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Haiti - Society

HAITI IS A DRAMATIC COUNTRY in its terrain, history, and culture. In comparison with other countries in the Caribbean, Haiti is described in superlatives: it is the most rural in its settlement pattern, the poorest, and the most densely populated. It is also the only country in the region that was born of a successful slave rebellion, and it is the first modern black republic.

Many observers have described Haitian society as stagnant, but in recent years, changes have begun. By the 1980s, the population of Haiti surpassed 5 million. Although the country continued to be overwhelmingly rural, urbanization was accelerating as the impact of soil erosion and land fragmentation on agricultural productivity forced increasing numbers of peasants to migrate to Port-au-Prince and even overseas. The population of Port-au-Prince was expected to reach 1 million by the end of the 1980s. Haiti's peasants had traditionally relied on the extended family and cooperative labor as a means for taking care of each other, but by the late 1980s, this aspect of the culture had disintegrated. Deteriorating economic conditions were forcing the poor to find new ways to eke out a living from the land, or to survive in urban slums. An unstable, but politically significant, black middle class had emerged between the traditional, mainly mulatto, elite and the peasantry. Migration and the penetration of foreign missions and nongovernmental organizations to the more remote parts of Haiti created new kinds of relationships with the outside world. The transportation and the communications systems had been greatly improved, and Creole-language radio brought news of domestic and international affairs to the country's isolated villages.

The weight of the past bore heavily on the daily lives of all Haitians in the 1980s. The country's legacy of slavery and French colonization had left a lasting imprint on the culture. In the past, members of the upper class cherished Franco-Haitian culture because the French language and manners separated them from the masses whom they wished to rule. At the same time, former slaves created a peasant culture, but always in the shadow of their urban superiors. Haiti's dual cultural heritage resulted in negative attitudes toward Haitian peasant life, particularly toward the Creole language, traditional marriages, and voodoo, the folk religion. The recent emergence of a middle class has only exacerbated the debate over what should be considered "true" Haiti.

Haiti - Population

The estimated population of Haiti in 1989 was 6.1 million, with an average population density of 182 people per square kilometer. Some 75 percent of the population lived in rural areas, while only 25 percent remained in urban areas; this was one of the lowest urban-to-rural population ratios in Latin America and the Caribbean. The estimated annual population growth rate between 1971 and 1982 was 1.4 percent. The crude mortality rate in 1982 was estimated to be 16.5 percent, with a crude birth rate of 36 percent. A profile of the population reveals that the majority of Haitians are young.

Haiti has conducted only a few censuses throughout its history. A survey taken during 1918 and 1919 indicated that there were about 1.9 million people in the country. The first formal census, taken in 1950, showed that the population had reached 3.1 million. The second census, in 1971, indicated a population of 4.2 million. Critics have argued that these censuses, along with one taken in 1982 (the final results of which were still unavailable as of 1989), were deficient and that they seriously undercounted the population.

Urban areas, particularly Port-au-Prince, grew significantly in the 1970s and the 1980s. The annual population growth rate of metropolitan Port-au-Prince was estimated to be 3.5 percent between 1971 and 1982, substantially above the 1.4 percent national rate for that period. The growth rate for other urban areas was estimated at 2.4 percent. Metropolitan Port-au-Prince, which includes the capital and the suburbs of Delmas and Carrefour, was by far the largest urban area, in 1982, with a population of 763,188, or about 61 percent of the total urban population. The population of the second largest city, CapHaïtien , was estimated to be 64,400 in 1982. The next two largest towns, Gonaïves and Les Cayes, had estimated populations of slightly more than 34,000. Six other towns had populations greater than 10,000.

The rural population, which grew about 1 percent a year between 1971 and 1982, was estimated to be 3.8 million in 1982, 3.4 million in 1971, and 2.7 million in 1950. In 1982 there were about 464 people per square kilometer in rural areas, one of the highest population densities in the Western Hemisphere.

<>Fertility and Family Planning

Updated population figures for Haiti.

Haiti - Migration

The population growth rate in Haiti's rural areas has been lower than the rate for urban areas, even though fertility rates are higher in rural areas. The main reason for this disparity is outmigration. People in rural areas have moved to cities, or they have emigrated to other countries, mostly the United States and the Dominican Republic. An estimated 1 million people left Haiti between 1957 and 1982.

Many of the emigrants in the 1950s and the 1960s were urban middle-class and upper-class opponents of the government of François Duvalier (1957-71). Throughout the 1970s, however, an increasing number of rural and lower-class urban Haitians emigrated, too. In the 1980s, as many as 500,000 Haitians were living in the United States; there were large communities in New York, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Thousands of Haitians also illegally emigrated to the United States through nonimmigrant visas, while others entered the United States without any documentation at all.

The first reports of Haitians' arriving in the United States, by boat and without documentation, occurred in 1972. Between 1972 and 1981, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reported more than 55,000 Haitian "boat people" arrived in Florida. The INS estimated that because as many as half of the arrivals escaped detection, the actual number of boat people may have exceeded 100,000. An unknown number of Haitians are reported to have died during their attempts to reach the United States by sea.

Though poorer than earlier immigrants, the boat people were often literate and skilled, and all had families who could afford the price of a passage to Florida. About 85 percent of these boat people settled in Miami.

In September 1981, the United States entered an agreement with Haiti to interdict Haitian boats and return prospective immigrants to Haiti. Under the agreement, 3,107 Haitians had been returned by 1984. Nevertheless, clandestine departures by boat continued throughout the 1980s. The Bahamas was another destination of Haitian emigrants; an estimated 50,000 arrived there by boat during the 1980s. The Bahamas had welcomed Haitian immigrants during the 1960s, but in the late 1970s, it reversed its position, leading to increased emigration to Florida.

Since the early twentieth century, the Dominican Republic has received both temporary and permanent Haitian migrants. The International Labour Office estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 Haitians resided in the Dominican Republic in 1983. About 85,000 of them lived on cane plantations. In the early 1980s, about 80 to 90 percent of the cane cutters in the Dominican Republic were reported to be Haitians. Through an accord with the Haitian government, the Dominican Republic imported Haitian workers to cut cane. In 1983 the Dominican Republic hired an estimated 19,000 workers. Evidence presented to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Slavery revealed that the Dominican Republic paid wages that were miserably low and that working and living conditions failed to meet standards set by the two governments. According to some reports, Haitian cane cutters were unable to leave their workplaces, and they were prevented from learning about the terms of the contracts under which they had been hired.

