Haitian-hood: Past and Modernist Experience


The present literature review aims to reveal the essence of Haitian nationalism, ethics and self-care, and the anthropology of trauma. Through the interweaving of these topics, one may understand the history, religion, and culture of Haitian people, their complicated past and present, and may see the development of Haitian-hood in modern times. All the peculiarities of Haitian life relevant to the national spirit should be discussed to achieve the purpose of this literature review.

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The Haitian nation and country have passed a long and painful way full of suffering, conflicts, and misfortunes. Owing to Haitian history, religion, and a/their way of life, the nation is believed to be “ambivalent” and contradictory as it is still in the process of formation of its self-identification (Bhabha, 1990, p. 2). The present work will research the anthropological processes related to religion, culture. Besides, the work will demonstrate how the life of a particular community or a nation is inseparably connected with nationhood.

Unfortunately, the slavery and oppressive past accompanied with tragic historic events formed the traumatic experience that made the Haitian nation fragile at present time (Bryan, 1984). Nevertheless, if one considers the details of the national development of Haitians, one will see their exceptional uniqueness that influenced their nationhood. The present literature review will deal with the features and nature of Haitian-hood, and with the features that make the Haitians a unique nation with its own past and present social and cultural experience.


It seems necessary to examine some key points in Haitian history, religion, and culture to achieve the purpose of the present paper. The results derived from the peer-reviewed books, articles, and journals about the past and present reality of the country and its population will be discussed. The results will give an opportunity to use this base for the further analysis of the problem in future relevant works.

Historic Background of Haiti: from Slave Revolution to the Dictatorship (XVIII-XX centuries)

The history of Haiti is marked by rebellions, violence, challenges, changes, and other complicated phenomena that can be traced in the national character, or nationhood. Since the slave colonial times, when the Spaniards and the French occupied the island of Hispaniola, Saint-Domingue (the Caribbean French colony since XVII century) has been exploited for sake of international trade and enrichment of enslavers. The Haitian trauma starts with the Haitian Revolution – the prominent historic event that served as a starting point of the independent nation formation (Civan et al., 1995). This section of the paper is dedicated to the painful way of the unique nation that owing to exhaustive past became traumatized and fragile, and now is identified as the “Third World” country (Beck, 1999).

According to Bryan (1984), the French Revolution inspired the Great Revolution that occurred in 1791-1804; it proclaimed the essential civil rights needed to become an independent nation (equality, freedom, etc.). It was a revolutionary age for Saint-Domingue, when the slave labor, established by the French colonists, resulted in tensions among the colored enslaved people. The revolution had long-lasting effects on the Caribbean territories and Haiti itself. The rebellion of Saint-Domingue slaves marked the revolution that led Haitians to independence. The turbulent history of the modern Haitian republic is rooted in this significant event (Bryan, 1984).

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In general, Hispaniola was a favorable location for the countries that strived for economic dominance. Such powerful countries as Spain, and then France, took advantage of the strategic location on the island with lush and rich land. For this reason, “Haiti has often been viewed as a valuable piece of real estate” (Civan et al., 1995, p. 5). The French colonial era proved to be a difficult period for the Saint-Domingue society and became unbearable for enslaved Haitians.

The slaves’ revolutionary spirit of the XVIII century can be explained by several factors. Firstly, according to the plantation society peculiarities in the Caribbean, a large number of free people of color were a result of close relationships between white planters and slave mothers. For this reason, Saint-Domingue mulattoes, or “gens de couleur”, constituted the majority of the plantation society of the island (Bryan, 1984, p. 8). They turned to the challenge that threatened the whites’ dominance. Thus, hostility and oppressive behavior became the principal political instruments of the white planters.

Secondly, the slaves were exhausted with hard labor on plantations (coffee and sugar were the most commonly grown plants there), and were forced to live in the conditions of a diversified and unjust society. Bryan (1984) noted that “in 1791 the total population of Saint-Domingue was 520, 000” (Bryan, 1984, p. 9). The majority of the population constituted slaves; most of them had been brought from Africa. It was clear that the small number of whites and mulattoes lived in an unjustified fear among the black enslaved population. In addition, the wave of slave rebellions flooded the Saint-Domingue society. The signs of the impending storm among the disappointed population were evident. Undoubtedly, the slave revolt manifested the unjust situation that led to the bloody rebellion at the end of the XVIII century.

