By: Ford Pierre
What is Rara in Haiti?
With Rara, a stigma and appreciation are both present. The Rara is a popular and traditional sophisticated celebration that happens in different cities and regions of Haiti, such as Léogane, Pestel, Gonaïves, Port-au- Prince and Nippes. As a cultural celebration for more than half a century, Rara's artistic expression changes through time and space. This article shines the spotlight on this cultural element now anchored in the life of the Haitian people.
When is Rara in Haiti?
The term "Rara" is a popular and traditional Haitian festival which covers the period of Lent. It opens on Ash Wednesday and closes on the Monday or Tuesday following Easter. These festivities are carried out by band parades, called "bann Rara" (in Haitian Creole), in urban areas (particularly working-class neighborhoods) as well as in rural areas, particularly in the departments of Artibonite and West (especially Léogane), qualified as bastion of this popular practice, although the departments of the South and Grande Anse are not left out.
History, Origins and Practice of Rara in Haiti
This cultural practice draws its roots from and beyond the 15th century, in diverse origins that embrace the different peoples and civilizations that lived on the island of Haiti: Amerindians, Africans, Europeans.
Of colonial origin, as slaves were allowed to sing and dance at the end of the week following the carnival of their masters and the last three days of Holy Week, this object of distraction was a pledge of hope. In its early days, the Rara was called “Chayopye” by slaves, unable to walk properly, due to the chains they wore on their feet. At that time, the feet and the mouths were the sound instruments used to create the atmosphere. Then, over time, traditional instruments (drum, cymbal and other foreign wind instruments such as saxophone, trombone, baritone, and helicon) are incorporated into it.
Haitian Rara Music and Voodoo in the Haitian Culture
There are three aspects of Rara: the playfulness covering the festivities, the social dimension affecting what is called "lava entel nan rara" (denouncing someone, their actions) and the spiritual dimension revealed by the link between rara and voodoo.
Like the majority of Haitian cultural phenomena, it is important to mention the close relationship of Rara to Voodoo. It cannot be conceived, so to speak, apart from this religious aspect. Indeed, many researchers attest that a band of rara is formed following the specific request of a loa, deity of voodoo. To attract protection and chances of all kinds, on the leaders, members and participants of the group, voodoo ceremonies are celebrated at the beginning of the annual cycle of Rara and before each performance or outing.
At the level of its organization, the Rara is hierarchized as follows: after the Master Rara, comes the one who wears the “Fwèt kach”, known under the name of colonel or leader in certain regions, generally assisted by a deputy called major who wears a flag called the banner. Then the rear guard protects the tail, preceded by three queens.
The Haitian Rara has undergone a fairly significant evolution over time, both in terms of traditional instruments and its structure. At the heart of a collective tradition, the Rara is an essential element of Haitian cultural heritage, to be protected and passed on to future generations.
Whether or not you agree with Rara celebration, it is a very important part of Haitian culture which should be preserved to teach future generations about. We highlight photographs from Rara in The Real Haiti Activity Bundle, which also gives a snapshot of the Haitian culture and celebration!
By: Ford Pierre
The Longest Living Known Haitian Author
On this day June 13, 2022, the president of FORF, Odette Roy Fombrun, celebrates her 105th birthday. Indeed, this icon of the Haitian education sector, also known as a writer and historian, occupies her place on the list of the deans in the age of the country. She is a prolific author whose numerous books and textbooks have largely inspired the most productive authors of her time. In short, her life is as long as her career, during which she received numerous awards. Let's discover together some points on the life of this dean emeritus, nicknamed "kok batay" by her collaborators, and who received the title of "Living national treasure".
Odette Roy Fombrun's Life Accomplishments
Odette Roy Fombrun, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 13, 1917, is the seventh of a family of 11 children. She is the daughter of engineer Louis Roy and Henriette Denis. She did her primary and secondary studies successively at Sainte-Rose de Lima and at the École Normale d'Instituteur before graduating from the Nursery Training School in Boston. Nicknamed "kòk batay'' by her collaborators, she has devoted her life to educating young people and finding solutions to the many problems facing her country. She is the author of numerous school books designed to capture young people's interest in history (in French and Creole), geography, social sciences, morals and civics (in French and Creole), and also extracurricular books including children's literature books, detective novels and an essay, Ma vie en trois temps.
