Haiti in the Collective Imagination

The conversation of Haiti is often informed by two ideas: that it is ‘the poorest nation in the western hemisphere’ and ‘the first liberated, post-colonial country of the African Diaspora.’ The implications of each of these statements makes clear the historical, cultural and political complexity represented by the many possible answers to the question, What is Haiti? Haiti in the collective imagination makes no attempt to answer this question fully but instead suggests some possible responses. Whether images of the practices of Vodou or the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes (Creole for Boogey Man or “Uncle Gunnysack”), the many influences and forces within the currents that is Haiti call to mind a challenging and multifaceted picture.

In a way, both Vodou and the Tonton Macoutes represent a confluence and clash of the cultural legacy that gave birth to modern Haiti: the influence of the African tradition, the legacy of the colonialist European legacy and the specific nature of the Caribbean experience. This makes clear how much deeper Haiti is than the earthquake of 2010, which killed over a quarter of a million and still has over a million homeless. At the same time, the immensity of the catastrophe, the frailty of the infrastructure and the many failures in response nationally and internationally, have made clear the challenges for the island nation and our understanding of it.