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The Many Cultures in Haiti

Endless Caribbean - The Many Cultures in Haiti

The many cultures in Haiti are visible in the country’s norms, mores, and values. This diverse cultural heritage has shaped the country’s history as well as its language, religions and beliefs, music and dance, cuisine, demographics, and overall way of life. African, Spanish, French, and indigenous Taino people have had an impact on the country. Haiti, located on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared with the Dominican Republic, has a unique identity that was forged from these various cultures.

Taino Culture in Haiti

The Taino were the original natives of Hispaniola long before the Spanish and the French came. They were the original settlers on the island, making the trek from South America. History shows that this sub-group of Arawaks had a developed civilisation on Hispaniola. They built their own homes using materials such as wood, leaves and straw that were found on the island. The Taino also grew their own food and fished and hunted. Although they did not have transport to travel across Hispaniola, they made canoes out of tree trunks to travel across rivers and from one part of the island to the other and to nearby islands.

Unfortunately, when Columbus landed on the island, this sparked the beginning of the end of the Taino people. Although they were peaceable and welcoming to the Spanish and the French, the Tainos were mistreated. Their genocide was largely caused by disease and harsh slave labour. Sadly, when the Taino went extinct from Hispaniola, so did their cultural heritage. All that is left are archaeological remains, stone carvings and religious artifacts.

Spanish Culture in Haiti

A review of Haitian history reveals that the country was colony of Spain from 1492 to 1697. It started when Christopher Columbus made landfall on the island of Hispaniola. He claimed the island for Spain, and it became the first settlement for the colonisers. Unfortunately, the arrival of the Spanish, led to the death of millions of native Tainos. It is believed that many of them died from diseases that were introduced by the new residents. French pirates sparked the beginning of what would become Haiti. Spain gave the western portion of Hispaniola to France, who settled in the country and turned into a coffee and sugar establishment.

Although the Spanish influence on the island was not as prominent as that of France or Africa, there are still some visible elements. The names of place in the country still bear Spanish names. Another example is the use of certain Spanish words and phrases in the creole language which is a mixture of African, French, and Spanish languages. Additionally, some of the meals, such as rice and beans are traditional Hispanic and Spanish cuisine.

French Culture in Haiti

Although the French arrived on the western side of Hispaniola (now Haiti) prior to 1697, history shows that the French acquired ownership of Haiti from Spain 1697. Haiti was seen as the most lucrative and fertile land in the west. Because of these attributes, the French took full advantage. They created plantations and brought close to 800,000 Africans to work on them. The plantations produced coffee and sugar which were exported to Europe. As a result, Haiti became one of the richest colonies in the world. However, conditions were extremely tough for the enslaved Africans, and they rebelled against the French. Their continued rebellion and perseverance were successful and resulted in their independence from France in 1804.

Language is one of the most visible signs of the lasting French culture in Haiti. French is one of the official languages of the country, although a creole language is widely spoken. Creole is a mixture of French and some of the African languages spoken by the enslaved people. Another example of France’s culture in Haiti, is Roman Catholicism. This was the religion of the French colonisers and missionaries who moved to the country.

African Culture in Haiti

One of the most prevalent cultures in Haiti is African culture. A large proportion of the country is of African descent, many of whom are descendants of enslaved Africans. The country’s African history began in the days of slavery when France removed African people from western and central countries in Africa and took them to Haiti. However, when the enslaved Africans were forcefully relocated, they brought their culture and traditions with them. This included languages, religions, dance, music, and food. These aspects of culture have had a lasting impact because many of the African traditions are still prevalent in the country.

One of the most memorable displays of African culture was strength and resilience displayed in 1804 during the Haitian revolution. The predominately African population fought back against their colonisers and gained freedom. Another example of African culture in Haiti is Voodoo, an African religion that consists of specific practices including singing, dancing, and presenting offerings.

Further Reading

For more information on the diverse cultures in Haiti, please visit the following links:

Love to Know: Haitian Culture: Understanding Family Values and Beliefs
Restavek Freedom: 5 Important Aspects of Haitian Culture
Latina Republic: A Discovery of the Multicultural Haiti
Digital Chicago History: Overview of Haitian Religious Traditions
Purdue: Experiencing the Culture of Cap-Haïtien: A Trip to Haiti
Workers: African Culture, Resistance Live in Haiti
Nations Online: History of Haiti
Slavery and Remembrance: Haiti (Saint-Domingue)
NPR: The Greatest Heist In History’: How Haiti Was Forced To Pay Reparations For Freedom 
Bob Corbett (Webster University): Pre-Columbian Hispaniola – Arawak/ Taino Native Americans

Source: Ministère du Tourisme d’Haïti (Viran de Silva)

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