As a Haitian Historian, she wrote “The Flag and Arms of the Republic'' and “The Ayiti of the Indians”. She has also produced and published hundreds of newspaper articles reflecting her passion for her country. She was a member of the commission which prepared the preliminary draft Constitution in 1987, a member of the History Society - she wrote in her journal - and a member of the committee of the BPW club of Port-au-Prince, of which she served as president for four years. With her husband, Marcel Fombrun, she spent 27 years in exile, 17 of them in Africa, where she learned and wrote about the lives of children on this continent. She has received a large number of honorary titles, including that of GRAHN, that of "exceptional woman" and that of Honor and Merit to the rank of knight, without forgetting the title which is special to her: "Kòk batay", because given by her fellow workers.
Finally, mother of 5 children, grandmother and great-grandmother of more than 30 grandchildren, she is currently a consultant for Éditions Deschamps and president of a foundation she founded with her children in 2007, the Odette Roy Fombrun Foundation, for education. Also, the honorary titles received and the many honor plaques that adorn the walls of the Foundation that bears her name eloquently testify to her involvement in various social fields and the well-deserved appreciation by her large audience of admirers. In 2009, for all of her achievements throughout her centenary, she was awarded the National Treasure Prize.
Even today, Odette Roy Fombrun prepares booklets for preschoolers while continuing to reflect and offer possible alternatives for a better Haiti.
We have free worksheets perfect for preschoolers and higher to teach kids about The Real Haiti! Download them here.
By: Ford Pierre
The Palace of the Belle River, or Palace of 365 Doors is among the most beautiful tourist sites in Haiti, a true masterpiece of art and culture. architecture, whose fame is based on its splendor and in particular its 365 doors. In reality, around two centuries old, this fascinating building, close to the Artibonite river, remains a source of curiosity with its beautiful, ingenious but above all unusual structure. In this article you will discover some details that you do not know about this magnificent royal castle, the darling of the commune of Petite rivière de l'Artibonite.
Historical Background of the Palace of 365 Doors in Haiti
The “Belle Rivière Palace”, better known as the “365-door palace”, is located precisely in Petite Rivière de l'Artibonite, built during the reign of King Henri Christophe, in order to better establish his kingdom on the entire extent of the greater northern region of Haiti, particularly in the department of Artibonite.
This building was built between the years 1816 and 1820, by a French architect named Louis Dupeyrac, to serve as a residence for Henri 1er, nicknamed "king builder" according to history, because of his many constructions during his period of governance of the northern part of Haiti, divided at the time after the assassination of the father of Haitian independence, Jean Jacques Dessalines.
Construction of the Haitian Belle-Rivière palace
Its construction started in 1816, but was still under construction during the fall of the kingdom of the North, in October 1820, the Belle-Rivière palace, which should have been composed of several levels, unfortunately remained unfinished. On the other hand, in terms of importance, this palace is the second after that of Sans Souci, on the list of nine built by Christophe.
It should be noted that the Palais de la Belle-Rivière had already undergone major restoration and completion work as part of an intervention that was made under the presidency of Sténio Vincent, in April 1932. According to the 'ISPAN, the building has a rectangular plan 68 meters long and 11 meters wide. Its walls are made of stone masonry and clay bricks, bound by a lime mortar. On its west facade is attached a vast rotunda, 12 meters in diameter. The east facade, rear, is distinguished in its axis by a projection surmounted by a reinforced concrete pediment, added during the intervention of 1932. At the same time, it was decided to provide the roof with a sheet metal cover. corrugated supported by a wooden frame. The structure of the palace, then in ruins, was consolidated, its walls coated with cement plaster and its numerous openings fitted with wooden shutters.
About 82 years later, under the presidency of Michel Joseph Martelly, a second rehabilitation of this monument was carried out by the National Heritage Preservation Institute (ISPAN). This restoration and exterior development work took place under the direction of the Haitian architect Philippe Châtelain.
Contrary to what we believed, the palace with 365 doors does not really have 365 doors. Indeed, King Henry had the project to build this building with several levels and a total of 365 doors, but he could not achieve this goal. So the building is so called, because of its many openings.
Classified as National Heritage of the Republic of Haiti by a presidential decree published on August 23, 1995, it is a place of memory symbolizing a glorious past of the Haitian people.
By: Ford Pierre
A military building of indisputable beauty, the Citadelle Laferrière is an architectural marvel among the countless attractive sites abounding in the Caribbean. Indeed, from a height of 914 meters above sea level, it has dominated the entire city of Cape Town and eastern Cuba for two centuries. For a better experience, fasten your seat belts, because this article offers you a short tour of Haiti, more precisely in the North department, to show you around this gigantic fortress, one of the largest and most beautiful on the American continent.
Where is Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti, located?
