Haiti has a unique cultural identity consisting of a large blend of traditional customs of French and African, mixed with sizeable contributions from the Spanish and indigenous Taíno culture. The country's customs essentially are a blend of cultural beliefs that derived from the various ethnic groups that inhabited the island of Hispaniola. Haiti's culture is greatly reflected in its paintings, music, and literature. Galleries and museums in the United States and France have exhibited the works of the better-known artists to have come out of Haiti.
Haitian art is distinctive, particularly through its paintings and sculptures, known for its various artistic expressions. Brilliant colors, naïve perspectives, and sly humor characterize Haitian art. Frequent subjects in Haitian art include big, delectable foods, lush landscapes, market activities, jungle animals, rituals, dances, and gods. Artists frequently paint in fables. People are disguised as animals and animals are transformed into people.
As a result of a deep history and strong African ties, symbols take on great meaning within Haitian society. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colors of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party. Many artists cluster in 'schools' of painting, such as the Cap-Haïtien school, which features depictions of daily life in the city, the Jacmel School, which reflects the steep mountains and bays of that coastal town, or the Saint-Soleil School, which is characterized by abstracted human forms and is heavily influenced by Vodou symbolism.
Music and dance
Haitian music combines a wide range of influences drawn from the many people who have settled on this Caribbean island. It reflects French, African rhythms, Spanish elements and others who have inhabited the island of Hispaniola and minor native Taino influences. Styles of music unique to the nation of Haiti include music derived from Vodou ceremonial traditions, Rara parading music, Twoubadou ballads, Mini-jazz rock bands, Rasinmovement, Hip hop Kreyòl, Méringue, and Compas. Youth attend parties at nightclubs called discos, (pronounced "deece-ko"), and attend Bal. This term is the French word for ball, as in a formal dance.
Compas (konpa) (also known as compas direct in French, or konpa dirèk in creole) is a complex, ever-changing music that arose from African rhythms and European ballroom dancing, mixed with Haiti's bourgeois culture. It is a refined music, with méringue as its basic rhythm. Haiti had no recorded music until 1937 when Jazz Guignard was recorded non-commercially.
Haitian cuisine originates from several culinary styles from the various historical ethnic groups that populated the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. Haitian cuisine is similar to the rest of the Latin-Caribbean (the French and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Antilles), however it differs in several ways from its regional counterparts. While the cuisine is unpretentious and simple, the flavors are bold and spicy that demonstrate a primary influence of African culinary aesthetic, paired with a very French sophistication with notable derivatives coming from native Taíno and Spanish techniques. Though similar to other cooking styles in the region, it carries a uniqueness native to the country; many visitors to the island have mixed reviews of Haitian cuisine. Haitians often use peppers and other strong flavorings.
Dishes tend to be seasoned liberally. Consequently Haitian cuisine is often moderately spicy. In the country, however, several foreign cuisines have been introduced. These include Levantine from Arab migration to Haiti. Rice and beans in several differing ways are eaten throughout the country regardless of location, becoming a sort of national dish. They form the staple diet, which consists of a lot of starch and is high in carbohydrates. Rural areas, with better access to agricultural products, have a larger variety of choices.
One such dish is mais moulu (mayi moulen), which is comparable to grits that can be eaten with sauce pois (sòs pwa), a bean sauce made from one of many types of beans such as kidney, pinto, chickpeas, or pigeon peas (known in some countries as gandules). Mais moulin can be eaten with fish (often red snapper), or alone depending on personal preference. Some of the many plants used in Haitian dishes include tomato, oregano, cabbage, avocado, bell peppers. A popular food is banane pesée (ban-nan'n peze), flattened plantain slices fried in cooking oil (known as tostones in the Spanish speaking Latin American countries). It is eaten both as a snack and as part of a meal is, often eaten with tassot and griot (deep-fried goat and pork).
Traditionally, the food that Haitians eat on the independence day (1 January) is soup joumou. Haiti is also known internationally for its rum; Rhum Barbancourt is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Haiti, and it is regarded highly by international standards.
Monuments include the Sans-Souci Palace and the Citadelle Laferrière, inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1982. Situated in the Northern Massif du Nord, in one of Haiti's National Parks, the structures date from the early 19th century. The buildings were among the first built after Haiti's independence from France. The Citadelle Laferrière, is the largest fortress in the Americas, is located in northern Haiti. It was built between 1805 and 1820 and is today referred to by some Haitians as the eighth wonder of the world.
Jacmel, a colonial city that was tentatively accepted as a World Heritage site, was extensively damaged by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
The anchor of Christopher Columbus' largest ship, the Santa María now rests in the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien (MUPANAH), in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Folklore and mythology
Haiti is known for its folklore traditions. The country has tales that are part of the Haitian Vodou tradition.