DESCRIPTION : Haiti is the only country that is
considered Latin American but has a language and culture that
are predominantly French and a population that is primarily of
African descent. It is also the poorest country in the Western
Hemisphere and a country of extremes. Culture and Customs
of Haiti fleshes out the evolution of this diverse society
through discussions of the Haitian people, history, religion,
social customs, media, literature and language, and performing
and visual arts. This much-needed resource gives students and
other readers a balanced picture of a Caribbean nation known
in the United States mainly for its «boat people,»
the Duvalier dictatorships, and « voodoo ».
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.
❙ J. Michael Dash is a Professor of French at New York
University, and is a specialist of Haitian culture and literature.
- « Jacques Stéphen Alexis », Toronto : Black images, 1975
- « Literature and ideology in Haiti, 1915-1961 », Totowa (N.J.) : Barnes & Noble, 1981
- « Haiti and the United
States : national stereotypes and the literary
imagination », New York : St. Martin's press, 1988, 1997
- « Edouard Glissant », New York : Cambridge university press, 1995