An inevitable historic event changed the course of history for the colored people of the island. The slave rebellion of 1791 set the French colony on the way to independence. It was led by a group of the blacks: Dutty Boukman (a Vodou priest), Georges Biassou (a slave leader), and his aide, Toussaint Louverture. According to James (1989), Toussaint Louverture became a remarkable leader of the Haitian Revolution who greatly contributed to the transformation of the slave society into self-governing people, which live in an independent state. Toussaint Louverture is believed to be “the black Jacobin” who followed the Jacobin movement in Saint-Domingue, encouraged by patriotism and sentiments of liberty that made sense to the French Revolution (C. L. R. James, 1989, p. 1).

The revolution was successful because it forced the French to make positive changes for the Haitian people. Nevertheless, the success of the revolution was accompanied by its main weakness – the split among the masses of the colored people. Alexandre Pétion, the revolutionary mulatto leader, and other mulattos fought the white colonists (Royalists) and were tolerant to the French Republicans who favored enforcement of human rights and enfranchisement of the mulatto population. Moreover, the French often used mulattos to gain victory, and thereby deepened the split among the rebellion masses consisting of the colored people. However, when the Creole Negro Toussaint Louverture, or “Lieutenant governor of Saint-Domingue” decided to make the French colony autonomous, he relied not on mulattos or foreigners, but on black leadership that could protect the population (Civan et al., 1995, p. 8). This way, the situation was complicated: some of the rebels relied on the French promise of freedom, and some of them did not. Naturally, these conditions were favorable for Britain, Spain, and France that decided to take advantage of the split among the rebels.

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Although the progress of the revolution was complicated, in 1800, Toussaint Louverture abolished slavery as he gained control over the whole of Hispaniola. He became a military dictator who wanted to ensure economic stability. Toussaint reinstated the plantation system that relied on enforced contract labor (although formally it was independent labor), and guaranteed the economic survival of the island. However, two years later he was exiled to France by the Napoleon forces: France viewed Hispaniola’s autonomy as a thorn for the slave-holding nation (James, 1989).

By the winter of 1804, the French position weakened, and Haiti was able to declare its own independence. The declaration of national independence, signed on January 1, 1804, turned Haitian people into the second independent nation in the West (after the USA). At the same time, Haitian Republic is believed to be “the first free black republic in the world” (Civan et al., 1995, p. 8). Haitian Declaration of independence became the symbol of a colored non-slavery nation. Some people were born in Africa, some of them – in the French colony; in addition, many people were of mixed African and European descent. Jean-Jacques Dessalines and other founding fathers of the new nation officially promised to preserve national freedom and independence regardless of origin and color of skin. At the same time, the ruling of an independent state promised to be challenging for a newly created nation, and its first ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines who proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I of Haiti (Dubois, 2005).

The first ruler realized that the destiny of a new nation would be challenging. The founding father of the independent Haitian Republic, Dessalines, had been a slave and then became Toussaint Louverture’s principal lieutenant. Born into slavery, he did not trust the white French and forbade them to own property. Jean-Jacques Dessalines tried hard to keep plantations and the sugar industry without slavery. As one may see, the abolition of slavery caused economic difficulties for a young state. Merchant capitalism greatly relied on slavery that promised to be a thriving system: it brought immense profit to Europe, devastated Africa, and ensured the expansion of America. For this reason, the powerful states have benefited from Saint-Domingue slavery, and invested in this brutal institution (Dubois, 2005). Although the declaration of independence was adopted and formally recognized, Haiti only started its dramatic struggle for the preservation of its nationhood.

At the beginning of the XIX century, Haiti understood that independence had its own advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it brought numerous opportunities for national development; on the other hand, it proved to cause dangers and problems threatening the country and its population (Dubois, 2005). The impact of the slave revolution of 1791 was enormous and promised numerous changes for Haitian people: both positive and negative ones. One way or another, this event resulted in the creation of the colored independent previously enslaved society that achieved independence and freedom regardless of unfavorable political and economic conditions, and oppression of the slave-holding nations. Haiti became the only nation of the world born of a slave revolt. The experience of the Haitian Revolution showed other enslaved people an effective way to restore justice on a national level and provided a model of the abolition of slavery (Dubois, 2005). Moreover, the revolution attached a sense of self to a newly-created nation, which contributed to national identification.

The Haitian post-revolution period was marked by political and economic instability. Although Dessalines ruled for two years (he was assassinated), his despotic policy caused many people to depart from their motherland. Since the beginning of the XIX century, numerous refugees from Saint-Domingue started arriving in the USA to escape from unfavorable economic and social conditions. Bryan (1984) noted the following evidence: even after the assassination of Dessalines, the situation in the independent country did not improve. In 1806, the country was split in two, and Alexander Pétion became the President of the southern part of Haiti. As he was a supporter of democracy and the freedom of slaves, his lack of political power did not let him make any significant changes (Bryan, 1984).