Emigration helped moderate Haiti's population growth. Furthermore, annual remittances from abroad, estimated to be as high as US$100 million, supported thousands of poor families and provided an important infusion of capital into the Haitian economy. At the same time, emigration resulted in a heavy loss of professional and skilled personnel from urban and rural areas.


Haiti - Fertility and Family Planning

A number of studies show that Haiti's fertility rate declined significantly from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. As was true in other countries, there appeared to be a correlation among declining fertility rates, urban residence, and literacy. The 1977 Haitian Fertility Survey found that between 1962 and 1977, the fertility rate of urban literate women declined by 33 percent. In contrast, the rate for rural illiterate women declined by only 7 percent during the same period. Moreover, the fertility rate of literate rural women declined by 27 percent, while that of illiterate urban women declined by 15 percent.

Haitian women interviewed in the 1977 survey indicated that they desired between three and four children, but at that time, the average woman had more than five children.

Expressed desire for family planning services exceeded available programs, and many women lacked access to modern contraceptives and birth-control information. The survey found that, despite the widespread desire for fewer children, only 7 percent of women of childbearing age were using modern contraceptives. Haitian men traditionally shunned the use of condoms. The fertility survey reported a condom-use rate of only 1 percent. The absence of more recent surveys made it impossible to determine whether or not condom use had risen in response to the high incidence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in Haiti.



As a result of the extinction of the indigenous population by the beginning of the seventeenth century, the population of preindependence Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) was entirely the product of the French colonists' slaveholding policies and practices. The major planters and government officials who constituted the ruling class carefully controlled every segment of the population, especially the majority of African slaves and their descendants. Society was structured for the rapid production of wealth for the planters and their investors in France.

In the colonial period, the French imposed a three-tiered social structure. At the top of the social and political ladder was the white elite (grands blancs). At the bottom of the social structure were the black slaves (noirs), most of whom had been transported from Africa. Between the white elite and the slaves arose a third group, the freedmen (affranchis), most of whom were descended from unions of slaveowners and slaves. Some mulatto freedmen inherited land, became relatively wealthy, and owned slaves (perhaps as many as one-fourth of all slaves in Saint-Domingue belonged to affranchis). Nevertheless, racial codes kept the affranchis socially and politically inferior to the whites. Also between the white elite and the slaves were the poor whites (petits blancs), who considered themselves socially superior to the mulattoes, even if they sometimes found themselves economically inferior to them. Of a population of 519,000 in 1791, 87 percent were slaves, 8 percent were whites, and 5 percent were freedmen. Because of harsh living and working conditions, many slaves died, and new slaves were imported. Thus, at the time of the slave rebellion of 1791, most slaves had been born in Africa rather than in Saint-Domingue.

The Haitian Revolution changed the country's social structure. The colonial ruling class, and most of the white population, was eliminated, and the plantation system was largely destroyed. The earliest black and mulatto leaders attempted to restore a plantation system that relied on an essentially free labor force, through strict military control, but the system collapsed during the tenure of Alexandre Pétion (1806-18). The Haitian Revolution broke up plantations and distributed land among the former slaves. Through this process, the new Haitian upper class lost control over agricultural land and labor, which had been the economic basis of colonial control. To maintain their superior economic and social position, the new Haitian upper class turned away from agricultural pursuits in favor of more urban-based activities, particularly government.

The nineteenth-century Haitian ruling class consisted of two groups, the urban elite and the military leadership. The urban elite were primarily a closed group of educated, comparatively wealthy, and French-speaking mulattoes. Birth determined an individual's social position, and shared values and intermarriage reinforced class solidarity. The military, however, was a means of advancement for disadvantaged black Haitians. In a shifting, and often uneasy, alliance with the military, the urban elite ruled the country and kept the peasantry isolated from national affairs. The urban elite promoted French norms and models as a means of separating themselves from the peasantry. Thus, French language and manners, orthodox Roman Catholicism, and light skin were important criteria of high social position. The elite disdained manual labor, industry, and commerce in favor of the more genteel professions, such as law and medicine.

A small, but politically important, middle class emerged during the twentieth century. Although social mobility increased slightly, the traditional elite retained their economic preeminence, despite countervailing efforts by François Duvalier. For the most part, the peasantry continued to be excluded from national affairs, but by the 1980s, this isolation had decreased significantly. Still, economic hardship in rural areas caused many cultivators to migrate to the cities in search of a higher standard of living, thereby increasing the size of the urban lower class.

<>The Upper Class
<>The Middle Class
<>Urban Lower Class

Haiti - The Upper Class

In the 1980s, Haiti's upper class constituted as little as 2 percent of the total population, but it controlled about 44 percent of the national income. The upper class included not only the traditional elite, which had not controlled the government for more than thirty years, but also individuals who had become wealthy and powerful through their connections with the governments of François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier. Increased access to education helped carry some individuals into the ranks of the upper class. Others were able to move upward because of wealth they accrued in industry or export-import businesses.

The traditional elite held key positions in trade, industry, real estate, and the professions, and they were identified by membership in "good families," which claimed several generations of recognized legal status and name. Being a member of the elite also required a thorough knowledge of cultural refinements, particularly the customs of the French. Light skin and straight hair continued to be important characteristics of this group. French surnames were common among the mulatto elite, but increased immigration from Europe and the Middle East in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries had introduced German, English, Danish, and Arabic names to the roster.

The only group described as an ethnic minority in Haiti was the "Arabs," people descended from Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian traders who began to arrive in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean in the late nineteenth century. From their beginnings, as itinerant peddlers of fabrics and other dry goods, the Arabs moved into the export-import sector, engendering the hostility of Haitians and foreign rivals. Nevertheless, the Arabs remained. Many adopted French and Creole as their preferred languages, took Haitian citizenship, and integrated themselves into the upper and the middle classes. Formerly spurned by elite mulatto families and excluded from the best clubs, the Arabs had begun to intermarry with elite Haitians and to take part in all aspects of upper-class life, including entry into the professions and industry.

Haiti - The Middle Class

The middle class was essentially nonexistent during the nineteenth century. But at about the time of the United States occupation (1915-34), it became more defined. The creation of a professional military and the expansion of government services fostered the development of Haiti's middle class. Educational reform in the 1920s, an upsurge in black consciousness, and the wave of economic prosperity after World War II also contributed to the strengthening of the class. In the late 1980s, the middle class probably made up less than 5 percent of the total population, but it was growing, and it was becoming more politically powerful.

