ebook: Mr. Missionary, I Have a Question (Part 3)

Chapter 2. Creole, Columbus, and the Citadel

In this book, Howard Culbertson answers questions that were asked in church services across the United States during a home assignment year. Originally published for the Nazarene Missions International mission book series, this publication from what is now The Foundry carried ISBN number 083-411-1519

Don't they speak Portuguese in Haiti?
The Church of the Nazarene has churches in several Portuguese-speaking countries. These include the Azores, Brazil, Mozambique, Portugal, and Cape Verde. Haiti is not on that list because the official language in Haiti is French. Ironically, only about 10 percent of the Haitian population can speak French. The real national language -- the one spoken by everyone -- is Haitian Creole. Haitians are separated linguistically from their neighbors, the Dominicans, on the other part of the island. Spanish is the language of the Dominican Republic.
Are there similarities between Italian, French, and Haitian Creole?
Both French and Italian are Romance -- or, more properly, Romanic -- languages, having developed from the same Latin language base. French and Italian share the same basic grammar, and a lot of word roots are common to both languages.

Haitian Creole, on the other hand, is more like a stepsister to the Romance languages. Ninety percent of the Creole vocabulary came from 16th- and 17th-century French; however, Haitian Creole grammar bears little resemblance to French and Italian grammar.
If Haiti and the Dominican Republic are on the same island, why don't they speak the same language?
When Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola in 1492, he claimed all of it for Spain. Later, the French managed to gain control the western third of the island, and French became the official language in the part of Hispaniola that became Haiti. On the eastern two-thirds of the island, the population remained under Spanish control long enough for the Spanish language to become firmly entrenched. Two different languages are spoken today on the same island because for more than 200 years this island was divided between two different colonial powers speaking separate languages.
Is Creole a hard language to learn?
Like any language, Haitian Creole takes time and lots and lots of practice to learn. This means endlessly repeating words, phrases, and sentences until they can be spoken automatically.

Except for some accent marks, Haitian Creole uses the same alphabet as the English language. Creole grammar, like that of English, is relatively simple when compared to some languages. Its component sounds are not particularly difficult for English speakers to reproduce. [ Haitian Creole song ]
Don't you get mixed up with all the different languages you know?
Our brain is a marvelous computer. Knowing several languages is a lot less confusing than one might think. For the most part, once the Italian, or the French, or the Haitian Creole track has been taken, the train stays on that track. Once in a while some word from another language may pop out suddenly. But that only makes your speech sound a little more exotic. Actually, the more languages one knows, the easier it seems to be to acquire another new one. [ PowerPoint on language learning ]

We were the third Nazarene missionary family to transfer from Italy to a French-speaking country. Roy and Nina Fuller were the first. They left Italy in 1977 to pioneer the work for our church in French-speaking Quebec. Russell and Donna Lovett left Italy in 1981 to direct the work in France, which had begun in 1979.
Where did Haitian Creole come from?
Haitian Creole has been a written language for only the past 40 years. Its development prior to that time is rather difficult to trace. It apparently sprang from five language sources: French, English, Spanish, Caraibe (a Caribbean Indian language), and some African languages.

Years ago the French imported African slaves to Haiti from many different tribes and language groups. As these uprooted Africans tried to communicate with each other and with their French masters, they adopted a simplified trade language used by French buccaneers. This simplified or pidgin French began to expand into a true language as the years passed. As it matured, the new language borrowed words and grammatical features from the native Indian language (which had been used in Haiti), from English, and from Spanish. The African languages gave Creole its accent, modulation, tone, and the suppression of r and s.

Despite efforts through the years to upgrade the status of Haitian Creole, many Haitian elite continue to regard it as a second-class language. There is, unfortunately, only limited communication between the French language-oriented elite and the unschooled, Haitian Creole-speaking rural population.

Almost all church services are conducted in Haitian Creole. Only the more formal services and ceremonies use French. The New Testament first appeared in Haitian Creole in 1960. Prior to that time the only Scriptures available were in French. Translation of the Old Testament into Haitian Creole has now been completed and will soon be published. [ Bible story summary in Haitian Creole ]
Is Haitian Creole the same Creole as is sometimes spoken in Louisiana?
The Creole that you mention in the United States is spoken by descendants of the French and Spanish settlers of the Gulf Coast states. Many of these people speak a form of French that is also called Cajun. Cajun is not the same language as Haitian Creole.
Are the Haitians a musical people?
American visitors to Haiti invariably go home talking about the way Haitian Nazarenes like to sing. Some hymns and songs have Creole words; others have French lyrics. There is a lot of hand-clapping, particularly when songs are sung in Haitian Creole. Even though Haitians like to sing loudly, it will often be in four-part harmony. Many local churches have excellent choirs who will sing either a cappella or accompanied by everything from trumpets, accordions, and guitars to percussion instruments.
The photographs I've seen of Haiti show mostly black people. Are there any Indians there?
The native Indian population of perhaps 500,000 died in a few short years after the arrival of the European colonists. Diseases like smallpox, which the Europeans brought, killed thousands of the Indians. More succumbed to the brutal and inhumane treatment by the Europeans who enslaved them. Within less than 100 years after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the indigenous people (or Indians) had been exterminated from the island.

