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Culture Of Haiti

North AmericaHaitiCulture Of Haiti

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Haiti has a unique cultural identity made up of a broad mix of traditional French and African customs, mixed with significant contributions from Spanish and indigenous Taino culture. The country’s customs are essentially a blend of the cultural beliefs of the various ethnic groups that have inhabited the island of Hispaniola. Haiti’s culture is reflected in painting, music and literature. Galleries and museums in the United States and France have exhibited the works of some of Haiti’s best-known artists.


Haitian art is characterised above all by its paintings and sculptures, which are known for their diverse forms of artistic expression. Bright colours, naïve perspectives and mischievous humour characterise Haitian art. Common themes of Haitian art are large delicious foods, lush landscapes, market activities, jungle animals, rituals, dances and gods. Artists often paint fables. People are dressed up as animals and animals are transformed into people.

Due to a deep history and strong African ties, symbols have great significance in Haitian society. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colours of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party. Many artists group themselves into “schools” of painting, such as the Cap Haitian school, which shows representations of daily life in the city; the Jacmel school, which reflects the steep mountains and bays of this coastal city; or the Saint-Soleil school, which features abstract human forms and is strongly influenced by Vodou symbolism.

Music and dance

Haitian music combines a variety of influences from the many peoples who have settled on this Caribbean island. It reflects French, African, Spanish and other elements that inhabited the island of Hispaniola, as well as minor influences from the indigenous Taino. Music styles unique to the Haitian nation include music derived from vodou ceremonies, rara parade music, twoubadou ballads, mini-jazz rock bands, rasinmovement, hip hop kreyòl, méringue and compas. Young people attend parties in nightclubs called discos (pronounced “deece-ko”) and go to the bal. This term is the French word for ball, as in a formal dance.

The compas (konpa) (also known as compas direct in French or konpa dirèk in Creole) is a complex and changing music derived from African rhythms and European social dances, mixed with Haiti’s bourgeois culture. It is a sophisticated music whose basic rhythm is the méringue. Haiti had no recorded music until 1937, when Jazz Guignard was recorded in a non-commercial way.


Haitian cuisine is the result of several culinary styles of the various historical ethnic groups that populated the western part of the island of Hispaniola. Haitian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of the Latin Caribbean (the French- and Spanish-speaking countries of the West Indies), but differs in many ways from its regional counterparts. Although the cuisine is simple and unpretentious, the flavours are bold and spicy and show a primary influence of African culinary aesthetics combined with a very French sophistication with notable derivatives of indigenous Taíno and Spanish techniques. Although similar to other cooking styles in the region, it has its own uniqueness; many visitors to the island have mixed reviews of Haitian cuisine. Haitians often use chillies and other strong flavours.

The dishes are usually generously spiced. Therefore, Haitian cuisine is often moderately spicy. However, several foreign cuisines have been introduced into the country. These include Levantine cuisine, which originated from the Arab migration to Haiti. Rice and beans, in various forms, are eaten throughout the country, regardless of location, and have become a kind of national dish. They form the basis of the diet, which is very starchy and rich in carbohydrates. Rural areas that have better access to agricultural products offer a greater variety of choices.

One such dish is ground maize (mayi moulen), which resembles oatmeal and can be eaten with pea sauce (sòs pwa), a bean sauce made from one of the many types of beans such as kidney, pinto, chickpea or pigeon pea (known as gandule in some countries). Maize moulin can be eaten with fish (often red snapper) or alone, depending on personal preference. Among the many plants used in Haitian dishes are tomatoes, oregano, cabbage, avocado and peppers. A popular food is banana pesée (ban-nan’n peze), flattened slices of plantain deep-fried in cooking oil (known as tostones in Spanish-speaking Latin America). It is eaten both as a snack and as part of a meal, often accompanied by tassot and griot (fried goat and pork).

The dish Haitians traditionally eat on Independence Day (1 January) is Joumou soup. Haiti is also internationally known for its rum; Barbancourt rum is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Haiti and is highly regarded internationally.


Monuments include the Sans Souci Palace and the Laferrière Citadel, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1982. Located in the Massif du Nord, in one of Haiti’s national parks, the structures date from the early 19th century. The buildings were among the first to be constructed after Haiti’s independence from France. The Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Americas, is located in northern Haiti. It was built between 1805 and 1820 and is now considered by some Haitians to be the eighth wonder of the world.