Located in Milot, at the top of the Bonnet à l'Évêque, at the southern end of a ridge, is the Citadelle Laferrière, also called Citadelle Henri. It is a majestic military fortification, built the day after the proclamation of Haiti's independence, under the orders of King Henry Christophe, with the aim of defending the northern part of the island against any possible return of French settlers. At that time, Haiti's independence was still fragile, it was necessary to preserve this hard-won freedom.
Architectural details of Haiti's Citadelle Laferrière
Erected at more than 900 meters above sea level and extending over an area of approximately 10,000 square meters, with walls that rise up to 130 feet in height and more than 5 meters in thickness, it has the capacity to accommodate between 2000 and 5000 men.
It composes with Fort Ramier which is in the center of the plateau, the largest arsenal of the time, with cannons of all kinds, two hundred balls and other artillery pieces. Throughout its structure, the Citadel gives off an impression of strength and power, which illustrates well the defensive role it played in post-colonial times.
Equipped with bakery ovens, but also very large cisterns to store water and also warehouses to store food for a period of one year for 5,000 soldiers, its structure makes it possible to collect rainwater in order to to redistribute it for the services of the fort, the food of the palace Sans Souci and the inhabitants of the region.
How long did it take to construct the Citadelle Laferrière?
Inaugurated 18 years after independence, its construction lasted fourteen years and required more than 20,000 workers, while 2,000 of them would have lost their lives on the job. What is even more interesting is that the blood of the latter, with a mixture of animal blood, molasses, sand, clay to name a few, would constitute the mortar of this monument, which still explains its solidity, according to the opinion of the guides. Despite its solidity, part of the Citadel was damaged in 1842, following a powerful earthquake that seriously shook the town of Milot. Fortunately, thanks to the National Heritage Preservation Institute (ISPAN), reconstruction work has been carried out to safeguard this imposing building. UNESCO made it a world heritage site in 1982. Explore more pictures we've taken through the years of the inside and surroundings of Citadelle Laferrière here.
Why is Citadelle Laferrière important?
Finally, even two centuries later, the Citadelle Laferrière continues to tell the story. It is synonymous with resistance and resilience. This site is much more than a touristic importance for the Haitian people, it is a living witness of its past greatness. It has become today the symbol of pride of an entire nation.
Check out more pictures of Citadelle Laferrière and the surrounding area of Cap-Haïtien on our blog.
What are your favorite memories or places in Haiti?
By: Ford Pierre
One of the most beautiful tourist sites in the country of Haiti is located in the center of the capital (Port-au-Prince), Champ de Mars is a fairly pleasant space that can be used for meetings with friends, family walks and other activities that can help you relax. Located near the Presidential Palace partly destroyed by the 2010 earthquake and the 2004 Tour, there is the statue of Jean Jacques Dessalines (Icon of the country's independence), the Marron Inconnu (famous sculpture by Albert Mangones), the statue of Alexandre Pétion, the standing statue of Toussaint Louverture, the statue of Henri Christophe on his horse, the Museum of the Haitian National Pantheon (Mupanah) and its flamboyant gardens, as well as artistic exhibitions around the streets and other wonders of the construction of the beginning of the century transformed into a Creole museum and antique shops. All this is to say that in addition to being an admirable place, Champ de Mars is a place full of history. Let's discover together in this article the history of this beautiful place.
From Idea to Conception
The idea of the Champ de Mars development project dates back to 1907 under the chairmanship of Nord Alexis. A contract for the construction of a large-scale public park which provided for the construction of a central roundabout around the statue of Jean Jacques Dessalines from which five large avenues will start was signed by Pétion Pierre-André, the Secretary of State of the interior at the time and Mr. Victor Gentil. The contract implied that demarcated spaces were to be lined with public gardens with benches adorned with flowers. A bandstand will also be set up as well as a metal stand. Due to the scale of the project, its implementation stretched over several years.
It was only on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of independence, more precisely in 1954 under the presidency of Paul Eugene Magloire that this place was built. The space consists of a series of public squares divided by large boulevards. Its last conception which dated from 1999 when it was rebuilt to celebrate the city's 250th anniversary was heavily affected by the 2010 earthquake. The area was fenced off for a period after. For much of Port-au-Prince's history, the Champ de Mars was used for military parades, until 1912 when it was transformed into a hippodrome with wrought-iron bleachers facing the National Palace.
Current Situation of Champ de Mars
As a reminder, Champ de Mars was originally a place of homage to the heroes of Independence and a space for relaxation. Yet nowadays, we see that it is no longer what it once was or what it should be. The largest public square in the country has become a profane place where all the social routs occur. By the greatest surprise, the different squares of the Champ de Mars have become the place of all activities, except those for which they were designed. All the buildings have almost lost all their charm of yesteryear.