To replace the vanishing indigenous people, the Europeans began shipping in African slaves. While there are no Indians left in Haiti, there are, however, some light-skinned Haitians. These are descendants of a few French settlers who remained after Haitian independence.
How large is the country of Haiti?
The country of Haiti contains 10,000 square miles. That's equivalent to a tract of land 200 miles long and 50 miles wide.
What is the population of Haiti?
There are approximately ,6 million people in Haiti. Nearly 1 million of them live in the jostling, colorful capital city, Port-au-Prince. Haiti's total population is about the same as the metropolitan area of Los Angeles or of the country of Bolivia.
What is the temperature in Haiti?
Haiti is in the tropics. Throughout most of the country the temperature rarely falls below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It also rarely rises above 95 degrees. Thus, Haiti does not have the same seasonal changes as do countries in the Temperate Zone. It does have, however, two distinct seasons: wet and dry. One of the two dry seasons, which comes while it is wintertime farther north, is cooler than the wet seasons.

There are in Haiti some high mountain peaks where frost has been known to occur. Most of the country, however, grows flowers and vegetable gardens throughout the year.
Since Haiti is tropical, is it humid there?
Haiti doesn't have any real rain forests like the Amazon Basin in South America. In fact, many areas of Haiti are almost desert-like with stands of cactus. Some places do get as much as 80 inches of rain a year, but even then the rain comes mainly at night with the sun shining during the day. In Italy we often experienced days and days of drizzle; not in Haiti. As a result, we have experienced fewer problems with humidity in Haiti than we had in Italy's Mediterranean climate.
In pictures, Haiti looks like a beautiful country; is it?
Haiti has some marvelous tourist sights. It has been featured more than once in magazines like National Geographic. I look out of our bedroom window across trees covered with red blossoms. In the distance is a rugged mountain range where streams flow through rocky gorges.

Lapping at Haiti's sandy beaches is the emerald Caribbean Sea -- a snorkler's and scuba diver's delight. In Haiti's cities, weather-beaten gingerbread buildings jostle for space along narrow streets. Downtown Port-au-Prince has the famous Iron Market, a shopping area more vitally alive, more crowded, and more clamoring than the deck of a sinking commuter ferry.

As you travel through the countryside, you continually meet one of Haiti's most picturesque sights: women balancing heavy loads on their heads as they gracefully tread its roads and mountain trails from dawn until late at night. In the countryside the air whispers of ripe pineapple and mango, refreshing minced spices, salt-tinged sea air, and frangipani blossoms.
Have you ever been to the Citadel?
The Citadel is a little-known marvel of the Western Hemisphere. It was built by King Henri Cristophe not long after the withdrawal of the French army. Fearing the possible return of their old masters, the ex-slaves built an imposing fortress in the mountains above the colonial capital of Cap Haitien. The French did not attempt to return. So the fort was never used in battle.

So far we've only seen it in photographs. Perhaps by the time this book is published we will have been there. It is about a five-hour drive north of the capital city.
What is the money in Haiti called?
Haiti's money is called the gourde (pronounced "gourd"). Its official exchange rate is currently fixed at five gourdes to one United States dollar. That makes one Haitian gourde worth 20 U.S. cents. . . . [ read more ]

  Page:  ← Prev    |   Preface  |    1. Hawaii, Hoes, and Holiness  |   2. Creole, Christopher Columbus, and the  Citadel  |    3. Regional Directors, Demons, and the  Dominican Republic  |    4. Mangoes, Malnutrition, and Modernization   |    5. Rice Christians, Churches, and Caravan   |    6. Missionaries, Mail, and Men    |    Epilogue  |    Next → 

Regional Directors, Demons and the Dominican Republic

chapterHave we grown so rapidly in Haiti because it is such a poor country? . . . Do we have trouble getting the Haitians to give up their voodoo practices?. . . Can you take baths in the water? . . . . [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson

ebooks:     Alfredo Del Rosso, an Italian captivated by a vision     God's Bulgarian tapestry     The Kingdom strikes back: Signs of the Messiah at work in Haiti     Paul McGrady, Mr. Evangelism     Our balanced attack: How Nazarenes finance world evangelism     Pasta, pizza and Pinocchio    Jonah, the reluctant missionary     Rookie notebook: Our first nine months as missionaries inItaly     Other books and articles

10/40 Window explanation and map     Seeking God's will?     Mission trp fundraising     Nazarene Missions International resources