. These hardships range from natural disasters to political turmoil to social differences among the citizens. Despite the many divides that have attempted to collapse the nation, culture continues to thrive within the borders of the tropical island.