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
Halloween is a celebration that originated in Anglo-Saxon countries. The word is a contraction of the English expression "All Hallows Eve". It originates from the Celtic festival (Samhain), organized to welcome the deceased and the Celtic New Year, more than 2,500 years ago. The Celtic calendar then ended on October 31, and that last night was the night of the god of death (Samhain).
Later, Catholics decided to celebrate All Saints 'Day on November 1 and if we refer to the expression "All Hallow Eve" it means the eve of "All Saints' Day". And today, this holiday is mainly celebrated in Western countries, specifically Anglo-Saxons.
What is Halloween in Haiti like? Do Haitians Celebrate Halloween?
Influenced by Western culture through films, documentaries or even social networks, for some time in Haiti, we have been struck by this tendency to want to celebrate Halloween as they do in the United States, Ireland, Canada and elsewhere, without thinking about the cultural consequences that this could have on our society. There is nothing wrong with wanting to adapt to other cultures, but keeping cultural authenticity is also important. What should not be forgotten is that what makes the strength of cultural globality is diversity and divergence. A proper identity is therefore essential to be part of international globe.
The Day of the Dead in Haiti
The day of the dead is celebrated differently in Haiti, every November 1 and 2, voodoo followers celebrate their gods of death by visiting cemeteries to dance, drink and spit around the graves. This traditional festival is called "The Guédés festival", or Fet Gede with it's colorful theme of black and purple.
Who are the “Guédés” in the Haitian Culture?
According to voodoo mythology, the “Guédés” are the spirits of death and resurrection represented by a family of “Loas”. They are beings who have already lived in real life and who manifest their states of coarseness when they arise. Under the influence of these spirits, subjects express themselves in strange ways and sometimes make fun of people. Traditionally led by Barons, they are used to eating peppers and glasses. Sometimes they even smear their intimate parts with chili and rum without feeling anything.
The Vibe During the “Guédés” Festival?
Every November 1 and 2, there is a parade through cemeteries in Haiti full of people with faces whitened with talcum powder who honor the souls of the dead by disguising themselves as a voodoo spirit. The aroma of coffee mixes with the smell of alcohol as you approach all Haitian cemeteries. After prayers and offerings, the “Guédés” fall into a kind of trance, attracting the eyes of several Haitians and foreigners. According to what people say, the Guédés consume alcohol and hot peppers because they come from a cold world.
While these traditions and customs may be a shock to you because you have not heard of it before, it is a part of Haitian culture that is appreciated by some. By others, it is a concept that they cannot grasp or understand. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate what you believe in, therefore, we strive to show the other side of Haiti that we don't often hear about or associate with stereotypes.