Monday, April 29, 2013

Country Profile: Haiti

I hope you enjoy my profile on Haiti! 

The Haitian flag features Haiti's coat of arms. The white scroll reads "L'Union Fait La Force", which means "Unity Makes Strength."

The Land: 

Haiti is part of the island of Hispaniola, which also includes the Dominican Republic. Haiti occupies 10,714 square miles of the island. It is slightly smaller than the US state of Maryland. Haiti is made up of two peninsulas, which are divided by the Gulf of Gonâve. The island Gonâve in the center of the gulf also belongs to Haiti. Haiti is considerably more mountainous than its neighbor, the Domincan Republic. Mountain chains run east to west on both of Haiti's peninsulas. The highest peak, Pic la Selle, is located in Massif de la Selle and rises to 8,793 feet. People live in the hills and valleys between the mountains. Haiti has four main areas of plains: Central, Northern, Artibonite, and Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. Port-au-Prince, the capital, is located on the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. Haiti is criss-crossed by several large rivers. The longest is the Artibonite. Most of the tree cover that existed before European colonization of the country has been removed for farming and the production of charcoal fuel. Haiti is a warm and mildly humid country. Frost, ice, and snow don't form anywhere in Haiti, even on the mountain peaks. The average temperature in the mountains is 66 degrees, but the average temperature in the capital is 88 degrees. Spring and autumn are rainy seasons. December through February and June through August are dry. July is the driest month. Hurricane season lasts from June to October.

One of Haiti's beaches


Haiti is home to almost 10 million people, and that number is declining annually by about .97%. Haiti has a high birthrate, but poor health and emigration keep the overall population growth rates down. Up to 300,000 people were killed in the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Most Haitians are descended from African slaves brought to the island starting in the 17th century, but a small portion of the population (about 5%) are white or of mixed heritage. Florida and New York have relatively large populations of Haitians, and there are Haitian communities in other parts of the US and Canada as well. Haitians also live and work in the Dominican Republic. Because of agricultural jobs in the Dominican Republic, particularly dealing with sugar cane, many Haitians moved to the Domincan Republic to live in urban areas and find jobs. However, the Dominican government has passed new laws to try to regulate immigration, and there have been mass deportations of Haitian immigrants from the country.


The official languages of Haiti are Haitian Creole (Kreyòl), and French. People use Kreyòl in daily conversation. French is used in government and business settings. Only educated adults or secondary students speak French. Though some people in Haiti do speak French, the levels of accuracy and fluency vary. Haitians who speak French may shun those who don't, as a grasp of the language has become a sign of high social status. Kreyòl is a unique mixture of French, Taino, English, Spanish, and various African languages. It is traditionally an oral language, though it had a written form as early as the 19th century. Written Kreyòl spread significantly after the 1940s, when there was a push for literacy programs. More Haitians know some English these days because of the popularity of American television programs, and because many Haitians have relatives living in the United States.


Most Haitians (about 80%) identify as Catholic. Some people regularly attend church, but others only participate in Christian religion when it comes to marriages, funerals, or other important events that may have church ties. Protestants account for about 16% of the population, and that includes Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostals. Vodou is practiced in varying degrees by most Haitians. It was given legal status equal to other religions in 2003. Officially, the Catholic church disapproves of vodou, but vodou practices and rituals include many Catholic and Christian images, including worshiping saints. Vodou ceremonies usually take place at night. People who practice vodou believe that during ceremonies in a temple, a vodou god may inhabit the body of a ceremony participant. Not all people who practice vodou do so openly.

A cheery Haitian church

The People:

Haitians are friendly, generous, and warm. They are very hospitable people. They are proud of their culture and heritage. Everyday life is a struggle for a majority of Haitians, but parents strive to provide an education for their children, so they may have a brighter future. The income gap in Haiti is enormous. The wealthiest Haitians and the rural poor have very different outlooks on life, and the poorer part of the population may hold stronger ties to cultural traditions. Haitians attitude toward other nations may also be affected by their economic status. The wealthy elite may identify more closely with Haiti's historical ties to Europe, while lower economic classes feel closer to the country's African and indigenous roots. Haitians often migrate to other nations in Central America, and some, if they are able, may move to Canada or the United States. Haitians' attitudes toward their closest neighbors in the Dominican Republic may vary based on geography, class, and occupation. Upper-class Haitians may have business ties to the Dominican Republic, and lower-class Haitians may make short trips across the border to buy, sell, and trade. A growing number of Haitian students are studying at universities in the Dominican Republic. After the earthquake in 2010, the Dominican government, private citizens, and businesses donated money and supplies to help rebuild Haiti.