The next President, Jean Pierre Boyer (one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution), was able to reunify the two divided parts of Saint-Domingue and strengthened his control over the western part of the island where Haiti was located. He wanted to implement the Code Rural to increase national productivity; under the Code, peasants did not have a right to leave the land. People could not leave plantations (except weekends); drifters were either forced to work or arrested. The Code was not enforced because it was not effective; people refused to obey. However, Bryan (1984) underlined that his unsuccessful economic policy pushed Haiti into poverty, and caused a new wave of refugees who escaped to the USA (mainly, to South Florida, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York) (Bryan, 1984).

After Boyer’s departure in the 40s of the XVIII century, the national authority was divided among the army, elite, and a commercial class of American, French, German, and English businesspersons. From 1915 to 1934, Haiti experienced US occupation. Bryan (1984) stated that the US military forces were ordered to protect citizens from civil unrest. The Presidents elected later did not manage to make any considerable positive changes (namely, improvement of the economic and social situation) in Haiti except the authorization of the Creole language in Haitian education (Bryan, 1984).

Clammer (2008) gave a full, realistic account of the Haitian national path after the US occupation. The traumatic and violent sequence of rulers did not stop there, and the Haitians faced another violent historical period. In 1937, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo organized a massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians. The army was ordered to kill Haitians who crossed the Dominican border. The three days of the massacre were “the zenith of the Haiti xenophobia” (Clammer et al. 2008, p. 46). Expansion of the racial discrimination policy established by Trujillo had a negative impact, especially on the black Haitian inhabitants. Soon, in 1957, Haiti faced a nineteen-year dictatorship – one of the most fearful periods for the Haitian nation (Clammer et al. 2008).

The Duvalier era (1957-1986) embraced long years of national suffering under the dictatorship of the Duvalier family. Since 1957, when François Duvalier (1957-1971) became the President of Haiti, the Haitian population was on the verge of survival. The dictator earned the nickname “Papa Doc” because he proved to be successful in fighting diseases. He gained popularity among the blacks, as he was a strong believer in Haitian blacks’ rights. The rule of François Duvalier relied on a rural militia known as the “Tonton Macoutes”; it was called after “the child-snatching bogeyman of Haitian folklore” (Clammer et al. 2008, p. 269). The life of the Haitian population turned into the everyday paranoid fear of violence and death.

The totalitarian dictatorship used a blend of terror, Vodou, patronage, and economic cronyism. François Duvalier widely used terror against those who supported progressive social systems. The dictator conducted the brain drain for most of the people and murdered ten thousand Haitians. He fostered the personality cult and named himself the embodiment of the island nation. Duvalier revived traditions of Vodou that served to consolidate his power; he even deliberately formed his own Godlike image. Similar to Trujillo, François Duvalier also relied on US support to the Haitian army. The patronage of the US government was a reliable, powerful, and helpful shield in his policy of terror and control. Clammer (2008) noted that economic cronyism expressed itself in the direct government involvement; special government agencies regulated the country’s industry (Clammer et al. 2008). The President organized a system of noninvolvement of the population into political and economic affairs through religious reforms that provided the country with Protestantism.

The terror was accompanied by different unjust actions aimed to oppress and humiliate Haitian citizens. The oppression was not only in economic and enforcement terms; it fostered humiliation at the individual level. Peasants lost their land because the government had confiscated it. Malnutrition and famine spread throughout the country. Most of the financial resources given to Haiti by the US were spent inappropriately. The actions of the militia (“Tonton Macoutes”) were violent and criminal. According to Scher (2010), each Haitian had to occupy either a pro-Duvalier or an anti-Duvalier position in relation to the president. Each citizen of the country was terrorized and polarized, and “learned to construct relationships of patronage and subservience with pro-Duvalierists to dodge the brutal repression that was sure to follow resistance or even ambivalence” (Scher, 2010, p. 133). Thus, the Duvalier era was a violent period that ensured trauma of the Haitian population, injured the nation, and caused open wounds from which even the modern population cannot be recovered.

In general, the described two-century period of Haitian history proves the ambivalence of the so-called Haitian-hood. Along with the successful slave revolt, slavery abolition, and declaration of national independence, the Haitians’ deep wounds negatively affected their nationhood. The subsequent rulers destroyed the dignity of the nation and its achievements. Continuing oppression, humiliation, and terror resulted in massive emigration, murder of civilians, land confiscation, and dominance of violence and injustice that traumatized the nation greatly.

