The farthest back I can ascertain Haitian culture is translated is to the Arawak/Taino society of Indians (Spanish decent). It was believed that at about the time of the birth of Christ, these Indians became seafaring, and navigated from South America to the Caribbean chain of island, and inhabited the whole island of Hispaniola, now divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Their civilization was also referred to as Haiti Bohio “home” or Quisqueya “Hispaniola” renamed by Columbus (Powhatan Museum, 2007). By 1507 the Indians numbers were significantly reduce, at the same time the Spanish were also importing African slaves (Stewart, 1999).
Their society was peaceful with chiefdoms under caciques (native chief), as heads, and controlled large territories conducting inter-island trade. The Spanish used the cacique title and adopted it to all indigenous chiefs in America. Taino’s practiced polygamy, had a hierarchical and social structure including games and festivals (Stewart, 1999). They actually introduced the first latex ball used in their games to the Spanish (Powhatan Museum, 2007). They were stone makers and made art including religious artifacts.
They developed a system of agriculture and a way to protect the soil from erosion.Taino method of cooking was called barbecoa, origin word for barbecue (Powhatan Museum, 2007). Their religion was polytheists (belief in multiple gods) called Zemi, who like Greek gods believed they controlled functions of the universe, and later Voodoo was introduced through African influence. There only transportation was dugout canoes. Initial housing structures were circular construction with poles and covered with straw and palm leaves, later influenced by African culture their homes were made from mud and wattle (interlaced twigs or branches), they were modernized (Stewart, 1999).
There was a complete genocide of the Arawak/Taino Indian natives, due to the European induction of diseases such as smallpox, enslaving the Indians to work the gold mines, suicide, and famine. What is amazing is that their cultural heritage with maybe some traces of their blood line through interracial mating, has been totally extinct in Haiti, as Haiti is almost entirely now of African and European decent (Stewart, 1999).
As the Haitian culture originated from the Taino Indians it was entwined with the Africans, with Western European/Spanish influence. For several decades much of the information and products acquired from the Americas to Europe, Asia and Africa came from the Caribbean civilizations. Consequently, many words, ideas, technologies, materials, foods, medicines and perceptions came from these first years of interaction between the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas. So when we talk about Eastern verses Western influence, where they may have dominated, I think here there is a “three way street”….
Taino hamaca or hammock adopted on European ships
Yuca….utilized in may international dishes, also makes tapioca and farina. The cassava juice (toxic) makes a met tenderizer called cassareep.
Exotic Caribbean hard woods Taino mahogany.
“Pineapple” symbol for hospitality placed on the door of a Carib home brought to America as a colonial symbol for hospitality.
Taíno bifurcated snuff pipe, the tabacu, used as their sacred chewing, smoking, snuffing and medicinal weed, enriched colonial America as John Rolf brought it to Virginia and helped finance America Revolution.
The rubber ball on clay ball courts astonished the Spanish who thought that the ball’s bounce was the result of witchcraft.
Taíno conch divers who the Spanish used as pearl divers. The Caribbean pearl trade enriched European royalty.
All tidbits retrieved from (Powhatan Museum, 2007).
Powhatan Museum of Indigenous Arts and Culture. (2007). The Taino Culture. Retrieved from http://powhatanmuseum.com/Taino_Culture.html
Stewart, L. (1999). Pre-Columbian Hispaniola-Arawak/Taino Native Americans. York University. Retrieved from http://faculty.webster.edu/corbetre/haiti/history/precolumbian/tainover.htm