Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

"Kreyòl Pale, Kreyòl Konprann": Haitian Identity and Creole Mother-Tongue Learning in Matènwa, Haiti

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

"Kreyòl Pale, Kreyòl Konprann": Haitian Identity and Creole Mother-Tongue Learning in Matènwa, Haiti

Article excerpt



This study aims to understand the impact of learning the Creole language and culture in primary schools on developing a strong sense of Haitian identity.1 Statistics depict a struggling Haitian education system. Eighty-five percent of primary schools in Haiti are privatized (USAID, 2016). Half of the teachers in the public sector lack basic qualifications when they teach in underfunded schools, and 80 percent of teachers in rural communities are not trained (USAID, 2016). Nearly 75 percent of the students after first grade and half of the students after second grade cannot read (USAID, 2016). Primary-school enrollment is roughly 75 percent (USAID, 2016). Some scholars view French instruction as the leading cause of the struggle, since the majority of students are Creole monolingual (Hebblethwaite, 2012). Others argue that the marginalization of Creole culture in schools is another leading cause (Zéphir, 2010). They assert that the hegemony of French in schools and the society at large derails the country's development by limiting the number of educated citizens (Dejean, 2010). If these scholars are correct, from a colonialist lens, Haitians are educated to serve other developed countries, but not Haiti (Fanon, 1961). Consequently, the delegitimization of Creole language and Creole culture in schools is leading educated Haitians to disconnect from their Haitian identity.


Since the ancestors of present-day Haitians arrived to Hispaniola as slaves from Africa in the 1600s (Philippe, 2011), neither the Creole culture nor Creole language were native to them. However, the independent nation of Haiti emerged as a displaced and oppressed people who fought for freedom and human dignity (Click, 2016). From independence to the present day, upholding Creole heritage became an anthem for overcoming oppression, an act of pride in the people's origin and destiny. This unrelinquished sense of dignity and freedom are at the roots of Haitian identity. In a Freirean mindset that only the oppressed people can change their situation, the legitimization of the Creole language in the current French-oriented education system may be considered a mark of victory over a system that originated with the colonizer, and speaking Creole an act of rebellion (Freire, 2005). Conversely, any delegitimization of the Haitian Creole language risks perpetuating the dehumanizing treatment of the people and therefore subjugates Haitians' freedom to express their personal and national identity. There are three dimensions to the delegitimization of Haitian identity that occurs in primary school.

First, there is social delegitimization. This derives from the fact that French has functioned as the official and administrative language of the country since colonization. After its independence, Haiti underwent several decades of nonrecognition policy by some of the imperialist states for overthrowing slavery and white supremacy on the island, encouraging other slave colonies to rebel, but also undeniably asserting itself as a Vodou-practicing and Creole-speaking nation. Consider the following statistics. More than 95 percent of the population is Creole monolingual and less than 5 percent speak French fluently, but close to 100 percent of the population speaks Creole (Hebblethwaite, 2012). Yet French remains the primary language of education. Therefore most of the children learn in an unlearned language (Dejean, 2010).

Second, the delegitimization is economic. Research shows that the struggle by many Haitian children to acquire proper education in the current system increases with school privatization (Carlson, Desir, Goetz, Hong, Jones, & White, 2011; USAID, 2016). Private schools tend to have more highly trained teachers and higher student performance than public schools (Hebblethwaite, 2012). However, tuition rates of private schools are disproportionate to the average Haitian household income (USAID, 2016). …

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