Whenever possible, Haitians put great care into public appearance. Urban Haitians tend to prefer Western-style clothing. Women wear colorful skirts or pants. Sandals are the most popular footwear. Businessmen and government officials wear suits and ties. Rural men wear t-shirts and shorts or pants while they work. Almost all Haitian women like jewelry, though it is often unaffordable. Men may wear gold jewelry to indicate status.

When someone enters a room in Haiti, you're expected to physically greet them. Haitians usually shake hands when meeting someone new. Everyone else gets a kiss on the cheek! An older person might be called "aunt" or "uncle" even if they aren't related to the speaker. Haitians enjoy spontaneous gatherings among friends and family, whether it's in the street or at the market. At these gatherings, you can hear plenty of laughter and loud conversation, complete with hand gestures. If one is too busy to stop and talk, acknowledgement, such as nodding the head upward, is expected. Friends, relatives, and neighbors are welcome for a visit any time before about 8 pm. Calling ahead is not necessary, but if a guest arrives during a meal, they may be asked to wait in another room while the family finishes eating. Close friends may be invited to share in the meal. It is not considered impolite to decline refreshments. Haitians do enjoy having friends and family over for dinner. After the meal, the hosts may walk the guests to the door, but the visit will continue as the hosts and guests stand and chat some more. Guests may bring a gift to their hosts for special occasions such as baptisms, weddings, graduations, or first communions.


Families in urban areas may have three or four children. Rural families may have ten or more children. Extended family is the basic unit of society. Grandparents may act as parents if a child's parents are gone or work a lot. When school is not in session, children in the countryside may be sent to live with city dwelling relatives, and vice versa. Adult children are expected to live with their parents until they get married, and sometimes, married children continue living with the parents until they can afford a home of their own. Married couples usually make a new home close to their families. In the countryside, extended families may live in a sort of compound arrangement, with homes surrounding a shared courtyard area. The father is the head of the household, and is the primary income-earner. Mothers are responsible for cooking, homekeeping, and childrearing. Mothers also teach their children about morality and religion. Rural men work in the fields while their wives may sell goods in the market to earn extra income. Some middle class families have a servant to help with household duties. Single mothers are very common in Haiti, and many men have children with more than one woman. Despite the fact that men are traditionally responsible for providing a family with income, the family's money is usually managed by the wife. Children also help their families by cooking, cleaning, running errands, selling in the market, and laundry. Some families can only afford to send one child to school, and it's usually the oldest child. The other children are expected to help take care of the home, and bring in income.

Domestic violence is a big problem in Haiti. Unfortunately, women sometimes face unfair legal issues there as well. For example, if a woman murders her unfaithful husband, she will probably receive a harsher punishment than a man who murders his unfaithful wife. A growing number of women own their own businesses and participate in government, but the national legislative seats are held almost overwhelmingly by men.


Haitian houses are constructed of whatever materials are available. Cement buildings are common in Port-au-Prince. Some brightly painted, brick, two-story buildings remain in older areas of the capital. In newer settlements, cinderblock homes are very common. These homes are usually just single rooms, occupying 9 square feet. The home is finished with a corrugated tin roof and a packed-earth floor. A small minority of Haitians have electricity, and running water is even less common. Outside the capital, the traditionoal lakou (family compound) housing remains. Surrounding the courtyard are small sleeping rooms made of cement, mud and rock, or banana leaves. More than a million people lost their homes in the 2010 earthquake, and over a hundred thousand at least still lack permanent housing. Many of the homes that fell during the earthquake were unstable cinderblock structures. Many older wooden homes survived because of their flexible, more stable structure.

A cinderblock city in Haiti

Young Haitians socialize in groups, but they usually don't begin dating until they're in their late teens. After reaching adulthood and finishing their education, most Haitians focus on getting married. After dating for a few years, couples are expected to get married. Young Haitian men may ask their girlfriend's father for permission to marry her, but if her father is not around, he may ask her mother or her mother's husband instead. Asking permission is less common in urban areas. Unlike some other countries, parents are usually not very involved in the dating lives of their children, but they do expect their children to choose spouses from respectable families from a class similar to their own. Haitian girls as young as 15 can legally marry, but young men must be at least 18. Young marriages are more common in rural areas than urban areas. Rural couples may put their marriage off until they can afford a big wedding. The wedding is usually paid for by the groom or his family, but the bride's family may also contribute financially. Couples often live together and have children like they were married until they can afford a wedding. Urban couples usually have a church wedding followed by a reception. Typical reception food may include rice, beans, salad, meat, cake, champagne and soft drinks. Haitian wedding receptions are usually held in private homes. The guests socialize and dance until the late evening. Formal polygamy is nonexistent in Haiti, but it is extremely common for men to have girlfriends and even children outside their marriage. Women, on the other hand, are expected to remain faithful to their husbands, and are looked down upon if they are not. In rural areas, a man's wife and his mistresses acknowledge each other and may even live together. Divorce is not common in Haiti, but separation is. Children almost always live with their mother after their parents split up, but they may stay with grandparents or other relatives.