Jacmel, a colonial town provisionally inscribed on the World Heritage List, was severely damaged by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.


The anchor of Columbus’ largest ship, the Santa María, is now in the Museum of the Haitian National Pantheon (MUPANAH) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Folklore and mythology

Haiti is known for its folkloric traditions. The country has fairy tales that are part of the Haitian Vodou tradition.

How To Travel To Haiti

By air International travellers arrive in Haiti in Port-au-Prince (PAP) at Toussaint L'Ouverture Airport or at Cap-Haitien International Airport in the north. Airline tickets can be purchased through numerous online ticket exchanges and agencies. Intra-Haitian flights are also available. Prices for these flights can fluctuate from time to time due...

How To Travel Around Haiti

By car Cars can be rented from Hertz, Avis, etc. Taxis in Haiti are usually SUVs or trucks, as most roads are long overdue for repair, in addition to the abundance of dirt roads encountered when travelling in Haiti. The price is often reasonable (e.g. 450 gourdes, or $11.53 to...

Destinations in Haiti

Regions in Haiti Central HaitiThe centre of Haiti's population in the heart of the country - the sprawl around the capital and the countryside in the north.North HaitiThe country's main towns outside the capital are located here, as are the beaches at Cap-Haitien favoured by foreign tourists.Southern HaitiThe Caribbean part...

Weather & Climate in Haiti

The climate in Haiti is tropical with some variations depending on altitude. The temperature in Port-au-Prince varies between an average low of 23°C and an average high of 31°C in January, and between 25 and 35°C in July. The rainfall pattern is variable, with heavier rainfall in some lowlands...

Accommodation & Hotels in Haiti

There are many guesthouses all over Haiti. However, it is quite difficult to find them abroad. Most of these guest houses cost around $25 to $35 per night and include 2 to 3 meals per day. Sometimes these houses are connected to orphanages (e.g. Saint Joseph's Home for Boys). Saint...

Traditions & Customs in Haiti

One thing a missionary or other visitor to Haiti learns very quickly is that Haitians are a very dignified people; they have their pride, despite everything they have been through. There are a few beggars and peddlers in the cities, but they are the exception, not the rule. Don't...

Food & Drinks in Haiti

Food in Haiti Haitian cuisine is typical of the Caribbean mix, a wonderful blend of French and African sensibilities. It resembles that of its Spanish Caribbean neighbours, but is characterised by a strong presence of spices. Roasted goat called "kabrit", roasted pork "griot", poultry with Creole sauce "poulet créole", rice...

Things To See in Haiti

Port-Au-Prince has a few landmarks, structures and statues, such as a large pair of hands holding the earth. Many of them are located near the airport. This city is the largest in Haiti and was the hardest hit by the earthquake. You will still see traces of the disaster,...

Money & Shopping in Haiti

The Haitian gourde is the currency of Haiti. In April 2011, the exchange rate was 40.85 gourdes = 1 US dollar. Although traders are required by law to quote prices in gourdes, almost everything is quoted in "dollars" - not US dollars, but Haitian dollars, which is equivalent to...

Festivals & Holidays in Haiti

The following days are public holidays in Haiti. Many Vodou holidays are also celebrated but are not considered public holidays. The two most important holidays for Haitian Americans are Haitian Independence Day and Haitian Flag Day. DateEnglish nameComments1 JanuaryNew Year's Day and Independence DayCommemorates the day in 1804 when Jean-Jacques Dessalines...

Language & Phrasebook in Haiti

The official languages of Haiti are French and Haitian Creole (Kreyòl Ayisien), a Creole language based on French, with 92% of its vocabulary derived from French and the rest mainly from African languages. Haitian Creole is the mother tongue of the masses, while French is the administrative language, although...

History Of Haiti

Haiti was inhabited by the Taino Indians when Christopher Columbus landed at the St Nicolas breakwater on 5 December 1492; see The Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Columbus named the island Hispaniola. The Taino were a branch of the Arawak Indians, a peaceful tribe that was weakened by the frequent...

Stay Safe & Healthy in Haiti

Stay Safe in Haiti WARNING: In 2012, Canada advised its citizens to "exercise extreme caution" due to high crime rates and the United States warned its citizens that "the ability of local authorities to respond to emergencies is limited and non-existent in some areas" as some visitors have been assaulted,...



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