When I was living in Haiti many years ago, a friend's father passed away. My friend was scraping by on odd jobs and needed to take out a large loan in order to finance the burial. He felt that to do otherwise would be disrepecting his father's memory. The poor, who can least afford it, are charged exorbitant rates for burial services in Haiti. What could change this? Cultural change, such as accepting cremation or simplified burials, will take time. William Mellon (founder of Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles) had himself buried in a cardboard box. Government regulation and enforcement would help. Below is an AP article on the hardships that burial costs place upon Haitian families.
Musicians from around the world performed at the eleventh annual International Jazz Festival in Port au Prince. This is a festival that has faced a great deal of adversity but gets better every year. Art, music, and history are key to both increasing tourism and showcasing all that is good about Haitian culture. Think about participating next year. Mark Sullivan (All About Jazz) provides a read-out of the festival below.
Haiti can be a rewarding but challenging tourism destination. Having an organization to help with logistics and orientation during the first visit can be helpful. The Kiskeya Guest House in Leogane, in addition to offering a nice place to stay outside of Port au Prince, now offers tours that celebrate Haiti's cultural traditions with an emphasis on Port au Prince, Jacmel and Cap Haitien. Haitian anthropologist Jean-Yves Blot an Professor Erold Saint-Louis will lead the various trips and Haitian Creole immersion programs. The agenda for their "Cultural and Mystical Haiti" tour follows. Note: The Kiskeya Guest House is associated with Kiskeya Aqua Ferme, a community initiative devoted to raising tilapia and growing cassava, hot peppers, and sweet potatos.
As the new year approaches, Haitians get ready to do two things – paint their houses and prepare a big batch of pumpkin soup (soup joumou). Epicurious writer Sam Worley shares his experiences becoming familiar with soup joumou and what it represents to Haitians. This recipe is a good start but everyone makes theirs a little different. Vegetarians can just leave out the meat. Interested in learning more about soup joumou and Haitian food more broadly? Check out the "Liberty in a Soup" documentary or one of the many websites featuring Haitian dishes such as Home is Home (Lakay se Lakay) or Haitian Cooking. Have a favorite website or cookbook? Please share in the comments section.
In Haiti, most people travel around in tap-taps - pick up trucks that cram people, both sitting and standing, into the back. It can be crowded and uncomfortable but talking, telling stories, and sharing jokes makes the time go by. I thought about this when Lonely Planet posted a story about Lakou Mizik being on a flight that was delayed six hours. The band jumped up and gave an impromptu concert.
For me, Haiti will always conjure up sounds of rara music. Rara is Haitian street music, often celebrated during Catholic and Vodoun holidays, with a rhythm that is almost hypnotic. Rara can be both celebration and resistance. NPR recently reviewed RAM - a Haitian band that has long combined elements of rock and rara. Listen to the review here or read the transcript below. Better yet, go see them perform at the Hotel Oloffson in Port au Prince.
Below is a New York Times article by David Gonzales concerning a photo exhibit and book by Paolo Woods entitled “State” – the idea of it vs. the reality, how/if it is a part of everyday life, and how society is organized when the capacity of the state to govern is minimal. Based out of Les Cayes, Woods explored these questions through his journalism and photography. Haiti has often been a victim of lazy journalism and sensational photography that over-emphasizes the bad without seeking the good. Woods consistenly sees the good, the positive, and the hopeful, making his exhibit and book worth a look.
Haiti has long had a population of Arab descent, many of whom have played an important role in Haiti’s private sector and artistic community. A visit to the Nader Gallery, founded by the son of Lebanese immigrants, was required for anyone with an interest in Haitian art. The gallery and irreplaceable pieces of art were destroyed in the earthquake although the Smithsonian succeeded in salvaging some. Below is a well-written article (which I am just now seeing) about the Nader Family written by Nancy Beth Jackson and Maggie Steber. More information can also be found at the Nader Haitian Art, Gary Nader Art, and the Haitian Art Society websites.
The Art Museum of the Americas (operated by the Organization of American States) is hosting an exhibit entitled “On Common Ground: The Dominican Republic and Haiti.” The most interesting aspect of the exhibition is actually the commentary by the Dominican and Haitian artists. It is refreshing to hear Dominicans and Haitians elevate what they have in common, including a love of art and music. Each country would benefit from cultural exchanges with its neighbor. More from the artists follows: