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Haitian Culture and Society - Essay Example

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Haiti is often described as “rich in culture but deep in poverty”. Explain this paradox with illustrations of creativity in Haiti in the face of dire misery. Haiti is a small country surrounded by a number of other small nations in the Caribbean and located just off the South Eastern tip of the United States…
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Download file to see previous pages This paper outlines the origins of Haiti’s poverty in its geography, history and political evolution. There is then an outline of the main features of Haitian culture and a discussion of what culture is and how it is understood within Haiti and by outsiders looking on. Finally there is an explanation of the paradoxical “rich in culture but deep in poverty” paradox which both sustains Haiti’s sense of identity and inhibits its development in the future. Haiti’s geography is typical of the Caribbean region in so far as it is part of a larger tropical island. The Dominican Republic occupies the Eastern portion and Haiti has the smaller western portion. The terrain is mountainous in parts, and conducive to fruit and timber production, and the surrounding seas provide ample fishing possibilities. The climate is drier than in most surrounding islands which presents some problems for agriculture. Mineral resources are present, which made the island an attractive target for colonial activities from the 15th century onwards. The early history of Haiti is lost in the time before literacy and so it is impossible to tell exactly when and how the area was colonized and who set up the first settlements there. What is clear, however, is that the land was inhabited by an Amerindian people called the Tainos long before Columbus and the Spaniards arrived. The whole island was known as “Hispaniola” in deference to the European conquerors and it was quickly taken over and subjected to the exploitation of plantation and mine owners, using the local population as a convenient workforce. From this time onwards a pattern of emigration developed which still haunts the country to this day. The incoming Europeans brought with them many aspects of Western culture including the Roman Catholic faith, colonial architecture and incidentally also many diseases and vices which were unknown to the indigenous population. There are some records of local culture, including sporting and cooking practices, house designs and the “elaborate social structure organized around local chiefs or caciques.” (Girard: 2005, p. 19) Having taken what they wished from the part of the island which is present day Haiti, the Spaniards retreated to the far eastern tip of the island and left the west to return to its natural tropical jungle state. The next wave of conquerors were the French who added slavery to the list of exploitative practices that were used in Haiti. This brought huge changes to the island, such as the arrival of many thousands of captives from Africa and the building of western style cities and roads. It was at this point that one of Haiti’s most famous cultural practices was introduced: the tradition of voodoo. This was a loosely defined set of religious and cultural beliefs based on the polytheistic societies in West Africa. It existed alongside Catholicism, and the population often integrated elements of both religious traditions into their lives and practices. A combination of poorly educated priests and strong ties to ancestor and spirit worship from Africa ensured that this unusual combination was maintained into the present time. This syncretism is perhaps one of the most significant features of Haitian culture and it is carried through into its art, architecture, language, music and sports. Discrete ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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