Self-Representation of the Nation: Religion and Culture

The cultural life of the Haitians is rooted in African religious culture, European civilization, and American evangelicalism. The presence of African slaves and French colonists produced its unique influence on the language, religion, music, etc. in the country. Naturally, there were also indigenous cultural forms that contributed to Haitian cultural self-representation. However, the focus of this section of the paper is Haitian religion, namely, Vodou and Christianity. If one addresses Csordas’s (1990) article, the religion of Haiti should be viewed as a cultural embodiment through self-representation, self-awareness, and a sense of self (Csordas, 1990). The religious and cultural life practices make a valuable contribution to Haitian-hood even in the modern context. In addition, in the culture and religion of the nation, ambivalence is present as well: the Haitians experienced the coexistence of two religions that resulted in mysterious blending.

Vodou is a religion of Caribbean origin developed in response to political, economic, and social oppression. African enslaved people brought to Haiti developed Haitian Vodou in the XVI century. The religious tradition is rooted in the Central, Western African, and Native American religions. Vodou became the widespread public form of religious expression in the XVIII century (Fahlbusch, 2008).

At that time, the French Code Noir was implemented in Haiti. The Black Code prescribed baptism into the Roman Catholic faith for black slaves. Vodou borrowed and reinterpreted some religious symbols of African religious expression and the dominant Haitian society. This religion supported Haitians in their daily lives. According to Fahlbusch (2008), vodou appeared as “a religion of both protest and appeasement” (Fahlbusch, 2008, p. 697). Vodou ritual practices are focused around the spirits who may help a vodouisant in a certain way. The observance of rituals played a crucial role in this religion. For example, the embodiment of the spirits can be realized through a person’s dissociation – a desirable spiritual state that makes spirits come alive. The spirits could give a piece of advice, or share a valuable piece of knowledge (James, 2010). In general, Vodou was a powerful source of personal and societal healing. At the same time, leaders of social revolts and politics used Vodou as an influential and unifying tool.

For the reason, that Vodou could not be controlled, and was often associated with mysticism and sacred rituals, this religion was perceived with suspicion by the Haitian governments although they practiced it. Unlike Christianity, Vodou does not have any hierarchy; it is dependent on the psychological trance that reveals the messages of spirits, and on the oral tradition related to the perpetuation of special rituals. Vodou is a way of living that helps to find answers to daily events. It has been practiced by people regardless of the negative stigma that it carries in Haiti. It has been believed that although Vodou may be widely practiced, only a small amount of Haitians belongs to this religion. However, Vodou rituals can be used even in the Christian faith. Nevertheless, the representatives of Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches and some religious people oppose Vodou owing to the absence of a centralized authority, the syncretistic nature of the religion (combination of different beliefs), its location in the underclass, and its exceptional interest in the dead (Fahlbusch, 2008).

Before the Haitian postcolonial era (since the beginning of the XIX century), Vodou had been a “historically maligned religion”, and was considered as both a negative and a positive force helping to develop the nation (James, 2010, p. 9). Undoubtedly, the Haitian nation partially has relation to the ambivalence about Vodou practices. In the context of the Christian faith, voodoo was viewed as the expression of religious mysticism accompanied by vertigo, sensorial images, etc. (James, 2009). When Roman Catholicism became an official religion of independent Haiti (after 1804), numerous French priests fled the country (Leonard, 2006).

Although the Haitians were acquainted with the Christian religion as enforced by the colonists, they easily adopted it in their cultural life. Fahlbusch (2008) noted that there are some common features found in both religions. For example, both voodoo and Christian faith share the concern for intercession and revelation. Vodou is a monotheistic religion as well: vodouistants worship the supreme deity, Bondye, which created everything. As this God is distant, one may approach it through “loas”, the intermediaries. These spiritual beings resemble Roman Catholic saints. For example, loa legba, “the spirit of openings”, can be compared to St. Peter, “the keeper of the keys” (Fahlbusch, 2008, p. 697). Vodouisants also believe in a human soul that remains alive after physical death (the Haitians believed that soul of a dead slave returns to native Africa) (Fahlbusch, 2008).

The coexistence of two religions (Vodou and Roman Catholicism) in Haiti seemed to be an ambiguous phenomenon. The status of a Catholic did not prevent a person to be engaged in Vodou rituals. Both religions performed their social functions; either Vodou or the Christian faith has its own taboos and priorities. Moreover, on the Vodou altar, there were pictures of Roman Catholic saints. Nevertheless, Catholicism was an enforced religion and caused disappointment among the national masses. This ambivalent nexus between two different religions underlines the mystical intersection reflected in culture and Haitian-hood (Fahlbusch, 2008).