To learn more about interesting Haitian landmarks, check out tourism in Haiti.
By: Ford Pierre + Diana Pierre-Louis
What is the cultural importance of soup joumou?
All Haitians know the Soup Joumou and all Haitians consume Soup Joumou, but how many know its history and origins? Let's discover the story behind this mythical dish made from giraumon (a variety of pumpkin, found in the West Indies) and why it is traditionally eaten on January 1st.
There are often multiple versions of the origins of different types of soup. And when we talk about the origins of Soup Joumou in Haiti, two versions are often spoken of.
A colonial antecedent for Soup Joumou
First of all, the first suggests that Soup Joumou existed long before Haiti's independence, that is to say since the time of the colony. But its consumption was only reserved for wealthy settlers at the time. The slaves were prohibited from consuming the soup. It was not until the proclamation of Haiti's independence on January 1, 1804, with the authorization of Dessalines' wife (Marie Claire Heureuse) that Haitians began to consume Soup Joumou throughout the country. The objective was to show the whole world, more precisely to France, that Haiti had become a free and independent state.
A national invention for Soup Joumou
The second version tells that the Soup Joumou is from the invention of Marie Claire Heureuse. When her husband, General Jean Jacques Dessalines was preparing to deliver his speech for the occasion in the city of Gonaïves on January 1, 1804, she wanted to offer a nutritious food that would allow the newly free to resist shortages and other consequences of the war. She therefore proposed Joumou soup because it corresponded to all of these criteria. This soup could help the peasants to remain powerful in the face of hunger for almost 15 days. Previously, Claire Heureuse used Joumou to treat tuberculosis patients at the time. It was after discovering the virtues of this plant that she decided to create the soup. It is therefore from this moment that Joumou soup entered the Haitian tradition.
A world heritage for Soup Joumou
About two centuries later, the symbolism of the Soup Joumou continues to mark Haitian territory. Every January 1, almost all Haitian families consume the soup. It is a tradition to remember and remind the world that Haiti is the first free black nation. And thanks to the considerable efforts of several patriots, in 2021 it entered the world heritage of UNESCO. It all started in March 2021 when Haiti submitted the candidature of Soup Joumou, to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for registration among the Intangible Cultural Heritages (ICH) of humanity. A few months later, during its 16th intergovernmental session on Thursday, December 16, 2021, UNESCO adopted the inscription of the traditional Haitian "Soup joumou" on the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It is the first meal shared by humanity's first black nation.
Every January 1, families and friends in Haiti and abroad travel around to different family and friends houses to enjoy the soup together. Although the ingredients remain mostly the same, each person's flavors can vary depending on which recipe they learned from or which recipe they follow. Luckily with the Internet, there are a plethora of recipes to choose from and I guarantee any will be tasty!
I always follow the ingredients list and recipe for Soup Joumou out of our book Freedom Soup by by Tami Charles (Author), Jacqueline Alcántara (Illustrator). It's so easy to follow and simplifies the whole process which includes a long list of ingredients and steps.
Cooking essentials for Soup Joumou
Below is a video in Haitian Creole on how to cook Soup Joumou
By: Ford Pierre
In the Haitian culture, depression is viewed as a taboo topic. Some believe depression is made up or an exaggeration of negative feelings. Many think that "Haitians aren't depressed" or "depression is not a Haitian problem."
Depression and Stigma in The Haitian Culture
Depression is by definition associated with social dysfunction and major personal suffering, and globally linked to precarious socio-political and economic conditions.
In Haiti, there is a distinction between "depression" to mean discouragement and "mental depression" as understood by Western psychiatry. Depression places a heavy psychological burden on the patient's caregivers and the patient himself, and can be associated with shame in the face of community support, due to the stigma surrounding it. When an individual experiences repeated psychotic episodes and their functioning is disrupted, they can be characterized as insane and considered to be definitely dysfunctional. His cognitive ability and judgment may never be reliable again, even after a long period of remission.
The Use of the Term "Moun Fou" in The Haitian Community
The term "Moun Fou" in Haitian context is a ready-made expression, used wrongly and through, or even a lack of language. This is due to the level of education of the population and the absence of a mental health policy in the country. In Haitian culture, an individual with an episode of any neurological disorder (depression, anxiety, or addiction to psychoactive substances) is considered insane. On the other hand, many Haitians qualify as "Moun Fou" often by extension, any person having thought or acted clumsily, without the term having anything to do with a pathology. It is important to understand the context of the term "Moun Fou" in Haitian society.
