Haiti is a small Island near the Caribbean Sea with a relatively small population. Based on research findings, the people of Haiti have unique cultural practices that are quite different from other cultures in the world. Regardless of the fact that the country was hit by a serious earthquake not so long ago, their attachment to their cultural practices still stands. This includes their attitude toward death and dying.
As a result of the earthquake, Haitians were forced to forego their death and burial rituals for sometime. This notwithstanding, the people of Haiti still cherish their culture and would do everything possible to demonstrate their love and respect for the deceased. Apparently, this is mainly motivated by their strong belief in life after death.
As far as Haitians are concerned, the dead always return to be among the living and may cause harm if they are not given a dignified send-off when they die. This paper looks at the customs, attitude, and ideas that Haitians have concerning the concept of death and dying.
Haitians’ Attitude toward Death and Dying
Haitians have all manner of thoughts about death and dying. While some believe in life after death, others are convinced that once a person dies, he or she is bound to return as a zombie (Thomas, 2010). Zombies are considered to be without souls and are usually controlled by voudou practitioners who take their souls. When a person dies, it is generally believed that his or her soul remains close to the body for about nine days before it can finally be detached.
Apparently, it is possible for any person with a wrong motive to take the soul of a deceased person into his or her custody in order to use it to harm other people (McGee, 2012). In order to prevent the soul from being arrested, a ritual has to be performed. Among other things, this is meant to save the deceased’s soul from roaming around the earth and causing harm to other people.
There are other things that Haitians indulge in when confronted with death and dying. In the event that death is about to take place, all family members are expected to gather at the place where death is imminent. As they come, they are required to carry all sorts of religious artifacts for the sick person as a way of consoling him or her. Family members of the dying person also get to invite religious leaders to be with them during this challenging time.
Seemingly, this is done to ensure that every member of the family is present at the exact time of the death. While together, family members often embark on mourning activities that typically include praying as well as crying for their loved one. Although it is acceptable for death to happen in a hospital setup, most Haitians prefer to meet their death while in their homes and in the presence of family members.
Similar to other cultures, family members and friends of the deceased go through a moment of customary weeping when one of their own dies. As an important obligation, the deceased must be given a final bath by members of his or her family (McGee, 2012). It is also presumed that prayers must be offered in order to create an avenue through which the deceased will be able to ascend to the next world. This is an important undertaking that is meant to last for close to seven days.
Traditionally, it is the responsibility of the oldest member of a Haitian family to take charge of all matters that concern the funeral arrangements. This notwithstanding, the deceased person’s body has to be preserved until all members of his or her family are finally home to take part in the burial ritual.
Like it is the practice in some parts of the world, funerals in Haiti are expensive social events that are characterized by great feasts. Ordinarily, the mourning period lasts for several days and continues even after the burial has taken place.
For the entire period of the funeral, mourners are free to stay with the bereaved family at their home and to help out with different chores. Ostensibly, most Haitians prefer to be buried in tombs alongside other family members who may have gone ahead of them. This is unlike in other cultures where the dead are mainly buried under ground in a well prepared grave. To ensure that the deceased’s body is ready for the resurrection time, body parts are never donated. Cremation is equally not acceptable among Haitians considering that it destroys the parts of the body beyond recognition.
Despite having gone through so much in the recent past, the people of Haiti still have a high regard for their unique cultural practices. As has been explained in this paper, Haitians will go to any length to organize expensive funerals to ensure a smooth transition for a deceased person.
After death, Haitians still consider the deceased person as part of the family. Allegedly, the dead person communicates with the living members of his or her family through dreams. The catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti thus left many in fear and concerned about the fate of the deceased who were accorded a decent send-off.
McGee, A. (2012). Dreaming in Haitian Vodou: Vouchsafe, guide, and source of liturgical novelty. Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, 22(2): 83 – 100.
McGee, A. (2012). Haitian Vodou and Voodoo: Imagined Religion and Popular Culture Studies. Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 41(2): 230 – 256.
Thomas, K. (2010). Haitian Zombie, Myth, and Modern Identity. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 12(2): 1 – 10.