Haitian Culture: Impact on Nursing Care

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Haitian Culture: Impact on Nursing Care

The Republic of Haiti is in the western part of the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies. It is densely populated and has the lowest per capita income in the western hemisphere (Kemp, 2001). The population of more than seven million is made up of mostly descendents of African slaves brought to the West Indies by French colonists. The horrible conditions in Haiti, such as crushing poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, and high rates of acute and chronic illnesses and child and infant mortality, result in the illegal immigration of many Haitians to the United States, France, and other countries in Western Europe. Most immigrants are adults and teens who leave Haiti in tiny boats, despite the risk of drowning and other hazards. According to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) 2001 statistics, the number of refugees has declined to several thousand per year since the early 1990's.

Nearly all Haitian immigrants entering the U.S. are poorly educated, illiterate, and speak only Creole, which is seldom seen in written form. Creole is a "pidgin" language, meaning it is a simplified form of a base language with parts of other languages added. These types of languages were frequently used by sailors, pirates, and other trade people to accommodate the span of communication needs they faced. Haitian Creole is thought to have been derived by combining various native African dialects with the French language of their owners. Very few Haitians (10%) can actually speak French, and one's ability to do so is seen as an indicator of social class. Because of Haitian views that Creole is the language used by the poor and uneducated, many will claim to be able to speak French and become insulted if it is suggested that they speak Creole. This can pose a problem for the healthcare worker trying to find a way to communicate. Often the only interpreters available to a family are their children who have learned English in schools here. This can create conflict within the family therefore a facility provided interpreter usually produces a better outcome. Written materials are often of no use to the Haitian immigrant.

Socioeconomic status plays a huge part in how Haitians identify themselves, and influences their actions greatly. Many Haitians will nod, smile, and indicate agreement with a person of higher socioeconomic status (such as a healthcare provider) rather than risk conflict or show disrespect or ignorance. When amongst friends, however, they are very expressive and animated, use direct eye contact, and frequently use touch to communicate. Most interactions are very close due to smaller personal space requirements. For these reasons, touch by trusted caregivers is often appreciated.

Religion is very important in the life of a Haitian, especially during illness, death, or other crises. The majority of Haitians (80%) are Catholic, but many of these also believe in Voodou (Kemp, 2001). Similar to Catholicism, Voodou revolves around belief in one central God, called Bon Dieu or Bondye. Religion is often seen as a magical process, and Voodou beliefs include the existence of a spirit world made up of saints, mysteres, or loas. These spirits are mostly the sould of family members and are incorporated into the lives of Haitians. If neglected, malicious ancestors, and the living dead or zombies may appear to the living to bring about illness, death, or other misfortune. Rituals are practices to ensure the relationships with these spirits are protective, or at least not damaging. Loas are thought to be controlled through the magic of Voodou practitioners such as Diviners or Fortune Readers, Shaman, including Rriestess (mambo), and Priest (houngan), Leaf Doctors or herbalists (docte fe), Bonesetters (docte zo), Midwives (matron or fam saj), and Injectionists (pikirist). Practitioners of black magic are called bokors. Most practitioners are paid for their...
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