The mulatto elite dominated governments in the 1930s and the early 1940s and thwarted the political aspirations of the black middle class. President Dumarsais Estimé (1946-50) came to power with the aim of strengthening the middle class. The Duvalier government also claimed the allegiance of the black middle class, at least through the 1970s. During the Duvalier period, many in the middle class owed their economic security to the government. A number of individuals from this class, however, benefited from institutionalized corruption.

Some members of the middle class had acquired political power by the 1980s, but most continued to be culturally ambivalent and insecure. Class solidarity, identity, and traditions were all weak. The criteria for membership in the middle class included a nonmanual occupation, a moderate income, literacy, and a mastery of French. Middle-class Haitians sought upward mobility for themselves and their children, and they perceived education and urban residence as two essential keys to achieving higher status. Although they attempted to emulate the lifestyle of the upper class, middle-class Haitians resented the social preeminence and the color prejudice of the elite. Conflicts between the FrancoHaitian and the Afro-Haitian cultural traditions were most common among the middle class.

Haiti - Peasants

Haiti's peasantry constituted approximately 75 percent of the total population. Unlike peasants in much of Latin America, most of Haiti's peasants had owned land since the early nineteenth century. Land was the most valuable rural commodity, and peasant families went to great lengths to retain it and to increase their holdings.

Peasants in general had control over their landholdings, but many lacked clear title to their plots. Haiti has never conducted a cadastral survey, but it is likely that many families have passed on land over generations without updating land titles. Division of land equally among male and female heirs resulted in farm plots that became too small to warrant the high costs of a surveyor. Heirs occasionally surveyed land before taking possession of it, but more frequently, heirs divided plots among themselves in the presence of community witnesses and often a notary. Some inherited land was not divided, but was used in common, for example, for pasture, or it was worked by heirs in rotation. Families commonly sold land to raise cash for such contingencies as funerals or to pay the expenses of emigration. Purchasers often held land with a notarized paper, rather than a formal deed.

There were strata within the peasantry based on the amount of property owned. Many peasants worked land as sharecroppers or tenants, and some hoped eventually to inherit the plots they worked. Some tenant farmers owned and cultivated plots in addition to the land they worked for others. The number of entirely landless peasants who relied solely on wage labor was probably quite small. Agricultural wages were so low that peasants deprived of land were likely to migrate to urban areas in search of higher incomes. Wealthier peasants maintained their economic positions through the control of capital and influence in local politics.

Peasants maintained a strong, positive identity as Haitians and as cultivators of the land, but they exhibited a weak sense of class consciousness. Rivalries among peasants were more common than unified resentment toward the upper class.

Cooperation among peasants diminished during the twentieth century. Farms run by nuclear families and exchanges among extended families had formed the basis of the agrarian system. Until the middle of the twentieth century, collective labor teams, called kounbit, and larger labor-exchange groups were quite common. These groups were formed to carry out specific tasks on an individual's land; the owner provided music and a festive meal. After the 1940s, smaller groups, called eskouad,began to replace the kounbit. The eskouad carried out tasks on a strictly reciprocal basis or sold their collective labor to other peasants.

Although Haitian peasant villages generally lacked a sense of community and civic-mindedness, some civic-action groups had emerged over the years. After the 1960s, wealthy peasants led rural community councils, which were supervised by the government. These councils often served more to control the flow of development resources into an area than to represent the local population. In the 1980s, a countervailing movement of small peasant groups (groupman) emerged with support from the Roman Catholic Church, principally in the Plateau Central. The groupman discussed common interests and undertook some cooperative activities. Both the Duvalier governments and the succeeding National Council of Government (Conseil National de Gouvernement--CNG), headed by Lieutenant General Henri Namphy, took steps to curb the activities of these peasant groups.

The first generation of Haitian peasants pursued selfsufficiency , freedom, and peace. The necessity of devoting at least some share of their limited hectarage to the production of cash crops, however, hindered the peasants' ability to achieve self-sufficiency in the cultivation of domestic staples. Although they acquired a degree of freedom, they also found themselves isolated from the rest of the nation and the world. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Haitian peasantry gradually became much less isolated. Several factors accelerated the peasants' involvement with the outside world in the 1970s and the 1980s. Road projects improved the transportation system, and foreign religious missions and private development agencies penetrated the rural areas. These organizations brought new resources and provided an institutional link to the outside world. Many people from almost every community had migrated to Port-au-Prince or overseas, and they sent money home to rural areas. Cassette tapes enabled illiterate people who had traveled far from home to communicate with their families. Creole, which became widely used on radio, brought news of Haiti and the world to remote villages. And in 1986, media coverage of the fall of the Duvalier regime put rural Haitians in touch with the political affairs of the nation.

Haiti - Urban Lower Class

The urban lower class, which made up about 15 percent of the total population in the early 1980s, was concentrated in Port-au- Prince and the major coastal towns. Increased migration from rural areas contributed greatly to the growth of this class. Industrial growth was insufficient, however, to absorb the labor surplus produced by the burgeoning urbanization; unemployment and underemployment were severe in urban areas. The urban lower class was socially heterogeneous, and it had little class consciousness. One outstanding characteristic of this group was its commitment to education. Despite economic hardships, urban lower-class parents made a real effort to keep their children in school throughout the primary curriculum. Through education and political participation, some members of the lower class achieved mobility into the middle class.

The poorest strata of the urban lower class lived under Haiti's worst sanitary and health conditions. According to the World Bank, one-third of the population of Portau -Prince lived in densities of more than 1,000 people per hectare in 1976. The poorest families consumed as few as seven liters of water per person, per day, for cooking, drinking, and cleaning, and they spent about one-fifth of their income to obtain it. For many of these families, income and living conditions worsened in the 1980s.


In rural areas, men and women played complementary roles. Men were primarily responsible for farming and, especially, for heavy work, such as tilling. Women, however, often assisted with tasks such as weeding and harvesting. Women were responsible for selling agricultural produce. In general, Haitian women participated in the labor force to a much greater extent than did women in other Latin American countries. Haiti's culture valued women's economic contribution to the farm in that all income generated through agricultural production belonged to both husband and wife. Many women also acquired sufficient capital to become full-time market traders, and they were thus economically independent. The income that they earned from nonfarm business activities was recognized as their own; they were not required to share it with their husbands.

