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!