Culture of Haiti

Culture of Haiti

The culture of Haiti is primarily a culture that has strong West African roots, as well as strong French roots due to the French colonization of Haiti, as is evidenced in the Haitian language, music and religion. The culture also encompasses additional contributions from native Taino and Spanish imperialism. Preceding “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s rule, the county of Haiti was forced to take out several expensive financial loans from France. During 1957 until 1971 in Haiti it was considered the era of “Papa Doc” Duvalier ruling the country.



Haitian Compas chicken (sometimes written as Compas Direct, konpa direk, konpa, or kompa) is a musical genre as well as a dance that originates from Haïti. It was named «Compas Direct» by Nemours Jean-Baptiste on a recording released in 1955. The name derives from compas, the Spanish word meaning rhythm or tones. It involves mostly medium-to-fast tempo beats with an emphasis on electric guitars, synthesizers, and either a solo alto saxophone, a horn section or the synthesizer equivalent. Unlike zouk (which derives from compas of the French Antilles), the lyrics are mostly in Haitian Creole.

Folklore often categorized into both European (Spanish & French mythology) and African folklore has become a part of Haitian culture. With it many musical styles have arisen due to its influences. The style of music most recognized in Haiti is the wildly popular Compas or "Kompa", a musical genre born of French and Spanish music combined with African-derived drumming and Haitian Creole-sung verses. Haiti's music (especially Compas) bears several similarities to its Spanish-speaking neighbors yet it is unique in its own right.

In North America, compas festivals take place frequently in Montreal, New York, Miami, and Boston.

Merengue of the Dominican Republic is fairly popular in Haiti. The true origins of the genre are not certain with both countries claiming to have invented it. The dance of the same name is considered by many to be the national dance of Haiti[1]; however, there is some controversy regarding its origins. Of the dance, one story alleges it originated with slaves who were chained together and, of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of the drums; however, the most popular story relates that a great hero of the revolution who had been crippled in one leg was welcomed home with a victory celebration. It was known that he loved to dance but all he could do now, was step with one leg and drag the other to close. The imagery of both stories is important; both describe stepping side and dragging the other leg to close both. The similarly named Méringue is a distinct Haitian genre which is closely intertwined with that of its Dominican counterpart.


A large sequined Vodou "drapeau" or flag by the artist George Valris

Brilliant colors, naive perspective and sly humor characterize Haitian art. Big, delectable foods and lush landscapes are favorite subjects in this land of poverty and hunger. Going to market is the most social activity of country life, and figures prominently into the subject matter. Jungle animals, rituals, dances, and gods evoke the African past.

In a country of political oppression, one tends to speak in fables. Artists paint in fable as well. People are disguised as animals and animals are transformed into people. In an illiterate land, symbols take on great meaning. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colors of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party.

Many artists cluster in ‘schools’ of painting, such as the Cap Haitian school, which features depictions of daily life in the city, the Jacmel School, which reflects the steep mountains and bays of that coastal town, or the Saint-Soleil School, which is characterized by abstracted human forms and is heavily influenced by Vodou symbolism.


The most festive time of the year in Haiti is during Carnival (referred to as Kanaval in Haitian Creole or Mardi Gras). The festivities start in February. The cities are filled with music, parade floats and people dancing and singing in the streets. Carnival week is traditionally a time of all-night parties and escape from daily life. Rara, a festival which occurs before Easter, is celebrated by a significant number of the population as well and its celebration has been led to it becoming a style of carnival music. Many of the youth also attend parties and enjoy themselves at nightclubs called discos, pronounced in local slang as "deece-ko" (not like the discos of the U.S), and attend Bal. This term derives from the word ballad, and these events are often celebrated by crowds of many people.


Haiti's most famous monuments are the Palace of Sans Souci and the Citadel, inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1982.[1] Situated in the Northern Massif de la Hotte, in one of Haiti's National Parks, the structures date from the early 19th century.[2] The buildings were among the first to be built after Haiti's independence from France.

Jacmel, the colonial city that was tentatively accepted as a World Heritage site, is reported to be extensively damaged by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.[2]


Haiti is similar to the rest of Latin America in that it is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with 80%-85% Christian and approximately 20% professing Protestantism. A small but growing population of Muslims and Hindus exists in the country, principally in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Vodou, encompassing several different traditions, may contain a mix of Central and Western African, European and Native American (Taino) religions is also widely practiced despite the negative stigma that it carries both in and out of the country. The exact number of Vodou practitioners is unknown; however, it is believed that a small amount of the population practice it, often alongside their Christian faith. Some Protestants also have been known to participate in some rituals, although indirectly.


A table setting of Haitian food


In the early 20th century, it was reported that cock-fighting was the most popular sport, though its popularity has since faded.[3]

Association Football is the most popular sport in Haiti, though basketball is growing in popularity.[4] Hundreds of small football clubs compete at the local level.[4]

See also

  • Ayiwood
  • Public holidays in Haiti
  • Category:Museums in Haiti
  • Haitian cinema
  • Haitian literature
  • Media of Haiti



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