The Men of Haiti
What to write about the characteristics and mannerisms of Haitian men without sounding pretentious, stereotypical or even racist? Like for every other group of men, be they Canadians, Italians, Japanese, Liberians, from Brooklyn or just damn hipsters, some common conceptions, or should I say misconceptions follow Haitian men too.
The traits that are common for a certain group of people most often stem from the upbringing and the conditions in the home, but also from the general culture that surrounds a person or a group. Ever since Columbus landed in Haiti (or Ayiti in Taino native language) the mountainous land had its ups and downs and historical events that left marks on the culture of Haitians.
Modern day Haitian republic is a result of the first and only successful slave rebellion in the Caribbean bay. The only country in the western hemisphere that has a longer history of independence than Haiti is the United States. However, even after two centuries of independent existence, the country has not had a period without turmoil or tyranny, dictatorship or political and racial oppression.
The French colonialism, from which the self-governance arouses, had profound influence on Haitian culture and nation. It proved that small, well educated elite can rule over a vast, poor and uneducated minority. This ongoing chaotic situation provided the opportunity for potential dictators and despots. Even the few popular leaders that came to power by large support of the people eventually overthrew the constitution and retained personal power. That led to frequent revolts of the Haitian people which on one side showed the rejection of Haitians to despotism, and on the other side it showed that often violence is the only way for achieving change.
Most Haitian families in the rural areas are farmers but don’t have any modern mechanization. Most of them live in one- or two-bedroom houses with no electricity or water. These poor living conditions force many of the Haitians, especially the younger population, to move to large cities like the capital Port-o-Prince. But even there they cannot find better living conditions. Most of them live in overpopulated shantytowns, again with no electricity and/or water.
There are deep political, socio-economic and racial divisions in the Haitian society between the black majority and mulatto minority, which comprises only 5% of the Haitian nation. Mulattos use French language in communication and have always had advantage in education, government and business. The blacks, however, use the Creole language and are on the bottom of the society. This strongly divided system is probably the greatest hurdle for Haiti to become a stable and successful country.
Haiti is the birthplace of the somewhat notorious (albeit unjustified I might say) religion of Voodoo (Vodou). By origin, Voodoo is an African pantheistic belief system that was brought to Haiti by African slaves and later incorporated in Christianity. Many of the rituals are very picturesque like dancing, food offerings and even animal sacrifice. Other forms of prayer include the veve, a pattern made of cornmeal that pleases a specific deity, and the creation of colorful prayer flags, which are considered Haiti’s finest form of folk art and collected worldwide. The music, drumming and dancing associated with Voodoo rituals have become an important part of Haitian pop culture.
In rural areas of Haiti, men and women have complementary roles in the family. Men were generally responsible for farming and heavy work and women for selling the products. However, women often in labor tasks like harvesting. It was in Haiti’s culture for the income from the farming production to belong both to the man and the woman, and the woman’s contribution in the economy of the household was very revered. In the most cases, the marital relations in rural areas, as well as in the urban lower class are based on a mutual agreement of the spouses, known as plasaj. The agreements usually consist of statements that each of them will fulfill certain duties in the household. Civil and religious marriages were only concluded for the purpose of prestige.
So when we speak in terms of characteristics and mannerisms of Haitian men we have to have in mind the surroundings and the conditions in which they grew up, because that leaves permanent marks on an individual’s personality.
There are many etiquettes, or stereotypes that refer to Haitian men, and like for any other national or racial stereotype it is a mere generalization and it may be true or it may not be. Here are some of the etiquettes for Haitians, according to Wikipedia:
• Haitians often signify particular people through appearances or characteristics. Calling someone ‘white man’ (blan) and ‘the dark skinned one’ (neg) are often mere terms of acknowledgement with no racist overtones.
• Entering a household and not greeting the elders or owners of the household is regarded as highly offensive.
• Being overly generous can be interpreted as offensive as to them it may seem as if you pity them.
• Eating is considered a social event and so withdrawing from the center of activities during meals is considered slightly offensive.
• Avoid discussing Dominican life to Haitians as well as the corruption within government, as these are sensitive subjects. (If you do not know about the subject)
• The infamous Haitian Creole phrase ‘Langet Maman’ is highly offensive, insulting one’s mother. Uttering this to someone will almost positively provoke conflict.
• Haitians use very good manners and take things seriously.
• Haitians expect to haggle when making a purchase.
• Men shake hands on meeting and departing, men and women kiss on the cheek when greeting, women kiss each other on the cheek. Friends, family and close acquaintances usually share a light kiss on the cheek.
• Punctuality is not highly valued and being late is usually not considered rude.
• People of the same gender holding hands is an ordinary display of friendship though women and men seldom show public affection toward the opposite sex but are affectionate in private.
• Because of almost all Haitians are descended from African slaves, so many etiquettes in Africa also applied to Haiti.
No matter the saying “where there is smoke, there is fire” characteristics and mannerisms of Haitian men should not be generalized, as every person is responsible for its own acts and no one else’s.