On the western third of Hispaniola island, the country of Haiti sparkles with clear blue waters and sandy beaches surrounded by mountains—more mountains than in any other spot in the Caribbean. In fact, Haiti’s name comes from the native Taino word meaning “land of high mountains”. Once a French colony, Haiti gained independence in 1804 when thousands of enslaved West Africans defeated the French. Today, Haiti’s culture is interwoven with these African, French, and native Taino elements.
Haiti’s cuisine reflects this bold cultural blend, featuring peppers and generous herb seasonings to produce a spicy, rustic fare. Typical meals include rice with red or black beans, served alongside fried plantains. Riz National, the national rice dish, contains rice and red kidney beans topped with tomatoes, onions, and red snapper. Chicken (especially fried), pork and seafood are widely enjoyed, as are tropical fruits, like pineapple and mango. True to their taste for bold flavors, many Haitians love pikles, a spicy mixture of pickled vegetables to garnish dishes.
In addition to its intense flavors, Haiti is known for its exuberant celebrations. Dancing is important in Haitian life, with dances held as part of social gatherings and parties. Carnival is the most festive time of year, celebrated during the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Cities fill with music, parade floats, singing and dancing in one of the biggest carnivals in the Caribbean. Music is central to these celebrations, with bands competing for the best song. At Rara, a similar celebration before Easter, bands play music on Haitian-made instruments through the streets, with dancing people joining the procession as they go. Even in its music, reflections of Haiti’s blended heritage come through with African drum rhythms combining with European dance music and native Taino influences.
Haiti’s expressive people are warm hosts, love to socialize, and display their emotions openly. Personal greetings, for example, are extensive and very important. When passing on the street, people always greet each other. When entering a room or joining friends, it is expected that each person will be greeted individually. Men shake hands, and women kiss each other on the cheek. Next time you get together with friends and family, remember the people of Haiti and take the time to carefully greet each person!
Cross International has been serving alongside ministry partners in Haiti for many years, providing education, food, and medical care to people in need. With your help, we will continue to work with those in Haiti who are bringing the hope of the gospel to this country so full of life.