Schaedel’s Introduction and the sixteen papers presented at a conference in New York City during November, 1967, constitute one of the more important analyses of Haiti’s underdevelopment and proposals for amelioration. The publication’s value will be increased by a reading, first, of papers by three Haitian panelists that have been placed at the end. The first stresses the reasons for Haiti’s plight: the external forces—ostracism from the family of nations, threats of foreign intervention, and the limited achievements of the American intervention, 1915-1934—as well as such internal factors as the evils of the colonial legacy (especially the hostility between the small number of mostly light-skinned elite and the “black” masses), the devastation resulting from more than twelve years of war for emancipation and independence, the large number of illiterates, and the concept of indispensable presidents. The second emphasizes the high (85%) percentage of illiterates, the population density of 350 inhabitants per square kilometer of cultivable land, the large number of untrained and undernourished workers further debilitated by endemic diseases, the lack of capital, a per capita income of less than $100 a year, the exportation of agricultural products and the importation of manufactured articles, unemployment and underemployment. The third points up the scarcity of studies of the civil service and the need for assuring equitable recruitment, tenure, and promotion of civil servants.
Schaedel’s Introduction gives a valuable summary of most of the sixteen papers. One insists on the need to study the social and psychological origins of Haitians, particularly the functions of myth, voudun, and the transmission of oral traditions. The editor concludes from two other papers that a degree of consensus has been reached as to the value of the use of Creole as the language of instruction for teaching French. This reviewer is convinced that, regardless of the language of instruction, French must remain the language of international intercourse, as witnessed by the papers in French.
With respect to voudun, another panelist stresses the importance of understanding “possession states” or seizures, not only in coping with psychological problems but in proposing a more analytical approach to Haitian psychology. This view is supported by a paper which states that Haitian music shows voudun has positive psychological and sociological components. The paper on Haitian demography brings into sharp focus the indispensable need for resolving Haiti’s current impasse, the urban-rural imbalance. This imbalance, as another paper points out, is increased by the concentration of primary and secondary schools in cities and towns; the high rate of illiteracy, rooted in Haiti’s external and internal difficulties, and only slightly reduced by the American Occupation. Two papers lead to Schaedel’s conclusion that “however complex and potentially negative the structural variables that the Haitian polity and economy present, the human resource factor in Haiti, as underscored by the anthropological presentation, remains a positive element in any future socio-economic projections for its resiliency, adaptability and temperament.”
Three other papers show that the “general nutritional status of Haiti’s population was the worst in the Western Hemisphere”; that there were only about one physician for 20,000 inhabitants, a smaller number of pharmacists, and one nurse for 6,000 inhabitants, all largely concentrated in cities and towns; that the existing facilities for treating psychiatric patients are extremely inadequate.
In February, 1968, the Center of Haitian Studies was officially constituted, with headquarters at the Research Institute for the Study of Man. But the value of this Center is unclear so long as the Duvalier dictatorship prevails.