Culture and Customs of Haiti

Culture and Customs of Haiti

Culture and Customs of Haiti

Culture and Customs of Haiti

Synopsis

Culture and Customs of Haiti begins with an overview of the mountainous island that seemed forbidding to European colonizers. Historical periods, including French colonization, U. S. occupation in the early 20th century, Independence and the Duvaliers' reigns, until today, are reviewed and provide the framework for the volume. A chapter on the people and society details the pride of the black state that managed the only successful slave revolution in history. The extremes of society from the elite to the peasantry and slum dwellers are depicted, along with Haitians in diaspora. Religion in Haiti, with the strong amalgamation of Roman Catholicism and vaudou, a West African import, is then explained. A Social Customs chapter notes the joy that is found in such an economically depressed culture. The media and literature and language chapters necessarily unfold in the context of Haiti's political history. A section on writing in Creole is especially intriguing. Finally, chapters on the performing arts and visual arts evoke the energy and color of the people in such forms as vaudou jazz and dance, contemporary rara rock, and the folkloric influence on Haitian painting. A chronology and glossary supplement the text.

Excerpt

“CULTURE” is a problematic word. In everyday language we tend to use it in at least two senses. On the one hand we speak of cultured people and places full of culture, uses that imply a knowledge or presence of certain forms of behavior or of artistic expression that are socially prestigious. In this sense large cities and prosperous people tend to be seen as the most cultured. On the other hand, there is an interpretation of “culture” that is broader and more anthropological; culture in this broader sense refers to whatever traditions, beliefs, customs, and creative activities characterize a given community—in short, it refers to what makes that community different from others. In this second sense, everyone has culture; indeed, it is impossible to be without culture.

The problems associated with the idea of culture have been exacerbated in recent years by two trends: less respectful use of language and a greater blurring of cultural differences. Nowadays, “culture” often means little more than behavior, attitude, or atmosphere. We hear about the culture of the boardroom, of the football team, of the marketplace; there are books with titles like The Culture of War by Richard Gabriel (Greenwood, 1990) or The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch (1979). In fact, as Christopher Clausen points out in an article published in the American Scholar (Summer 1996), we have gotten ourselves into trouble by using the term so sloppily.

People who study culture generally assume that culture (in the anthropological sense) is learned, not genetically determined. Another general assumption made in these days of multiculturalism has been that cultural differences should be respected rather than put under pressure to change. But these as-

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