An Ethnographer's View of the Haitian Culture
Haiti, a name that means "mountainous country," comes from the language of the Taino Indians who inhabited the island before European colonization. After independence in 1804, the name was taken by the military generals, many of them former slaves, who expelled the French and took possession of the colony then known as Saint Domingue. In 2000, 95 percent of the population was of African descent, and the remaining 5 percent mulatto and white. Some wealthy citizens think of themselves as French, but most residents identify themselves as Haitian and there is a strong sense of nationalism.( 1. qtd in CIA Factbook). Haiti covers 10,714 square miles. It is located in the subtropics on the western third of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Caribbean, which it shares with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. The neighboring islands include Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Three-quarters of the terrain is mountainous; the highest peak is the Morne de Selle. The climate is mild, varying with altitude. The mountains are full of calcium and carbonate rather than volcanic terrain and give way to different micro-climatic and soil conditions. A tectonic fault line runs through the country, causing devastating earthquakes. The island is also located within the Caribbean hurricane belt. The population has grown from 431,140 at independence in 1804 to an estimated 8 million in 2000. Haiti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. According to research completed in December 1999 by the Federal Research Division, until the 1970s, over 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas, and today, over 60 percent continue to live in provincial villages and hamlets scattered across the rural landscape. The capital city is Port-au-Prince, which is five times larger than the next biggest city, Cape Haitian. (2. pg. 252). Orientation is one's place and direction relative to one's surroundings; bearing, location, position, and situation. Due to the countries unfortunate orientation any natural disaster will most likely cause great calamity to the masses and infrastructure;thus, preventing Haitians to rise from poverty. As defined by Spradley and McCurdy in Conformity and Conflict (3. pg 59), “language is a system of cultural knowledge used to generate and interpret speech.” Haitians primary language is Creole. The 1987 consitution recognizes both Creole and French;however, the language is not mutually comprehensible. The majority of the population speak Creole and a small percentage know French, which distinguishes a higher social status. Nine out of ten Haitians speak only Creole, and one in twenty is fluent in both French and Creole ( 2. pg 339). Hispaniola was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and was the first island in the New World settled by the Spanish. By 1550, the indigenous culture of the Taino Indians had vanished from the island, and Hispaniola became a neglected conquered island of the Spanish Empire. During mid-1600s, the western third of the island was populated by fortune seekers, castaways, and colonists, mostly French. They became pirates and buccaneers, hunting wild cattle and pigs unleashed by the earliest European visitors and selling the smoked meat to passing ships. During that same time the French government paid the pirates and buccaneers to wage and win an unofficial war on Spain. In the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697, France forced Spain to give up the western third of Hispaniola. This area became the French colony of Saint Domingue. According to the New World Encyclopedia by 1788, the colony had become the "jewel of the Antilles," the richest colony in the world. From 1791 to 1803 there was a slave rebellion in Saint-Dominique, which led to the revolution under Toussaint Louverture, against French expeditionary forces. In May of 1802 Toussaint betrayed his men, held secret talks with the French, and joined forces with them, as...
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