The lives of most children in Haiti, especially those from the poorest classes, were not easy in the 1930s (nor are they now). With one of the hemisphere’s highest rates of maternal and infant mortality, as well as rampant childhood disease, the passage to adulthood in Haiti is fraught with danger. In the 1930s, yaws, a syphilitic disease of the skin, ravaged the country, and the scarcity of clean drinking water resulted in a variety of water-borne illnesses. Schooling, if it could be secured and paid for, was often cut short by the need to work. And because families of limited means often lived in small, cramped quarters, children grew up without much innocence concerning adult sexuality. Among the poorest of the poor, families that felt they couldn’t care
for one or more children often arranged with a wealthier relative or even a stranger to “adopt” the child as an unpaid household laborer, called a rèstavèk (from the French rester avec, to stay with). Although children in Haiti have always been dearly cherished, parenting regimens tended to be very strict, often employing repercussions as severe as corporal punishment (the use of
a cat-o’-nine-tails, called matinèt or rigwaz in Kreyòl, was common). These harsh realities of childhood resulted in the frank tone of many Haitian children’s songs, and yet there is also much joy in these songs, offering a glimpse into a world of play and creativity that is usually hidden from adult eyes.
These recordings explore the contradictory spaces of childhood: Boy Scout songs, gentle lullabies, fear-tinged songs of lougawou-s (werewolves) and child-eating witches, counting songs for instruction, game songs for passing rocks and splashing in water, round songs for circle dances, and songs that veer from the innocent and childlike to trespass on adult themes or betray an unfortunate familiarity with hardship.
Please enjoy the music from Volume 5 - Children's Songs