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Haiti at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Haiti will be featured this year at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, running June 23-27 and June 30-July 4 in Washington DC. I’ll be attending the festival on the 23rd and 24th and will post reports as I’m able.

For more information, including a schedule and a map of the festival site, check out HaitianLifestyle.com.

The organizers have issued this press release about the festival:

Smithsonian Folklife Festival Commemorates Bicentennial of Haitian Independence

Visitors to the 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will experience the arts, music, foods, storytelling and rich craft traditions of Haiti—the second nation in the Americas to win and maintain its freedom (the first was the United States). Haiti was established in 1804 by people of African descent who, in winning their independence from France, abolished slavery. The Festival will host more than 100 traditional Haitian artists and crafts persons, performers, cooks, writers, researchers and cultural experts in performances, demonstrations, workshops and concerts outdoors on the National Mall from June 23-27 and June 30-July 4. 

The idea for the Festival program, “Haiti: Freedom and Creativity… From the Mountains to the Sea,” originated two years ago with members of the U.S. Haitian community. “Even in light of the current upheavals in Haiti, we cannot afford to lose site of the very rich, very powerful contributions that the Haitian people continue to make to the world,” says Diana N’Diaye, curator of the Haiti program.

“The achievement of independence and the abolition of slavery by the Haitian people 200 years ago was a major world event,” says Richard Kurin, director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “The Smithsonian Folklife Festival provides an excellent forum to honor that historical accomplishment by illustrating the continuing effort of the Haitian people to achieve and express their freedom through the creative use of their rich cultural heritage.”

The Festival program will reflect the creative ways in which Haitianshave expressed their religious, economic and civil freedoms. Master stone carvers engaged in the restoration of the Citadel—a 19th-century mountaintop fortress built to defend Haiti’s independence—will demonstrate their artistry and skill as they preserve this symbol of freedom. Visitors will also learn about everyday cooking in the Haitian Kitchen, including how to prepare “soupe joumou” (pumpkin soup), a dish created and first shared on Jan. 1, 1804, in celebration of the Haitian declaration of independence. Visitors will also be able to purchase Haitian meals.

Smithsonian Institution Participants will present a variety of celebratory events that throughHaiti’s history have represented rites of resistance. These include “Rara,” a processional tradition of village bands playing handmade instruments that takes place after Carnival. Participants will also present a number of religious-based traditions, such as mwason (a harvest festival), fanal (construction of paper lanterns at Christmas) and kite making (an Easter-time tradition). Visitors can see demonstrations of mask making, try on costumes and attend workshops on movement and music. Visitors will also learn about how vodou, an African-based religious system, once outlawed by colonial authorities, persists as a spiritual influence in Haitian life. Participants will make vèvès (sacred vodou drawings) in an Houmfò or vodou temple, demonstrate the dances of vodou in honor of specific lwas (deities), play musical instruments and take part in ritual processions.

Farming is a way of life in Haiti and Festival visitors will be able towitness the process of growing, harvesting, sorting and roasting beans to make “Haitian Blue,” Haiti’s signature coffee. Craftspeople will demonstrate how they use parts of the banana plant that might otherwise be discarded to make mats and fiber for bags and paper. In the sugar cane tent, visitors will see a mill and get a whiff of severalflavorings for kleren, a traditional brew made from sugar cane syrup.

Festival visitors will meet artisans from the mountain villages of Haiti who create furniture out of wood or bamboo. They will have the opportunity to work with clay and straw under the supervision of traditional potters, master basket makers and hat weavers. Haitian cutmetal specialists will demonstrate their amazing ingenuity as they turn metal oil drums into relief sculptures while visitors attempt to create similar pieces using cardboard. Such crafts will be available  for sale in a vibrant Haitian Market. 

Tales of Haitian creative expression abound on the island. At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, urban street painters will work on a mural depicting their interpretations of Haiti. Visitors can also see a beautifully decorated “tap-tap,” a truck or bus that Haitians use to travel from the mountains to the sea. Storytellers at the Krik Krak stage will invite audiences to join in Haitian narratives by first shouting “Krik!” and waiting for the response, “Krak!” 

Music performances will feature konpa, roots music, troubadou and Meringue. Haitian Americans, many who have sought freedom and opportunity in the United States, will participate in “reunion”  sessions at the Festival. 

A broad coalition of Haitians, including the Haiti public administration, businesses, scholars, artists and other individuals, Haitian Americans, American friends of Haiti, U.S. government agencies, service organizations, international agencies such as UNESCO and the Inter-American Development Bank, and the governments of several other nations have joined together to make Haitian participation in the Festival possible, Festival organizers say. 

The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, celebrates folk culture with people from across the United States and around the world. The Festival typically includes daily programs of music, song and dance, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, workshops and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues. The Festival attracts about 1 million visitors a year. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with special events, concerts and other activities continuing until 9 p.m. The Festival is produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.