Haiti culture makes the island one of the most complex and fascinating locations of the whole Caribbean, in spite of its reputation for danger and instability. You will find the same untouched beauty in its landscapes and equally atmospheric and exotic hang-outs as there were only 25 years ago, when it attracted movie stars and business moguls from all over the world. Despite the return of democracy to the island in the 21st century, the years of dictatorships and poverty have taken their toll, and there remains a strong sense that it is still in the process of recovery.
The vibrant Haiti culture is most alive in its religion, music and food. Although the official religion of the country is Catholicism, harking back to when the French ran the island, it is their infamous practice of voodoo that gives the culture of Haiti its exotic appeal. The French tried in vain to keep control of the island, but Haiti became the second nation in the Americas (after the United States) to achieve independence. The most prominent reminder of French culture is the food, which borrows equally from creole, traditional African dishes and the spices of Latin America. The music of Haiti is significantly different from the rest of the Caribbean – kampa and zouk are the most popular forms here, and have more in common with jazz than the island beats found in places such as Cuba and Trinidad.
If the world is hesitant to come to the island to enjoy a taste of Haitian culture, then Haiti has often attempted to break down the barriers by itself stepping outside and showing off the treasures it holds which are waiting to be discovered. The Folklife Festival of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. played host to some wonderful installations revealing much about the Haitian real daily life, and the creativity of its beautiful and friendly people. They saw Kric Krac story telling, they learned of coffee, sugar cane, canoe building and the papier mache masks and carnival in Jacmel. It was possible to experience a voodoo ceremony and listen to a local twoubadou band while attempting to dance Haitian compa or rara. And the Haitian pikliz once sampled was never forgotten.
Where music is concerned, the most prestigious event in the calendar is the annual Haitian Music and Entertainment Awards, or HME awards, which honours and recognizes the creators, performers and producers of Haitian and Creole heritage, culture and music. This and the annual Haitian Flag Day Compas Fest are held in the city of Miami, and are a huge draw for lovers of Haiti’s unique brand of music and entertainment. It is at events like these, where Haitians unite in their appreciation for their cultural heritage, that there is a sense of a brighter future ahead for this country which is currently in turmoil. Amid artists such as Brothers Posee, Sweet Micky, RAM and Magnum Band, the fans enjoy a potpourri of Haitian musical genres.
Because of the volatile political situation, dates should always be checked before planning visits to catch events, but if you are around, do not miss the opportunity to take part in the celebrations of Independence Day and the National Day of the Forefathers on January 1st and 2nd respectively, Agriculture and Labour Day on May 1st, Flag Day on May 18th and the anniversary of Dessaline’s death on October 17th. The festivals of All Saints and the Day of the Dead on November the 1st and 2nd have special poignancy in Haiti, and the final date in the annual events calendar is the Armed Forces Day which is held on November 18th. Like many other Caribbean nations, Haiti celebrates carnival in a big way with a Mardi Gras that attracts performers from far and wide.