Haitians celebrate births joyfully, but so many young children die before the age of five that Haitian families are careful not to appear boastful. Haitian women usually don't announce that they are pregnant until they begin to show, and the gender of the baby is usually not announced until after the birth. Most births take place without formal medical assistance, for tradition's sake. The maternal grandmother usually comes to stay with the family for a while to help care for the baby. Haitian babies are named shortly after they are born. A great amount of care and consideration goes into naming a baby. Firstborn sons are usually named after their fathers. Naming children after other respected family members is common. Children have their father's surname unless the father is unknown or he denies paternity. In rural areas, a child's name reflects the circumstances of his or her birth. For example, if a couple had trouble conceiving, they may name their child Jesula ("Jesus is here"), or Dieufel ("God created him.") Children who survive past the age of 5 are given nicknames that they are commonly known by. Baptism and first communion are important celebrations in Haitian life.

Because of Haiti's low life expectancy, elders are revered, especially those who live past 50. Respect for ancestors is very strong in Haitian culture, so even very poor families try very hard to have a proper funeral for their deceased. Family and friends gather to reminisce about the person who has died. They have a viewing, then a religious funeral ceremony. Funeral processions in rural areas usually have a single car followed by mourners dressed in black, and a marching band. Urban funerals have more cars and fewer pedestrians. Traditional tombs are above ground and brightly colored. Food and other offerings, like alcoholic drinks made from sugar cane, are often left on the tombs. Families of the deceased have masses in their honor on the anniversary of their death.

Brightly colored tombs in Haiti


If they can afford it, Haitians eat three meals a day. People in rural areas may have coffee and cassave for breakfast. Cassave is bread made from manioc, or yucca. They may not eat again until the evening. Most Haitians eat rice and beans every day. If they can afford it, their bigger meal may also include meat and a salad. Corn and rice are staple grains. Spicy foods are most popular- garlic and peppers are added to many dishes. Pork is the most common meat, but Haitians also eat chicken, goat, guinea pig, and seafood such as shrimp and fish. Yams, sweet potatoes, eggplant and fruit round out the Haitian diet. Pastries, including meat-filled ones, are popular snacks. Haiti is particularly known for fresh fruit juices, like papaya, mango, cherries, passion fruit, oranges, and grapefruit.

Produce and grains for sale in a Haitian market


Many Haitians have access to radios. People like to listen to music and news throughout the day. Few people watch movies at home, but they may watch videos at video stores. The most popular sport in Haiti is soccer. If an important match is being televised, the streets of Haiti are empty because everyone is inside somewhere watching or listening to the game. Many Haitians of all classes cheer for various teams, especially the national teams of Argentina and Brazil, because of their success. Children like to play marbles, tag, or oscelet, a jacks game made from cow or goat bones. Storytelling remains a popular pastime. Tales include ghost stories, fables and traditional tales featuring characters from Haitian folklore. Special occasions such as weddings or baptisms provide an opportunity for Haitians to gather and socialize. They tell jokes, catch up with old friends, drink, dance, and talk politics. Cockfights are (unfortunately) a popular pastime for Haitian men. These fights are usually held on Sunday afternoons. Haitian men also enjoy playing dominoes and card games. Lower class women may tell jokes and chat with friends, usually while doing chores like laundry or gathering water.

Music is very important to Haitians. Classical music, such as that performed in religious ceremonies, and modern music, like rap, are both popular. Urban residents enjoy a variety of North American music. Haitian sculptors and artists are known for using striking colors and vibrant imagery. A popular form of art is sculpture made from flattened, cut, and often painted scrap metal. Haitian history and life is a popular subject for artists, and natural elements are also important. Painted wooden boxes and screens, baskets, and pottery are also popular crafts.

An artist works on metal sculptures


Haiti's holidays include New Year's, which is also Independence Day; National Heroes Day (January 2); Constitution Day (March 29); Labor and Agriculture Day (May 1); Easter; Flag Day (May 18); All Saints Day (November 1); the Day of the Dead (November 2); and Christmas. Historical holidays, such as those celebrating important battles and the end of the Duvalier dictatorship, are also celebrated, as are Catholic holidays and traditions such as Lent, Good Friday, and Carnival.