The Haitians gradually entered into a turbulent period for their national religion. In the first half of the XX century, Haiti experienced the impact of Protestantism and evangelicalism in particular as well. Although these religions were inspired by the US during the occupation, they fitted into the Haitian environment in a more harmonious way than Roman Catholicism. The importance of Vodou gradually diminished, and some part of the Haitian population converted to Protestantism. However, Vodou was brought to the US with numerous Haitian refugees who modified and adapted it to the US cultural environment (Fahlbusch, 2008). Nevertheless, the dissemination of Protestant evangelicalism on the Haitian territory had a significant impact on nationhood.

The spread of Protestantism coincided with the awakening of the national self. In the late XIX century, the Haitian population was involved in the national movement. Louis Joseph Janvier is believed to be a founder of this movement, who considered a Roman Catholic Church as an oppressive colonial power enforced by the French. Moreover, the Catholic Church was a threat to Haitian sovereignty (Leonard, 2006). Haiti became a member of an evangelical movement that had developed in continental Europe as a reaction to the “forcible catholicization” of the XVIII century (Fahlbusch, 2008, p. 433). This protestant movement gained special popularity in the US and found its adherents among the Haitian emigrants. “Protestant missionization” in Haiti was accompanied by the conversion of Haitians into Protestants or evangelists (Leonard, 2006, p. 170).

Protestantism fitted the national mentality more naturally than Catholicism owing to Haitian national, historical, political, economic, and social peculiarities. It suited the African temperament and was easily adopted by the Haitians. Janvier, a Haitian journalist, novelist, and patriot believed that conversion to Protestantism would provide the Haitian impoverished peasant population with a powerful basis for capitalist economic development.

Protestantism united the Haitians with the enlightened Western society and culture. According to Louis Joseph Janvier, Protestantism is a self-reliant and thrifty religion; it does not let a person waste money on frivolities afforded by Roman Catholicism. Protestantism encourages individual initiative and permits free discussion. This religion brings up a good citizen and a practical worker (Leonard, 2006). According to Leonard (2006), at the beginning of the XX century, Janvier and his followers ideologically linked Protestantism to such phenomena as Black Nationalism and anti-colonialism (Leonard, 2006).

During the occupation period (1915-1934) accompanied by overt US-enforced racism and cultural imperialism, the Haitian authentic national identity needed assertion. The democratic Haitian movement spread throughout the country. The members of the movement believed that the genuine national Haitian identity was rooted in African culture and peasant life. The occupied population did not want to live in the US neo-colony but in the independent and sovereign authentic Haiti. For this reason, the popularity of Protestantism grew; it implemented the ideals that perfectly fitted the Haitian environment (Leonard, 2006).

François Duvalier was famous not only for his ruthless politics but also for his contribution to the peasant religious life. The self-proclaimed president was pro-peasant, pro-Vodou, and a Black Nationalist political leader. He supported Janvier’s ideology and fostered Protestantism. As he was an adherent of Vodou practices that contradicted the official national Catholic belief, he diminished the power of the Catholic Church. His effective strategy was to resort to violence aimed at the destruction of the church, and lavish praise on North American evangelical Protestantism.

American Protestantism was much more beneficial for Haitian politics than European Catholicism. Firstly, evangelical Protestantism was supported by the US (the main ally of Haiti in the XX century); secondly, it helped to avoid people’s noninvolvement in the national political life; thirdly, “evangelism-oriented people towards North America” (Leonard, 2006, p. 172). It was a perfect political strategy that made the Haitian nation adopt another religion for the benefit of its ruler who was against involvement in the political apparatus. In general, missionary Protestantism that was so pervasive in the 70s of XX century implemented the idea of self-help and hope for American protectionism in the Haitian-hood.

At the same time, Protestantism blended with Vodou in an unusual but harmonious way for the Haitians. The image of religion in Haiti should be viewed as the means that contributed to the national self-care and restoration. Some details should be described as they reveal the religious instruments of the Haitians used in the way of the national self-identification. The Vodou religion and Haitian Protestantism had an ambiguous relationship. For example, Protestant practices and rituals acquired Vodou syncretism and were associated with spiritual healing. However, Protestantism viewed Vodou as something deleterious and dangerous for a social life. From the point of view of many Haitian Protestants, Vodou is the expression of poor culture that prevents the Haitians to develop into a modern, liberated, and civilized nation. In this context, Protestantism seemed to be the only possible Haitian religion that could guarantee the nation to achieve political, economic, and social prosperity. The conversion to Protestantism was viewed as the solution to the Haitian problem related to the spiritual, collective, and individual needs of the Haitians. This religion promised to turn a person into a morally and ethically strong individual (Leonard, 2006).