The most common marital relationship among peasants and the urban lower class was known as plasaj. The government did not recognize plasaj as legitimate marriage, but in lowerclass communities, these relationships were considered normal and proper. The husband and wife often made an explicit agreement about their economic relationship at the beginning of a marriage. These agreements usually required the husband to cultivate at least one plot of land for the wife and to provide her with a house. Women performed most household tasks, though men often did heavy chores, such as gathering firewood.

For the most part, lower-class men and women had civil and religious marriages for reasons of prestige rather than to legitimize marital relations. Because weddings were expensive, many couples waited several years before having them. In the 1960s, this pattern began to change among Protestant families who belonged to churches that strongly encouraged legal marriage and provided affordable weddings. It was not unusual for peasants to have more than one marital relationship. Some entered into polygamous marriages, which only a few men could afford.

Legal marriages were neither more stable nor more productive than plasaj relationships. Also, legal marriages were not necessarily monogamous. In fact, legally married men were often more economically stable than men in plasaj relationships, so it was easier for them to separate from their wives or to enter into extramarital relationships.

Men and women both valued children and both contributed to child care, but women generally bore most of the burden. Parents were proud of their children, regardless of whether they were born in a marital relationship or as "outside children." Parents took pains to ensure that all of their children received equal inheritances.

Family structure in rural Haiti has changed since the nineteenth century. Until the early part of the twentieth century, the lakou, an extended family, usually defined along male lines, was the principal family form. The term lakou referred not only to the family members, but to the cluster of houses in which they lived. Members of a lakou worked cooperatively, and they provided each other with financial and other kinds of support. Land ownership was not cooperative, however, and successive generations of heirs inherited individual plots. Under the pressure of population growth and the increasing fragmentation of landholdings, the lakou system disintegrated. By the mid-twentieth century, the nuclear family had become the norm among peasants. The lakou survived as a typical place of residence, but the cooperative labor and the social security provided by these extended families disappeared. Haitian peasants still relied on their kin for support, but the extended family sometimes became an arena for land disputes as much as a mechanism for cooperation.

Family life among the traditional elite was substantially different from that of the lower class. Civil and religious marriages were the norm, and the "best" families could trace legally married ancestors to the nineteenth century. Because of the importance of intermarriage, mulatto elite families were often interrelated. Marital relationships have changed somewhat since the mid-twentieth century. Divorce, once rare, has become acceptable. Elite wives, once exclusively homemakers surrounded by servants, entered the labor force in increasing numbers in the 1970s and the 1980s. The legal rights of married women, including rights to property, were expanded through legislation in the 1980s. In addition, the elite had a broader choice of partners as economic change and immigration changed the composition of that group.


French and Creole

Two languages were spoken in Haiti: Creole and French. The social relationship between these languages was complex. Nine of every ten Haitians spoke only Creole, which was the everyday language for the entire population. About one in ten also spoke French. And only about one in twenty was fluent in both French and Creole. Thus, Haiti was neither a francophone country nor a bilingual one. Rather, two separate speech communities existed: the monolingual majority and the bilingual elite.

All classes valued verbal facility. Public speaking played an important role in political life; the style of the speech was often more important than the content. Repartee enlivened the daily parlance of both the monolingual peasant and the sophisticated bilingual urbanite. Small groups gathered regularly in Port-au-Prince to listen to storytellers. Attitudes toward French and Creole helped to define the Haitians' cultural dilemma.

Language usually complicated interactions between members of the elite and the masses. Haitians of all classes took pride in Creole as a means of expression and as the national tongue. Nevertheless, many monolingual and bilingual Haitians regarded Creole as a nonlanguage, claiming that "it has no rules." Thus, the majority of the population did not value their native language and built a mystique around French. At the same time, almost every bilingual Haitian had ambivalent feelings about using French and did so uncomfortably. In Creole the phrase "to speak French" means "to be a hypocrite."

Fluency in French served as an even more important criterion than skin color for membership in the Haitian elite. The use of French in public life excluded the Creole-speaking majority from politics, government, and intellectual life. Bilingual families used French primarily for formal occasions. Because Creole was the language of informal gatherings, it was filled with slang and was used for telling jokes. Haitian French lacked these informal qualities. Monolingual Creole speakers avoided formal situations where their inability to communicate in French would be a disadvantage or an embarrassment. In an attempt to be accepted in formal or governmental circles, some monolingual Creole speakers used French-sounding phrases in their Creole speech, but these imitations were ultimately of little or no use. Middle-class bilinguals in Port-au-Prince suffered the greatest disadvantage because they frequently encountered situations in which the use of French would be appropriate, but their imperfect mastery of the language tended to betray their lower-class origins. It was in the middle class that the language issue was most pressing. The use of French as a class marker made middle-class Haitians more rigid in their use of French on formal occasions than Haitians who were solidly upper class.

The origins of Creole are still debated. Some scholars believe that it arose from a pidgin that developed between French colonists and African slaves in the colonies. Others believe that Creole came to the colony of Saint-Domingue as a full-fledged language, having arisen from the French maritime-trade dialect. Whatever its origins, Creole is linguistically a separate language and not just a corrupted French dialect. Although the majority of Creole words have French origins, Creole's grammar is not similar to that of French, and the two languages are not mutually comprehensible.

There are regional and class variations in Creole. Regional variations include lexical items and sound shifts, but the grammatical structure is consistent throughout the country. Bilingual speakers tend to use French phonemes in their Creole speech. The tendency to use French sounds became common in the Port-au-Prince variant of Creole. By the 1980s, the Port-au- Prince variant was becoming perceived as the standard form of the language.

The use of French and Creole during the colonial and the independence periods set speech patterns for the next century. During the colonial period, it was mostly whites and educated mulatto freedmen who spoke French. When the slaves gained their freedom and the plantation system disintegrated, the greatest barriers among the various classes of people of color collapsed. French language became a vital distinction between these who had been emancipated before the revolution (the anciens libres) and those who achieved freedom through the revolution, and it ensured the superior status of the anciens libres. French became the language not only of government and commerce, but also of culture and refinement. Even the most nationalist Haitians of the nineteenth century placed little value on Creole.

Attitudes toward Creole began to change during the twentieth century, however, especially during the United States occupation. The occupation forced Haitian intellectuals to confront their non-European heritage. A growing black consciousness and intensifying nationalism led many Haitians to consider Creole as the "authentic" language of the country. The first attempt at a Creole text appeared in 1925, and the first Creole newspaper was published in 1943.

