skip to content

Haiti

Geography & Topography

Capital: Port-au-Prince

Area: 27,750 km2

Population: 9,719,932

Language: French, Creole

Religion: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Voodoo

Currency: Gourde

 

History

Haiti, officially the Republic of Haiti is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.

Haiti has a long and storied history and therefore retains a rich culture. Haitian culture is a mixture of primarily French, African elements, and native Taíno, with influence from the colonial Spanish. The country’s customs essentially are a blend of cultural beliefs that derived from the various ethnic groups that inhabited the island of Hispaniola. In nearly all aspects of modern Haitian society however, the European and African elements dominate. Haiti is world famous for its distinctive art, notably painting and sculpture.

Performing Arts

Music

The music of Haiti is influenced mostly by European colonial ties and African migration. In the case of European colonization, musical influence has derived primarily from the French, however Haitian music has been influenced to a significant extent by its Spanish-speaking neighbors, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, whose Spanish-infused music has contributed much to the country’s musical genres as well. Styles of music unique to the nation of Haiti include music derived from Voodoo ceremonial traditions, Rara parading music, troubadour ballads, and the wildly popular Compas.

 

 

 

 

The most recognizable instruments in traditional Haitian music are:

Haitian Drums

Haitian Drum: The Haitian drum, also known as “tanbou” in Creole, represents a significant piece in Haitian history. During their independence ceremony, Haitians dance to the beat of the drum while feasting on pumpkin soup. The drum is a distinctive tool originating from Africa, made with hard woods and covered with goat or cow skin. It endows Haitians with an organic and versatile sound which enables their music to stand out from other music. The drum is played simply with bare hands. Dissimilar notes coming from the drum are created from the player’s movement of the fingers sliding on the instrument. The device brings a sense of joy and energy to the people.

 

Dance

Haitian dance is unique in its melding of diverse African styles and cultural traditions. Many different African ethnic groups crossed paths on the island of Hispanola (known now as Haiti and the Dominican Republic) when brought there as slaves by the French centuries ago. Old traditions, songs and dances (mostly of Congo and Dahomey origin) evolved and mixed with elements of Arawak (indigenous Haitian Indian) and French culture to form a new, uniquely Haitian dance expression. The creation of Vodou cosmology is a factor influencing Haitian movement. The dances and ritual arose as an attempt to preserve sacred and social art forms, customs and beliefs, in response to surviving the oppressive and arduous conditions of slavery.

Examples of traditional Haitian dances are:

Yanvalou

Yanvalou: A ritual dance originated in Benin. It honours all the spirits of the rada nation. Yanvalou represents the undulation of the waves as they rise and fall and also the movement of spirit Dambalah, represented by a serpent. Dambalah is the source of energy and life. White is the color of the very pure rada spirits.

Parigol

 

Parigol: A graceful and subtle yanvalou associated with La Sirene, the mermaid. Possession: The spirits take control of the body. The human body becomes a horse for the spirit to ride.

 

 

 

Some interesting facts:

  • The barbecue was first discovered by Europeans in Haiti about 500 years ago.
  • The term ‘Haiti’ is derived from ‘Ayti’, a Taino word that means ‘mountainous land’.
  • In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the island, and named it La Isla Española (“the Spanish Island”), or Hispaniola. Before he discovered it and claimed it for Spain, the Taíno, an Arawakan people, inhabited it. They called their island Bohio, Ayiti, or Kiskeya.
  • Only at the 1936 Olympics did people find out that the Haitian flag and the Liechtenstein flag were identical, Liechtenstein would eventually change theirs by adding a crown to it.

Haitian Community in Australia:

More information on the Haitian community: