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Commentary: The extraordinary tourism potential of Haiti's cultural calendar
Published on February 25, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

This weekend Carnival climax highlights the immense potential asset of Haiti’s cultural calendar. Haiti has a president, Jovenel Moise; it also has a new prime minister, Dr Jack Guy Lafontant, but it does have to wait until it has a government since the nomination of the new prime minister is facing a fight in Parliament to determine which sector will have the upper hand in approving the program of the prime minister. In the meantime, each major city is claiming the right to hold a major Carnival Fiesta.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now.  He can be reached at
President Jovenel Moise before his own inauguration made the statement that the National Carnival should be held in the southern city of Les Cayes in solidarity with the citizens of the southern part of the country devastated by Hurricane Matthew.

The mayor and the citizens of Port au Prince cried foul, stating that the 100-year-old Port au Prince Carnival must take place anyway, leaving the gate wide open for all the major cities of Haiti such as Gonaives, Petionville, Delmas and Carrefour to hold court and claim their place as a proper venue for their own cultural debauchery before Ash Wednesday.

And why not! Haiti with its population of ten million people, its Diaspora in the one million range and Carnival taking place in one of the coldest months of the year in North America – Canada and the United States -- as well as Europe; why should the main cities of Haiti not organize during the pre-carnival season from January 15 to the end of February, each at a time, a major Carnival event that will draw the Diaspora and foreign tourists to Haiti for relief against the rigor of mother nature?

I was as such inspired to put in a canvas the entire cultural calendar of events that make Haiti stand out as the true Bali of the Caribbean, if only it (Haiti) and the rest of the world was aware of such potential tourism bonanza; and if Haiti can clean up its act and engage in the necessary nation building steps such as road building and repair, debris and trash removal, proper health facilities, job promotion and decent housing for its citizens.

• Starting with the first day of the year, on January 1, Haiti has the double advantage of ushering in the New Year and also celebrating its Independence Day. The nation can market that event not only as a New Year day but also as a celebration for all freedom lovers. Because indeed Haiti broke the chain of slavery not only for itself and its citizens but for all people of the world; as such black and white alike should converge to Haiti to mark this milestone with reverence, fun and remembrance.

• Haiti has also been, it is almost a decade now, the scene of a major earthquake that killed some 300,000 people. On January 12, 2010, the earth shook and hundreds of thousands of people perished under the rubble in the capital city of Port au Prince. The second week of January can be remembered as a week of world solidarity with Haiti in healing the spirit and the mood of the nation to build better and be reborn from its aches.

• As mimicking life itself from mourning to renewal and fiesta, Haiti plunges right into the Carnival season from January 15 to February 28, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, into a frenzy of debauchery. As said before, the 12 major cities of Haiti can claim by blocks of three a weekend for their own major Carnival season. It will be an event sponsored by the participants, with the government through is ministry of tourism and culture being only an incubator and a promoter. Trinidad and Tobago can teach a lesson to Haiti on how to stage a Carnival without the state footing all the bills by galvanizing the participants to buy their costumes under the label of a special group.

• The Friday after Ash Wednesday, Haiti starts all over again with its rural carnival period, dubbed the Rara. Its origin may have its debut in the slaves holding their own debauchery after the masters have theirs in pre-Ash Wednesday season. From the first Friday of March until Good Friday, Rara season holds court in all the cities but mainly in Leogane and increasingly in Port au Prince.

• Easter and its companion Sunday of Quasimodo brings to the capital city the International Charismatic Catholic renewal. Christians from the Diaspora converge to Haiti for prayer, celebration and renewal that could also attract Catholics from all over the world seeking the atonement that goes along with Christ rising.

• From there, on May 1, we enter into the major cultural fiesta season, which is the feast of saints. Jacmel fires the first salvo with the feast of St Jacques and St Jerome. May 1 is also Agricultural Day in Haiti with the country celebrating at least for one day the legend of Haiti as the land of organic fruits and produce.

• May 18 is Haiti Flag Day that has become, at least in the Diaspora, the day of affirmation that we are all Haitians. The celebration is cherished by the children of Haiti when they can demonstrate their athletic prowess for all to admire.

• June 15 is the Good Lord Day; it is dedicated to a major festival of books and art organized by the Nouvelliste, the oldest Haitian newspaper. It is an event worth attending to measure the possibilities of Haiti as a nation that will have to deal with the problem of abundance in the very near future.

• The festival of saints will be going unabated until November 2, the Day of the Dead, with the major peak from July 15 to July 30 in celebrations taking place in several cities of the republic -- Our Lady of Mount of Carmel in Saut d’eau on July 16, St Marguerite in Port Margot on July 20, St Jacques on July 25 in La Plaine du Nord, St Anne in Limonade on July 26 and St Mary the Magdalena on July 29 in Marmelade. Those fiestas -- a mixture of Catholic and voodoo ritual -- bring devotees in a pilgrimage that is unique to Haiti and reminiscent only of the medieval era when the early Christians were building cathedrals at the dimension of the Good Lord’s majesty.

• We are in November where the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Haiti as in Mexico or Greenwich Village, New York, as a communion day where the living bring food and liquor to appease the soul of the dead from the rigors of purgatory, praying God to let them enter into Paradise.

There are two major events worth mentioning -- the Artisanat en fetes taking place on November 11; it is a unique fair of art and décor of Haitian artists inviting the world not only to admire Haitian artistic vitality but also filling your bags with gifts not seen in stores for the Christmas season.

We are coming back to Noel and the end of the year but remember Haiti starts the Jazz Festival season taking place in the very first week of the month of January.

Here is a canvas filled with captivating sights that is unique to Haiti that should be dubbed the Bali of the Caribbean if only she and the rest of the world were aware of those assets!
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Marlene Gay:

Great article, must think out of the box when it comes to Tourism. Its worth sharing!


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