Beginning in the 1950s, a movement to give Creole official status evolved slowly. The constitution of 1957 reaffirmed French as the official language, but it permitted the use of Creole in certain public functions. In 1969 a law was passed giving Creole limited legal status; the language could be used in the legislature, the courts, and clubs, but not in accredited educational institutions. In 1979, however, a decree permitted Creole as the language of instruction in the classroom. The constitution of 1983 declared that both Creole and French were the national languages but specified that French would be the official language. The suppressed 1987 Constitution (which was partially reinstated in 1989) gave official status to Creole.

<>Changes in Language Use
<>Creole, Literacy, and Education

Haiti - Changes in Language Use

The use of Creole, even in formal settings, increased throughout the 1970s and the 1980s. Conversations at elite dinner tables, once held rigidly in French, switched fluidly between French and Creole, even within the same sentence. Radio and television stations increased broadcasts in Creole as advertisers learned the utility of reaching the vast majority of their market. Radio provided widespread access to news, which helped to break down the isolation of the peasantry and to galvanize the population during the crisis that led to the fall of the Duvalier regime. In 1986 it became obvious that important changes had taken place in Haiti, as people who had been in exile for years began to return home to run for the presidency. Many arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport with French speeches in hand but found themselves confronted by journalists who insisted on speaking Creole.

The emergence of English as an important language of business affected attitudes toward French. Growing trade with the United States and the development of assembly industries funded by investors from the United States led to greater use of English in commercial settings. English also became more important as Haitians migrated to the United States and as many members of the elite sent their children to North American educational institutions.

English cut across class lines. Hundreds of French-speaking elite families spent years of exile in the United States during the Duvalier period, and they returned to Haiti fluent in English. Many Creole speakers who went to the United States also returned to Haiti as fluent English speakers. Haitian migration to the United States and trade with North America also resulted in the introduction of English words into the Creole lexicon. For many monolinguals, learning English appeared more practical than learning French, and English posed fewer psychological and social obstacles. The availability and the popularity of Englishlanguage television programs on Haiti's private cable service helped familiarize Haitians with the language. Spanish also had become fairly wide in Haiti, largely because of migration to the Dominican Republic.

Haiti - Creole, Literacy, and Education

Conflicting political interests have caused Haiti's national language policy to be inconsistent. Even governments that claimed to represent the masses hesitated to give Creole and French equal legal status. It was only in the late 1970s that the government approved the use of Creole in education. In the early 1980s, there was still some doubt about whether Creole would used in primary education.

For almost fifty years, Haitian linguists had debated the spelling rules for Creole. But in the late 1970s, the National Pedagogic Institute (Institut Pédagogique Nacional--IPN) developed an orthography that included elements of the two systems previously in use. The government gave semiofficial status to the new orthography as part of the education reform of 1978.

The most controversial aspect of the education reform was the introduction of Creole as the medium of instruction in primary schools. In many rural and urban schools, textbooks were in French, but classroom discussion of these books was in Creole. Nevertheless, French remained the official language of instruction, and a major goal of most students was to master written and spoken French.

The education reform program was intended to boost students' performance through instruction in their native language, but several groups opposed the use of Creole as the language of instruction. Bilingual families believed that the use of Creole in the schools was eroding their linguistic advantage in society, by reducing the importance of French. In general, the upper class believed that by offering instruction in Creole, the schools would increase poor people's access to education; however, many poor people also opposed the reform. The poor tended to view education more as a means of escaping poverty than as a means for learning, so many parents were most concerned about having their children learn French. Private schools often ignored the curriculum changes called for under the reform. Under pressure from the public, the government declared that students would begin using French when they entered the fifth grade. Students entering fifth grade found themselves unprepared for classroom use of French, however, because their textbooks in earlier grades had been entirely in Creole. The problem remained unresolved in the late 1980s.

In the 1960s, the government had established adult literacy programs in Creole, and the Roman Catholic Church had sponsored similar nationwide programs in the mid-1980s. According to Haiti's 1982 census, 37 percent of the population over ten years of age was literate; in rural areas, only 28 percent was literate. In rural areas, the literacy rate for women was almost as high as it was for men. The census failed to note, however, the degree of literacy, or the language in which people were literate.

Monolingual speakers had little access to literature in Creole. The major Creole publication, the monthly Bon Nouvel, published by a Roman Catholic group, had a circulation of 20,000 in 1980. A Protestant group published the New Testament in Creole in 1972. Numerous booklets about hygiene and agricultural practices appeared in increasing quantities in the 1970s and the 1980s. Nevertheless, Creole literature continued to be scarce in the late 1980s. In particular, information in Creole about politics and current events was in short supply. By the late 1980s, monolingual speakers regularly used Creole in letters and personal notes. Community leaders and development workers also used the language in recording the minutes of their meetings and in project reports.


Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti, but voodoo may be considered the country's national religion. The majority of Haitians believe in and practice at least some aspects of voodoo. Most voodooists believe that their religion can coexist with Catholicism. Most Protestants, however, strongly oppose voodoo. Voodoo

Misconceptions about voodoo have given Haiti a reputation for sorcery and zombies. Popular images of voodoo have ignored the religion's basis as a domestic cult of family spirits. Adherents of voodoo do not perceive themselves as members of a separate religion; they consider themselves Roman Catholics. In fact, the word for voodoo does not even exist in rural Haiti. The Creole word vodoun refers to a kind of dance and in some areas to a category of spirits. Roman Catholics who are active voodooists say that they "serve the spirits," but they do not consider that practice as something outside of Roman Catholicism. Haitians also distinguish between the service of family spirits and the practice of magic and sorcery.

The belief system of voodoo revolves around family spirits (often called loua or mistè) who are inherited through maternal and paternal lines. Loua protect their "children" from misfortune. In return, families must "feed" the loua through periodic rituals in which food, drink, and other gifts are offered to the spirits. There are two kinds of services for the loua. The first is held once a year; the second is conducted much less frequently, usually only once a generation. Many poor families, however, wait until they feel a need to restore their relationship with their spirits before they conduct a service. Services are usually held at a sanctuary on family land.

In voodoo, there are many loua. Although there is considerable variation among families and regions, there are generally two groups of loua, the rada and the petro. The rada spirits are mostly seen as "sweet" loua, while the petro are seen as "bitter" because they are more demanding of their "children." Rada spirits appear to be of African origin while petro spirits appear to be of Haitian origin.

