Located in the Caribbean, Haiti is an independent nation that shares the second largest island in the region with the Dominican Republic. Ninety-five percent of Haitians are of African descent because the island was originally used as a port for the North American and South American slave trading industry. There is a distinct African influence in Haitian family values, religion and superstitions.
Most Haitians place great importance on family life, no matter what class they belong to. Middle and upper-class Haitians often live in urban environments and celebrate formal marriages and have family values similar to modern American values. The lower socioeconomic class families often have plasaj, or common-law, marriages and live in more informal, extended-family environments. Family comes first, above work or other responsibilities.
Both Haitian men and women work, though men are typically responsible for making money to support the family. Haitian women can work outside the home, but they are also responsible for taking care of the house and children.
Haitian children are considered gifts from God. Haitian parents teach their young to protect the family structure and privacy, as well as unconditional respect for all their elders. Most Haitian parents leave their children equal inheritances, not favoring sons over daughters. At the same time, children are expected to care for their parents and elders when they can no longer take care of themselves, both physically and financially.
In the traditional Haitian household, especially in the rural areas, the extended family lives together. This could mean they all live under the same roof or they live in different structures on a shared property. The elderly are respected and thought to have wisdom and experience from which the rest of the family can learn. The senior generation is a regular part of daily life and usually helps raise the children as well.
There are three major practiced religions in Haiti: Catholicism, Protestantism and Voodoo.
Catholicism is the official state religion of Haiti. It was first introduced to the island nation by the Spanish in the 1500s and then the French Capuchins and Jesuits helped establish it as the main organized religion during that time period. Currently, Haiti has nearly 10.5 million practicing Catholics, two archdioceses and nine dioceses. The official Catholic patron saint is Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Haiti.
Several different Protestant denominations were introduced to the Haitians in the early 21st century. There are currently about one million practicing Haitian Protestants. Some of the main denominations include the Baptist Church, the Church of God, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Church of the Nazarene and the Assembly of God.
Voodoo is the oldest and most dominant religion in Haiti. This religion is often misunderstood, and many Haitians have taken great pains to hide it from outsiders. Practicing Voudons believe there is a life force that connects all living beings and that everything and everyone has a spirit, including animals and elements in nature. They also believe that the ancestors' spirits are with them and that they should be honored and respected. One of the main components of this religion is the practice of healing rituals done by Voodoo priests, or shamans. There are different types of Voodoo in Haiti, such as Rada and Petro, considered white and black magic, respectively.
Most Haitians are superstitious and believe that many events or occurrences are connected to future events. They believe in good and bad luck associated with these events. Many well-known Haitian superstitions revolve around the mother's untimely death. For example, it is believed that if you eat the top of a grapefruit or watermelon, your mother will die. You also shouldn't sweep the floor at night or crawl on your knees, or your mother will die. Other superstitions include that you'll get bad luck if you point at a rainbow, and that if you put something down with your left hand, you'll forget where you left it.
21st Century Haiti
In 2010, many Haitians lost their homes, jobs, loved ones and family members in the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left the small island country in shambles. Many turned to their faith to get through the tragedy. As Haiti continues to rebuild, family and religion have an even greater value in most Haitians' lives. Some Haitians have become more steadfast in their beliefs, while others have adopted new values and stronger religious views.