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.
Gender Roles & Decision-Making
Both Haitian men and women work; however, their roles in the family are distinctly different. In the family structure, men are considered the head of the house and are typically responsible for making money to support the family. However, it is the women that are the true decision-makers in a Haitian household. While they have less equality in society, women typically make the decisions for the family and especially the children. Important decisions will also be discussed with the elder family members as well. Additionally, in a single-mother household, the woman will make all the decisions concerning financial or family-related matters.
Haitian children are considered gifts from God. Haitian parents teach their young to protect the family structure and privacy. 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.
Raising a child is considered a family affair. Not only that but the community is involved as well. This means that families are typically very close. Additionally, according to the State University of New York, respect and obedience are instilled into children early. From a young age, children are taught to respect their elders and never show anger toward elders. They must also be obedient to community members as well.
Role in Community
According to Cook Ross, reputation in Haiti is important. Not only can it affect your status in Haitian culture but the respect of society. Additionally, families are a unit. Therefore, the wrongdoings of the child could affect the perceptions of the family as a whole. This can extend to not only to parents but grandparents and other extended family members.
There are three major practiced religions in Haiti: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Vodoo.
Catholicism 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, nearly 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic. 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. 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.
Vodoo is the oldest and most dominant religion in Haiti and is frequently practiced alongside Christianity. 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. A lot of Haitian superstition goes back to their religious beliefs.
Superstition dictates some areas of pregnancy and birth. For instance, many believe health care decisions like pregnancy are decided by God; therefore, contraceptive use is low. After birth, infants may wear special beads to ward off evil spirits and cloths around their middles for strong bodies. Additionally, it is thought that eating things in pairs will increase the likelihood of twins.
Superstitions can affect specific big life decisions like what to wear on your wedding day or how to rear your child. For example, some Haitians will not allow their infant to cry at night because it is believed zombies will snatch their soul. There are the small decisions dictated by superstition as well, like eating sitting down because eating standing up will give you a swollen leg.
Numerous superstitions also affect everyday life. There is a specific way things are done to avoid bad luck. For example, in one wedding superstition, a bride will use her thumb to block the wedding ring going over her knuckle to avoid the man dominating the relationship. People will also not attend funerals if they are ill to avoid the next one being their own.
Keeping Mother Safe
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.