Loua are usually anthropomorphic and have distinct identities. They can be good, evil, capricious, or demanding. Loua most commonly show their displeasure by making people sick, and so voodoo is used to diagnose and treat illnesses. Loua are not nature spirits, and they do not make crops grow or bring rain. The loua of one family have no claim over members of other families, and they cannot protect or harm them. Voodooists are therefore not interested in the loua of other families.

Loua appear to family members in dreams and, more dramatically, through trances. Many Haitians believe that loua are capable of temporarily taking over the bodies of their "children." Men and women enter trances during which they assume the traits of particular loua. People in a trance feel giddy and usually remember nothing after they return to a normal state of consciousness. Voodooists say that the spirit temporarily replaces the human personality. Possession trances occur usually during rituals such as services for loua or a vodoun dance in honor of the loua. When loua appear to entranced people, they may bring warnings or explanations for the causes of illnesses or misfortune. Loua often engage the crowd around them through flirtation, jokes, or accusations.

Ancestors (le mò) rank with the family loua as the most important spiritual entities in voodoo. Elaborate funeral and mourning rites reflect the important role of the dead. Ornate tombs throughout the countryside reveal how much attention Haiti gives to its dead. Voodooists believe the dead are capable of forcing their survivors to construct tombs and sell land. In these cases, the dead act like family loua, which "hold" family members to make them ill or bring other misfortune. The dead also appear in dreams to provide their survivors with advice or warnings.

Voodooists also believe there are loua that can be paid to bring good fortune or protection from evil. And, they believe that souls can be paid to attack enemies by making them ill.

Folk belief includes zombies and witchcraft. Zombies are either spirits or people whose souls have been partially withdrawn from their bodies. Some Haitians resort to bokò, who are specialists in sorcery and magic. Haiti has several secret societies whose members practice sorcery.

Voodoo specialists, male houngan and female manbo, mediate between humans and spirits through divination and trance. They diagnose illnesses and reveal the origins of other misfortune. They can also perform rituals to appease spirits or ancestors or to repel magic. Many voodoo specialists are accomplished herbalists who treat a variety of illnesses.

Voodoo lacks a fixed theology and an organized hierarchy, unlike Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Each specialist develops his or her own reputation for helping people.

François Duvalier recruited voodoo specialists to serve as tonton makouts to help him control all aspects of Haitian life. Duvalier indicated that he retained power through sorcery, but because voodoo is essentially a family-based cult, Duvalier failed to politicize the religion to any great extent.

<>Roman Catholicism

Haiti - Roman Catholicism

Before the Haitian Revolution, Roman Catholicism in particular and the church in general played minor roles in colonial life. Plantation owners feared that religious education for slaves could undermine their basis for control, and they expelled the education-oriented Jesuits in 1764. Roman Catholicism gained official status in several postindependence Haitian constitutions, but there was no official Roman Catholic presence in the country until the signing of a Concordat with the Vatican in 1860. (The Vatican had previously refused to recognize the Haitian government.) The Concordat provided for the appointment of an archbishop in Port-au-Prince, designated dioceses, and established an annual government subsidy for the church. An amendment to the Concordat in 1862 assigned the Roman Catholic Church an important role in secular education.

The small number of priests and members of religious orders initially ministered mainly to the urban elite. Until the midtwentieth century, the majority of priests were francophone Europeans, particularly Bretons, who were culturally distant from their rural parishioners. Roman Catholic clergy were generally hostile toward voodoo, and they led two major campaigns against the religion in 1896 and 1941. During these campaigns, the government outlawed voodoo services, and Catholics destroyed voodoo religious objects and persecuted practitioners. Roman Catholic clergy, however, have not been persistently militant in their opposition to voodoo, and they have had relatively little impact on the religious practices of the rural and the urban poor. The clergy have generally directed their energies more toward educating the urban population than toward eradicating voodoo. In the 1970s and the 1980s, the use of Creole and drum music became common in Roman Catholic services. Incorporating folk elements into the liturgy, however, did not mean that the Roman Catholic Church's attitude toward voodoo had changed.

Nationalists and others came to resent the Roman Catholic Church because of its European orientation and its alliance with the mulatto elite. François Duvalier opposed the church more than any other Haitian president. He expelled the archbishop of Portau -Prince, the Jesuit order, and numerous priests between 1959 and 1961. In response to these moves, the Vatican excommunicated Duvalier. When relations with the church were restored in 1966, Duvalier prevailed. A Haitian archbishop was named for the first time, and the president gained the right to nominate bishops.

The mid-1980s marked a profound change in the church's stance on issues related to peasants and the urban poor. Reflecting this change was the statement by Pope John Paul II, during a visit to Haiti in 1983, that "Things must change here". Galvanized by the Vatican's concern, Roman Catholic clergy and lay workers called for improved human rights. Lay workers helped develop a peasant-community movement, especially at a center in the Plateau Central. The Roman Catholic radio station, Radio Soleil, played a key role in disseminating news about government actions during the 1985-86 crisis and encouraging opponents of the Duvalier government. The bishops, particularly in Jérémie and Cap-Haïtien, actively denounced Duvalierist repression and human-rights violations.

In the aftermath of Jean-Claude Duvalier's departure, the church took a less active role in Haiti's politics. The church hierarchy strongly supported the suppressed 1987 Constitution, which granted official status to Creole and guaranteed basic human rights, including the right to practice voodoo. The alliance with the lower classes left the Catholic Church with two unresolved problems in the late 1980s: its uneasy relationship with voodoo and its relationship to the more radical elements of the political movement that it had supported.

Haiti - Protestantism

Protestantism has existed in Haiti since the earliest days of the republic. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were small numbers of Protestant missions, principally Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopalian. Protestant churches, mostly from North America, have sent many foreign missions to Haiti. Almost half of Haiti's Protestants were Baptists; Pentecostals were the second largest group. Many other denominations also were present, including Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and Presbyterians. Widespread Protestant proselytization began in the 1950s. Since the late 1950s, about 20 percent of the population has identified itself as Protestant. Protestantism has appealed mainly to the middle and the upper classes, and it played an important role in educational life.

