“Piti piti, zwazo fè nich” – “Little by little birds build their nests” – Haitian proverb
Similar to the rest of Latin America, Haiti was colonized by Europeans who imposed their Roman Catholic religion on the people. While half of the island was colonized by the Spanish and became the Dominican Republic, the western, smaller portion of the island was colonized by the French and is officially known as the Republic of Haiti.
Haiti is the only predominantly Francophone nation in the Americas and also one of the only nations to practice Voodoo, a syncretic religion that blends African, European and indigenous Taíno beliefs. Haitian Voodoo originated in the Caribbean during the 18th century French Empire as a way for West African slaves to continue using their own religion and beliefs while they were being forced to convert to Christianity. About half of all Haitians practice a combination of Catholicism and Voodoo.
It just so happened that I was in Haiti during Carnival. In all my travels, I had never experienced Carnival before and given Haiti’s unique combination of Catholicism and Voodoo, I could only imagine what Carnival would be like. I had already seen a lot of religious influences within Haiti’s amazing art, music and dance during the first few days of my visit. I knew attending Carnival in Port-au-Prince would be one of those bucket-list life experiences.
As a stoke of luck, our Haitian friend Nat who is the Executive Director of ABN (Artisan Business Network) was able to get our group tickets to be in the Minister of Tourism’s stand. We would leave at six o’clock to beat the masses of crowds that would eventually make the Champs de Mars impassable until the wee hours of the morning.
As we left Pétionville and headed down the mountain into the heart of Port-au-Prince, traffic was intense and preparations for Carnival were well underway. Earlier in the day, we had stopped by one of the stands on Champs de Mars to visit one of the artisans that Nat works with at ABN. The finishing touches were going up all around us.