The trauma of the Haitian nation can be partially explained by the negative effects of the adopted religion. Protestantism had its own side effects that negatively influenced the Haitian nation, especially in the USA. According to Kaplan and Pease (1993), the religion shared by the free people of color and the whites stirred up racial conflicts. It is not surprising that racial demonology was produced in the New World between Protestant bourgeois whites and colored people. Racial demonology, hostile treatment of the dominant nation to the minorities, manifested itself in political and social overt oppressions – a widespread instrument of imperialism (Kaplan & Pease, 1993). The racial conflict caused by the unjust whites’ treatment of the colored Haitians will always remain in the traumatized national spirit.

Taking into account the Haitian historical and cultural (mainly, religious) context, one may see that the nation frequently experienced intervention, violence, social inequality, and humiliation to a certain degree. The situation of the Haitians may remind of Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” which describes the Third-World nation that faced the European colonial regime oppressing the indigenous culture, religion, and way of life (Asamoah-Gyadu, 2010). In the novel, the African tribe’s (the Ibo traditional community) religion-cultural values (rooted in Vodou) are affected by the external and enforced Christian religion; the confrontation of ideals of the encountered societies results in bad consequences. Parallelizing the African tribe and the Haitian nation, it is possible to see common features. For example, both of them are traditional communities that experience the tense encounters of the two different worlds (Asamoah-Gyadu, 2010).

Both of them have relation to supernatural powers (the Vodou religion) that turned to be suppressed by the dominant Christian faith brought by Western missionaries. Plantation of Roman Catholicism in the Haitian traditional context proved to be as painful as it was for the African tribe in the novel, although in their case, it was Christian evangelicalism. Nevertheless, unlike the Ibo community, the Haitians easier adopted evangelicalism and blended it to a certain degree with the traditional religious forms (Asamoah-Gyadu, 2010). In both cases, the balance was disturbed, and the communities experienced negative effects from the alien world. Either the African tribe or the Haitians were under colonial political, cultural, economic, and social pressure that can be compared with the curse put upon the whole community.

Although the fates of the mentioned communities have numerous common features, the Haitians could preserve the nationhood regardless of harm and displays of injustice aimed to humiliate, frighten, limit, or kill the people. The strong sense of community, adherence to their cultural and religious traditions, national ideals, and hope for future welfare helped the nation to survive in hard times. As one may see, the connection between religion and spirituality is evident because religious values undoubtedly influence the national spirit and cultural expressions. The Haitians experienced the impact of different religions: Roman Catholicism has imposed artificially; Protestant evangelicalism was acquired naturally. In any way, all of them found their certain reflection in Haitian-hood.

Haitian-hood in XXI Century: National Self-Renewal

By the XXI century, the Haitians have passed a long and difficult way to national self-identification. Their hard-won independence complicated their national development but infused a strong sense of national self. Since the colonial domination, the Haitians have been constructing their physical and spiritual pain brought from the external world to the violated community (Das, 2004). Traumatized and oppressed, they were able to survive in unfavorable conditions for the national development; nevertheless, they appeared stable and quite flexible and did not lose the sense of the nation. However, to understand the essence of Haitian self-renewal, one should examine some aspects of Haitian life that have a relation to the modernist realia. In this section of the literature review, the emphasis is made on some phenomena that affect the national self-renewal raised from the concept of social suffering (Kleinman et al., 1997).

Haitian-hood in XXI century is affected by several processes rooted in the past. The processes mentioned below have focused on the social suffering experienced by the Haitians in the past and present. Richman (2008) dedicated his article to the effects of the Haitian transnational migration. The author explains that it resulted in the modification of the national religion. aking into account the peculiarities of the Haitian migrations and subdivisions of the Christian religion, Vodou turned into the dynamic and complex blend of African, European, and Creole religious practices and ideologies “centered around the material reality of spiritual affliction, sorcery, and magic” (Richman, 2008, p. 3). At the same time, in the XX century, the majority of the Haitians were Catholics; some of them were converted to Protestantism. In the 1970s, many Haitians immigrated to the US and enriched their religious practices under the influence of the US cultural environment. Today, there are three officially recognized religions in Haiti – Catholicism, Vodou, and Protestantism; the religions do not exist in their pure form but are adapted to the diversity of the Haitian self-representation (Richman, 2008).

One more effect of the Haitian migration is the transformation of the Haitian nation into the workforce for another country (mainly, for the USA). Now, the poverty in Haiti makes its population migrate to the US (the prosperous country) and contribute to its economic success. Haitian migration is a voluntary act caused by unfavorable economic conditions in the country (Richman, 2008).

The migration process reveals another essential process for Haiti: economic underdevelopment. Today, Haiti is a “Third World” country; it is economically fragile and vulnerable. The traditional peasant economy (heritage of the “sugar colony” status) was too weak to transform into the capitalistic one owing to different historic, political, and economic reasons (Richman, 2008, p. 4). It is clear that continuous poverty encourages voluntary Haitian migration. In addition, the current economic state is partially caused by the sequence of unsuccessful rulers who wracked the rational economic development of the country (Arendt, 1970).

