Akeyi / Welcome!
Haiti covers 10,714 square miles (27,750 square kilometers). It is located in the subtropics on the western third of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Caribbean, which it shares with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. The climate is mild, varying with altitude. The mountains are calcareous rather than volcanic and give way to widely varying microclimatic and soil conditions. The population has grown steadily from 431,140 at independence in 1804 to the estimate of 6.9 million to 7.2 million in 2000. Haiti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Haiti, a name that means "mountainous country," is derived from the language of the Taino Indians who inhabited the island before European colonization. After independence in 1804, the name was adopted by the military generals, many of them former slaves, who expelled the French and took possession of the colony then known as Saint Domingue. In 2000, 95 percent of the population was of African descent, and the remaining 5 percent mulatto and white. Some wealthy citizens think of themselves as French, but most residents identify themselves as Haitian and there is a strong sense of nationalism.
Personal greetings are very important to Haitians. When entering a room or joining a group, a person is expected to physically greet each individual. Haitian men usually shake hands, women throw kisses when meeting a new acquaintance. Everyone else, from relatives to friends and casual acquaintances, receives a kiss on each cheek. The most common verbal greeting is Bonjou, kouman ou ye? Sakapfet or Sak pase? Meaning (Good day, how are you?). The response usually is M pa pi mal, e ou menm? Or Map Boule Piti Piti (I am okay, and yourself? or Not bad). Haitians address superiors or persons of status by title (Monsieur, Madame, Doctor, etc.) followed by the last name. Friends use first names or nicknames, which are usually related to that person's name, in order to address each other.
Rice and beans are considered the national dish and are the most commonly eaten meal in urban areas. Traditional rural staples are sweet potatoes, manioc, yams, corn, rice, pigeon peas, cowpeas, bread, and coffee. More recently, a wheat-soy blend from the United States has been incorporated into the diet. Important treats include sugarcane, mangoes, sweetbread, peanut and sesame seed clusters made from melted brown sugar, and candies made from bittermanioc flour. People make a crude but highly nutritious sugar paste called rapadou.
Festive occasions such as baptismal parties, first communions, and marriages include the mandatory Haitian colas, cake, a spiced concoction of domestic rum (kleren), and a thick spiked drink made with condensed milk called kremass.