Postpartum Depression in Haitian Women
A couple of years ago, I was curious about postpartum depression in Haitians so I asked someone who works with pregnant women through the non-profit organization Midwives For Haiti.
Q: Can you tell me about the prevalence of depression in Haitian women during pregnancy and post partum?
A: "It is not in our screening process at the pre-postnatal screenings in Haiti- largely because we have no one to refer them to to get help and medications are not available or difficult to get for treatment. And we have no research about this.
Personally, my guess is that it is a huge problem because mothers have so little, have to work so hard to just have food and water for themselves, are worried all the time about their children dying, have already lost children, etc.
We are about to do the class on PP depression/anxiety and will ask the students what they know about it. We know of Haitian women who are depressed because of their behavior. Recently a midwife had a baby with cleft palate that died about a week later of aspiration and she just laid on her bed for months. Finally went back to work after 3 months but not because she was ready."
The Importance of Mental Health Across The Island of Haiti
Nowadays, there is an increase in mental disorders in Haiti. The country lacks a planned mental health policy according to the needs of the population, especially at a troubling time when poverty, instability and insecurity have reached their peak. Moreover, the budget allocated to mental health represents less than 1% of the overall budget reserved for public health.
Mental health is extremely neglected and ignored by the authorities when it should be the most representative in the fight to protect citizens and help them maintain full mental well-being, because according to WHO forecasts, neurological disorders are the second leading cause of death in the world.
A friend of The Real Haiti Marie Valsaint, Founder and CEO of Haitians Thrive, provided us with a Development and Validation of a Haitian Creole Screening Instrument for Depression by Andrew Rasmussen, et. al. This document is useful to those trying to identify, diagnosis and treat mental illness, especially depression in the Haitian community.
Do you have any research on depression in the Haitian culture that you'd love to share? Please let us know and we'd love to support you and our community.
Today we were making soup joumou for Haitian Independence Day and my husband said, babe, did you get the yam?! I said, yes, I got all of the 9,000 ingredients for the soup! After many years of preparing soup joumou with him, I still in fact forgot the yam he was talking about. It's the one in the pic to the left after he went to get it from the store if you're wondering.
The point of this isn't to make fun of myself to you, but to wish you a Happy Haitian Independence Day and a Happy New Year! As we all faced many challenges in 2020, there is always hope for better days ahead.
I had all intensions of posting a recipe along with beautifully curated pictures, but there are so many amazing soup joumou recipes online that I collected for you here.
I hope you're enjoying your day with family, eating soup and relaxing! Tag us in your soup pics on social media! Here's the one we made...
“The Comfort of Receiving Goodies from a Haitian Mother” by Shaina Louis, Manman Kiskeya
Shaina is an intelligent young woman who has a natural entrepreneurial spirit. Shaina reached out to me on Instagram inquiring about some of our digital products. Since then, we've kept in touch on socials and I just had to share one of her projects here with you!
If you're like Shaina, the comfort of Manman is everything, especially when it comes to Haitian food. When she was away at college, she was feeling home sick and came up with the idea to create these boxes full of Haitian goodies and products that bring back a sense of nostalgia. You can read her full story and see what else she has for sale on her site.
Our box by Manman Kiskeya included:
Thank you Shaina for the box that you sent to us! My husband and I had a great time hanging out eating the Haitian snacks while I listened to childhood stories he told.
In 2010, husband and wife team, Endy and Diana, started The Real Haiti travel blog to show the world the other side of Haiti through their experiences. Now parents of 2 young boys, the couple has expanded The Real Haiti to include teaching resources on Haiti and the Haitian culture.
We are a husband and wife team who live in Florida with our two boys. We started traveling to Haiti regularly over a decade ago and The Real Haiti blog was born in 2012. We were selected as winners of the former Minister of Tourism's rebranding contest with the slogan, "Experience It" or "Se La Pou'w La!" We were given a plaque by former President Michel Martelly and attended a special ceremony to launch the official logo and slogan.
The mission of The Real Haiti has always been to educate others about Haiti and all of the amazing things that she has to offer. Because the news generally focuses on the negative, we were motivated to start sharing encouraging pictures, videos, stories and memories about Haiti. While we still share the beauty of Haiti, The Real Haiti has become much more than sharing pretty pictures.
The Real Haiti has become the missing link between you and Haiti. We are industry leaders in connecting you to people, places and things in Haiti! Need a photographer in Haiti for hire? Don't know where to start in planning a trip to Haiti? Not sure how to ethically import goods for your business? We can help!
Who is The Real Haiti for?
We are so passionate about sharing the Haitian culture with you. Let's work together to show the world The Real Haiti!