Many Haitians do not have access to running water and modern plumbing (such as indoor bathrooms.) Then, the 2010 earthquake caused such great destruction that many people are still living in tents and other inadequate houses. These factors contribute to many health crises in Haiti, such as the spread of diseases like cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS. Haiti recently had a mass outbreak of cholera which killed more than 7,000 people in a year and a half. These diseases, combined with malnutrition and lack of health care, lead Haitians to have an extremely low life expectancy rate. Infant mortality rates are high for a number of factors- low birth weight, home births, and lack of medical care and support for new mothers and babies. Children often aren't vaccinated until they are in school. The national healthcare system is simply unable to meet the needs of the Haitian people, due to lack of resources, shortage of staff, and the high expense of medical care. There is no reliable ambulance service; the sick or injured must find a way to get themselves to a hospital or clinic, if one is nearby. These institutions are rather rare in rural areas, and many have older equipment, not enough staff or other resources. Haitians have to pay for medical care out of pocket, and most simply cannot afford to do so. The 2010 earthquake brought foreign medical aid to Haiti, but often these organizations are only able to treat the most urgent cases. Traditional remedies and treatments are still very important to Haitians, particularly in rural areas. Natural remedies may be tried first if an illness presents itself. If a family has enough money, they may turn to a pharmacy to purchase medicine. Many illnesses and injuries are believed to be the result of magical intervention, sent by a religious practitioner (not always vodou, interestingly enough.) If an illness has an unknown origin, one may visit a specialist in herbal remedies or a vodou priest or priestess. Payments are usually made in cash, but sometimes a trade takes place (such as cattle or land for services.)


Haiti's school system is modeled after that of France. Children start with kindergarten, then have six years of primary school, and seven years of secondary school. Many children from poorer families do not attend secondary school, but instead help their families by working. Children usually start primary school at the age of 6. After primary school is completed, students must pass an exam to enter secondary school. Students must also pass exams at the end of the third, sixth, and seventh years of secondary school. The school system often does not adequately prepare students for these difficult, mandatory exams. Some schools are called "lekòl bòlèt", or "lottery schools." They are called this because people say students have as much chance of graduating as they do winning the lottery. Generally, schools lack sufficient materials and qualified teachers. In some areas, like Port-au-Prince, the school day may be interrupted by political demonstrations or other social unrest. Because of the frequent violence at these kinds of events, children are often removed from school or kept home when these protests are planned. Education is highly valued but mostly unattainable because of cost. Very few schools in Haiti are public. Private schools make up about 80% of Haiti's schools. These include Catholic schools, national and international schools. Most urban Haitians send their kids to private school, though tuition can be a huge financial burden. Even in public schools, families are financially responsible for books, supplies, uniforms, and enrollment fees. Haitian schools teach math, geography, history, and grammar. Later in their schooling years, students may learn foreign languages, literature, and extracurricular activities like sewing. Haitian students often only study and work on homework until sunset, because of power outages and the high cost of generators. Parents are usually involved in their children's studies, but parental involvement decreases as the child gets older. Cheating is frowned upon and may result in punishment at home and expulsion from school. Haitian students who complete secondary school may pursue a degree at a university. The most popular school is the state university. Wealthy students are more likely to attend higher education outside the country. The majority of less-wealthy students look for employment after secondary school.

Primary school students in Haiti

Books to Read:

Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson
Meet Our New Student from Haiti by John A. Torres
Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams

Bible Verse:

"Paske, Bondye sitèlman renmen lèzòm li bay sèl Pitit li a pou yo. Tout moun ki va mete konfyans yo nan li p'ap pedi lavi yo. Okontrè y'a gen lavi ki p'ap janm fini an." Jan 3:16

From Compassion's Website:

"Compassion's work in Haiti began in 1968. Currently, more than 66,700 children participate in 240 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Haitian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."

All information came from CultureGrams. 
It's an excellent resource if you have access to it!


  1. As always, this was great!! Thanks for posting these!! I find the information on families and the people fascinating. But how tragic that so many guys are not faithful to their wives...and that it's accepted culturally. Ironically, I'm also posting on Haiti this week!! It's the next one in the alphabet :)

  2. The stuff about infidelity was surprising, since that wasn't really mentioned as much in the entries on the other countries I've profiled. It was sad to see all the times it said "if the father is known" and stuff like that.

    I can't wait to read your profile on Haiti! I am moving clockwise around the globe by Compassion region (Africa, South America, Central America, Asia, and back around again) based on suggestions from friends and family!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this! Great job!


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