Protestant churches focused their appeal on the lower classes long before the Roman Catholics did. Churches and clergy were found even in the smaller villages. Protestant clergy used Creole rather than French. Schools and clinics provided much-needed services. Protestant congregations encouraged baptisms and marriages and performed them free. For many Haitians, Protestantism represented an opposition to voodoo. When people converted to Protestantism, they usually did not reject voodoo, but they often came to view the folk religion as diabolical. Most Protestant denominations considered all loua, including family spirits, as demons. Some Haitians converted to Protestantism when they wanted to reject family spirits that they felt had failed to protect them. Others chose to become Protestants merely as a way to gain an alternative form of protection from misfortune.

François Duvalier, in his struggle with the Roman Catholic Church, welcomed Protestant missionaries, especially from the United States. Dependent on the government for their presence in Haiti, and competing with each other as well as with the Roman Catholics, Protestant missions generally accepted the policies of the Duvalier regimes. Numerous Protestant leaders did, however, join with Roman Catholics in their public opposition to the government during the waning days of Jean-Claude Duvalier's power.


Haiti's postcolonial leaders promoted education, at least in principle. The 1805 constitution called for free and compulsory primary education. The early rulers, Henri (Henry) Christophe (1807-20) and Alexandre Pétion (1806-18), constructed schools; by 1820 there were nineteen primary schools and three secondary lycées. The Education Act of 1848 created rural primary schools with a more limited curriculum and established colleges of medicine and law. A comprehensive system was never developed, however, and the emerging elite who could afford the cost preferred to send their children to school in France. The signing of the Concordat with the Vatican in 1860 resulted in the arrival of clerical teachers, further emphasizing the influence of the Roman Catholic Church among the educated class. Roman Catholic schools essentially became nonsecular public schools, jointly funded by the Haitian government and the Vatican. The new teachers, mainly French clergy, promoted an attachment to France in their classrooms.

Clerical teachers concentrated on developing the urban elite, especially in the excellent new secondary schools. To their students, they emphasized the greatness of France, while they expounded on Haiti's backwardness and its lack of capacity for self-rule. Throughout the nineteenth century, only a few priests ventured to the rural areas to educate peasants. In both urban and rural settings, they followed a classical curriculum, which emphasized literature and rote learning. This curriculum remained unaltered until the 1980s, except during the United States occupation, when efforts were made to establish vocational schools. The elite resisted these efforts, and the government restored the old system in 1934.

Education in Haiti changed during the 1970s and the 1980s. Primary enrollments increased greatly, especially in urban areas. The Jean-Claude Duvalier regime initiated administrative and curriculum reforms. Nevertheless, as of 1982 about 65 percent of the population over ten years of age had received no education and only 8 percent was educated beyond the primary level.

<>Primary Schools
<>Secondary Education
<>Higher Education

Haiti - Primary Schools

Primary education was compulsory in the late 1980s, but scarce government funds and a limited number of schools resulted in low enrollments in many rural areas. The school year began in October and ended in July, with two-week vacations at Christmas and Easter. Regular primary education consisted of six grades, preceded by two years of kindergarten (enfantin), which was heavily attended and which counted statistically in primary enrollments. Primary education consisted of preparatory, elementary, and intermediate cycles, each of which lasted two years. Promotion between grades depended on final examinations and on class marks recorded in trimesters. At the end of the sixth year, students who had passed their final examinations received a graduation certificate (certificat d'études primaires). After receiving the certificate, students could take examinations for entry into either secondary school or higher-primary school that led to an elementary certificate (brevet élémentaire) after three years. It was therefore possible for a student to take two years of kindergarten, six years of primary school, and three years of higher-primary studies for a total of eleven primary-school years. This primaryeducation system, however, was expected to change in the 1980s because of measures included in the 1978 Education Reform.

Primary-school enrollment was estimated at 642,000 in 1981, more than twice the official figure for 1970. According to the 1982 census, 40 percent of children in the six-year-old to eleven-year-old bracket were enrolled in school, compared with only 25 percent in 1971. Primary-school enrollment was 74 percent in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, but it was only 32 percent in rural areas. Most primary-school students were enrolled in private establishments in 1981, a reversal from the previous decade. An increase in the number of private primary schools accounted for the switch.

School nutrition programs, which increased about 12 percent annually between 1976 and 1984, contributed to increased primaryschool enrollments. By 1986 about three out of four students received meals at school. The United States and Europe supported the meal programs through surplus commodities. Private development agencies also provided support. At the same time, a number of private agencies, mostly from the United States, sponsored students in primary schools, helping to pay for tuition, books, and uniforms. By 1985 at least 75,000 primary students received such support. One-third of these students, however, were in Port-au-Prince. Enrollments of rural children continued to be low.

Dropout rates for primary students were high. According to some estimates for the mid-1980s, more than half of Haiti's urban primary-school students dropped out before completing the sixyear primary cycle. In rural areas, the dropout rate was 80 percent. In addition, dropout and repetition rates in rural areas were so high that three of every five primary-school students were in either first or second grade.

There were more than 14,000 primary-school teachers in Haiti in the early 1980s; however, only about 40 percent of the public primary-school teachers and about 30 percent of those in private schools had a secondary-level or teacher training certificate. In 1979 public school teachers were earning US$100 a month--the same salary paid to teachers in 1905, when the profession was considered prestigious. Private school salaries were about 50 percent lower than those of public school teachers. The National Council of Government (Conseil National de Gouvernement--CNG), reacting to demonstrations by teachers, agreed to raise salaries in 1986. Private school teachers' salaries, however, remained low. Because of the low salaries, many teachers left the profession.

In the 1970s, the Haitian government, with support from the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), began to reform its educational system, mostly at the primary level. In 1978 the government unified educational administration for the first time by putting rural schools under the authority of the Department of National Education. Before 1978 rural schools had been administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The education reform also introduced a new structure for primary classes, established Creole as the language of instruction, and introduced new curricula and procedures for teacher certification. The new structure consisted of ten years of primary education in one four-year and two three-year cycles, followed by three years of secondary education. Promotion from first to second grade and from third to fourth grade was to be automatic in order to prevent large numbers of students from repeating grades and overloading the system at the lower grades. The new curriculum for first through fourth grades included three months of study skills and classes in reading, writing, mathematics, and environmental sciences.

Haiti - Secondary Education

General secondary education consisted of a three-year basic cycle and a four-year upper cycle that led to a baccalaureate (baccalauréat) and possible university matriculation. The curriculum emphasized the classics and the arts to the detriment of the sciences. Despite these limitations, general secondary education was often of high quality. Secondary-school graduates usually qualified for admission to the University of Haiti or to institutions of higher learning abroad.