In the XXI century, low-income developing Haiti still recovers its economy. However, many economic problems should be solved in its way of economic transformation: poverty, shortage of skilled labor, widespread underemployment and unemployment, the illegal labor force (without formal jobs), etc. (Richman, 2008). Haiti has turned into the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and this fact has given rise to the modern form of slavery that serves as a sign of social Haitian underdevelopment.

The history of Haitian slavery does not abandon the Haitians even in the XXI century. The statistics say that about 40 % of the population under 15 years is vulnerable to modern enslavement. Domestic enslavement has transformed into the modern form of Haitian slavery. The Haitian children are exploited by other Haitians; this practice was initiated after the declaration of independence in 1804. Later, it was continued by the US that forced peasants to work on public roads. These young modern slaves (from 5 to 14 years) are known as domestics or “restaveks” (in French, “stay within”); according to the statistics, there are about 300,000 restaveks today enslaved in Haiti (Rodriguez, 2011, p. 297).

Usually, these slaves (most of them are female) come from rural or poor families that consider that bad quality of life and lack of education is a good reason to allow a child to work as a domestic servant in the houses of wealthier families. However, these children are enslaved as soon as they arrive at the host families that do not pay them for the services. As the restaveks are forbidden to leave the house, they are detached from social life; their career options are extremely limited (usually, they are engaged in service jobs: porters, gardeners, or sex workers). Their living conditions are poor; they are often hungry and exhausted. In addition, they frequently face verbal and physical (in particular sexual) abuse and violence (Rodriguez, 2011). This way, the suffering of the modern Haitian nation is partially manifested by child slavery still existing in Haiti.

One more problem that causes social suffering is a bad level of health care system development and social security. Kleinman (1997) noted the following evidence, “In Haiti, AIDS and political violence are two leading causes of death among young adults” (Kleinman et al., 1997, p. 271). Moreover, tuberculosis is also easily transmitted and kills the population throughout the country. Numerous earthquakes and flooding deprive the lives and houses of Haitian families. Unfortunately, the government cannot provide the citizens with appropriate social security and does not make any investments in the social spheres to stop all disorders and disasters (Kleinman et al., 1997). Social underdevelopment is accompanied by the growth of poverty that worsens the gap between the rich and the poor, and with premature mortality, excess morbidity, brutal effects of social policy, and other disadvantages.

As one may see, Haiti lacks justice and security: migration, economic and social underdevelopment not only creates disappointment of the colored people but also a tenuous human rights climate as well. In this context, the cultural and religious life of the Haitians starts playing an essential role. The religious culture of Haiti still fills the Haitian-hood with exceptionally unique spirituality that helps them to survive and to see the future perspectives. For the Haitians, happiness means to be free of pain, suffering, and debts. The way to escape from the horror of the cruel reality is religion: Jesus Christ, along with the spirits, gives relief and hope for happiness (Richman, 2008).

Naturally, the current unsatisfactory state of Haiti puts the fragile country at risk to remain underdeveloped for a long time. Nevertheless, some optimistic views promise Haiti dynamic development and recovery through building a civil society. For example, Shamsie (2006) dedicated the book to the transformation of Haiti. From the author’s point of view, it will be a challenging and long-term process, but effective enough to transform the country in a positive way (Shamsie et al., 2006). According to Shamsie’s book, to respond to the new reality, Haiti needs to strengthen the role of the private sector and traditional development in the economic sector. In addition, the remittances from the Haitian Diaspora in the USA that flow into the local economies (from the Official Development Assistance) are also important. However, the reconstruction of Haiti should start with the formation of civil society with all its advantages: social investments in public health, environment and community development, basic education, state programs aimed at poverty alleviation, etc. Moreover, Haiti should use its picturesque landscapes for economic benefits, and develop Haitian tourism (Shamsie et al., 2006).

The other way of reconstruction for the Haitians is to learn to take advantage of the national migration. Shamsie (2006) underlined that in the age of globalization, modern migration differs from that of the past century: today, it ensures technological development. The advantages of globalization (modern telecommunication, transfers, transportations, and trade) should be realized in Haiti to meet the demands of the XXI century (Shamsie et al., 2006). Logically, the revival and renewal of Haiti are impossible without the benefits of modern human civilization.