In 1981 there were 248 secondary-level schools in Haiti; 205 of them were private. Between 1974 and 1981, the number of private secondary schools almost tripled, while only two new public lycées were built. About 100,000 students attended these secondary schools, which employed 4,400 teachers. In addition to general secondary schools, several vocational and business schools existed, most of them in metropolitan Port-au-Prince.

Haiti - Higher Education

Haiti's most important institution of higher education in the 1980s was the University of Haiti. Its origins date to the 1820s, when colleges of medicine and law were established. In 1942 the various faculties merged into the University of Haiti. After a student strike in 1960, the Duvalier government brought the university under firm government control and renamed it the State University. The government restored the original name in 1986.

In 1981 there were 4,099 students at the University of Haiti, of whom 26 percent were enrolled in the Faculty of Law and Economics; 25 percent, in the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy; 17 percent, in the Faculty of Administration and Management; and 11 percent, in the Faculty of Science and Topography. Despite the important role played by agriculture in the Haitian economy, only 5 percent of the university's students were enrolled in the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine. In 1981 the University of Haiti had 559 professors, compared with 207 in 1967. Most professors worked part time, were paid on an hourly basis, and had little time for contact with students. The University of Haiti also suffered severe shortages of books and other materials.

Two private post-secondary institutions were established in the 1980s--the Institut Universitaire Roi Christophe in CapHaïtien and the Institut International d'Etudes Universitaires in Port-au-Prince. Other private institutions of higher learning included a school of theology and law schools in Cap-Haïtien, Gonaïves, Les Cayes, Jérémie, and Fort Liberté. A business school, the Institut des Hautes Etudes Economiques et Commerciales, was established in Port-au-Prince in 1961. An engineering school, the Institut Supérieur Technique d'Haïti, was founded in Port-au-Prince in 1962. The Institut de Technique Electronique d'Haïti, also in Port-au-Prince, provided instruction in electrical engineering.

Haiti - HEALTH

Nutrition and Disease

In the mid-1980s, the Haitian government estimated that the average daily nutritional consumption level in the country was 1,901 calories per person, including 41.1 grams of protein. These figures represented 86 percent and 69 percent, respectively, of the World Health Organization's recommendations for adequate nutrition. In rural areas, the average person consumed about 1,300 calories, including 30 grams of protein per day. A national survey in 1978 showed that 77 percent of children in Haiti were malnourished. Anemia was also a common problem among children and women.

Infant and child health were poor. The infant mortality rate was 124 per 1,000 live births in 1983. A quarter of all registered deaths occurred among infants who were younger than one year old; half of all deaths occurred among children under five. Most of these deaths resulted from infectious diseases, especially diarrheal illnesses. Malnutrition and acute respiratory illness also presented serious problems for infants and children. For adults, malaria was among the more serious problems; some 85 percent of the population lived in malarial areas. Tuberculosis and parasitic infections continued to be serious health hazards, and typhoid fever was endemic. Poor sanitation contributed to poor health indicators. In 1984 less than 20 percent of the population had toilets or latrines. Only one-fourth of the rural population had access to potable water. Life expectancy at birth was forty-eight years in 1983, and the general mortality rate was 17 per 1,000 population.

<>Health Services

Haiti - AIDS

In 1987 there were an estimated 1,500 people suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in Haiti. Most of the cases were reported in Port-au-Prince. The earliest reported case of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection was in 1978, and the earliest case of AIDS-related Karposi's sarcoma was in 1979. About two of every five AIDS patients in Haiti in 1987 were women. The exact number of people infected with HIV was unknown, but one sample of pregnant women in a poor neighborhood of the capital revealed that 8 percent tested positive for the virus. Most people infected with HIV appear to have contracted the virus through heterosexual intercourse. Transfusions of infected blood also were responsible for transmitting the virus to large numbers of people, especially women, who routinely received blood after childbirth. The Haitian Red Cross did not begin screening the blood supply in Port-au-Prince for HIV until 1986. Blood supplies outside the capital continued to be unscreened in the late 1980s. The use of contaminated needles accounted for 5 percent of the country's AIDS cases.

Homosexual activity has contributed to the spread of AIDS in Haiti. AIDS transmission was also related to female and male prostitution. At least 50 percent of the female prostitutes in the capital city's main prostitution center were believed to be infected with HIV.

Because of the prevalence of AIDS in the Haitian immigrant population, the United States Center for Disease Control classified Haitians as a high-risk group for the disease in 1982. It rescinded the classification in 1985, however. Early studies suggested that Haiti might have been the origin of the disease. By the late 1980s, most AIDS researchers in Haiti claimed that male homosexual tourists brought the disease to the country in the late 1970s.

Haiti - Health Services

Modern health services were inadequate in the late 1980s. In 1982 the country had 810 physicians, 83 dentists, 758 nurses, 1,564 auxiliary nurses, and 403 health agents. Haiti had about one doctor for every 6,600 people and one nurse for every 8,000 people. Health services were concentrated in the capital area. Thus, in the most poorly served area of the country, there was only one physician for every 21,000 people. In the mid-1980s, there were thirty-eight hospitals in the country, more than half of which were in the Port-au-Prince area. Nongovernmental organizations provided almost half of the health services in the country in the late 1980s.

Most Haitians continued to meet their health-care needs through traditional remedies. Herbal medicine was widely used, especially in rural areas, although environmental deterioration made some herbs more difficult to obtain. In addition to home remedies, herbal specialists (doktè fey) provided massage and herbal remedies. Many voodoo specialists were also experts in herbal remedies. Traditional midwives assisted at most rural births. Many midwives received training in modern methods from the government. Traditional religion, used by many to diagnose and treat, has served well in some cases when modern medicine was not available.

Haiti - Welfare

In the 1980s, public assistance continued to be limited. The government provided pensions to some retired public officials and military officers, but it did not guarantee them to civil servants. A social-insurance system for employees of industrial, commercial, and agricultural firms provided pensions at age fifty-five, after twenty years of service, and compensation for total incapacity, after fifteen years of service. A system of work-injury benefits also covered private and public employees, providing partial or total disability compensation. These programs were administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs. In general, however, the dearth of social programs offered by the government forced most Haitians to rely mainly on their families and on the services provided by nongovernmental organizations. As has been true in so many other areas of life, Haitians have cultivated self-reliance in the face of hardship, scarcity, and the inadequacy of existing institutions.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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