All people, communities, nations, and individuals should overcome suffering and pain to become happy and satisfied with their life (Sontag, 2004). Nowadays, the Haitians experience the consequences of the hard times and new challenges, but they are on their way to national self-renewal. The Haitian national movement, which started in the XIX century, is still in progress. Maintaining its unique culture, religion, and traditions, the nation remains alive and survives even in unfavorable conditions that slow down national progress. The “Third World” nationalism is traced in the modern world; it can be hidden and not obviously expressed, but it manifests itself through public disappointment, protests, and the spirituality of the nation (Anderson, 2006).

The Haitian nation has proved its rigidity during hard times and may repeat the experience of other countries with troubled pasts and bitter experiences. For example, the modern face of the dynamically developing Republic of China is a result of many years of efforts to preserve the national self. The Chinese learned out of their experience and underwent certain positive changes. The years of poverty made the Chinese families economic. In addition, they have included the traditional cultural element in all aspects of daily life. This way, the rural community has transformed into a rapidly developing nation that relied on its nationhood (Yan, 2003). The Chinese ability to speed up the country’s economic development by means of quick adoption of other countries’ experience is undoubtedly the national asset that helps to fit into the capitalistic world and to improve the national financial status (Liu, 2002). For example, after the Chernobyl disaster (1986), Ukraine was able to mobilize its forces and restore its economy (Petryna, 2002). The Chinese and Ukrainian examples show that national prosperity relies on the efforts of their people whose nationhood helps them greatly.

The problem of the Haitian national self-renewal is ambivalent, and cannot be solved in an easy way. One may even think that the Haitians hold a Christian belief that there will be Paradise on Earth, or that millennialism is coming soon (Faubion, 2001). Perhaps, one day, the colored Haitian society will even face the realization of the equal freedom concept depicted in “Jesus Camp”, the American documentary film about the evangelical community (Ewing & Grady, 2006). Nevertheless, only preservation of nationhood may help Haiti to renew itself, and to transform into civil society.

The Haitian-hood component embraces many features: adherence to traditional culture and religion, social ideals, spirituality, knowledge, etc. At the same time, one should not forget that society is reflexive; it means that only social practical effort will result in positive feedback that contributes to self-awareness, and national consciousness (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Considering this, one may see that the preserved Haitian-hood and social pro-active attitude are the keys to the salvation of Haiti as a nation.


There is no doubt that the anthropology of Haitian trauma is unique; there was no other nation that would start its ascent to nationalism and independence so gloriously and would find itself in such a deep fall in modern times. As it comes from the historical overview of the centuries of colonization, oppression, and violence imposed on Haitians right after their acquisition of independence, the traumatic experience was shared by the nation both at the communal and individual levels. People whose inherent qualities were striving for autonomy, nationalism, and authenticity, had to suffer from the imposition of alien values and lifestyles. Their workforce was exploited for the benefit of other nations, and compliance with these outside values was enforced with the help of brutal force, discrimination, and harassment. During some fragments of the historic development of Haiti, the very existence of the nation was contestable, which surely explains many of the intrinsic features of Haitian nationalism today.

There is an obvious urge for self-preservation, self-care, and restoration shared by the majority of Haitians at the modern period of the country’s existence. The trauma Haitians bear in the gist of their self-identity is destructive, but at the same time, it may help Haiti revive its liveliness, independence-directedness, and national pride that will help the state find its unique path in the global political map of which it has for now been deprived. It is only through the recognition and acceptance of the traumatic past that moving ahead is possible.

The nationalism trends were evident in Haiti at all historical stages of its existence; however, they were too weak and liberal to gain force and expand throughout the country. Haitians have suffered much, and they hold a strong belief about the deserved self-care and restoration now. However, the urge of the nation is still impossible even under the modern conditions; poor living conditions, the critical state of the economy, high rates of unemployment, unbalanced politics, and concealed slavery and inequality are the consequences of the Haitian past that cannot be overcome as quickly as the nation would want. In addition, their aware help and participation are necessary, and success is not possible only due to the acceptance of being a Haitian, but due to active involvement in the state affairs, and the proclamation of nationhood in the lifestyle, attitudes, and behavior.

Some other ways for Haiti to finally fulfill its goal of independence, prosperity, and autonomy are to understand the rich heritage that the past, though violent and traumatic, still brought about to the state. The most important legacy of the past is the unique and vibrant religion of Haiti that represents a mixture of pagan and Christian beliefs, and that accommodates uniquely into the Haitian lifestyle, self-perception, self-care, and worship. Haitians have historically been very spiritual people, and their spirituality gave them strength in standing and overcoming decades of suffering. Hence, there is a possibility of seeking reunification of Haitians with themselves and their rue identity through spirituality. Haitian religion may be seen as another straight path to the establishment of Haitian-hood in its genuine form, which will give strength and self-awareness to the nation.


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