Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rara and Mango Time

As it starts raining more frequently (Haiti's short rainy season is gearing up), I've been thinking about the changing seasons. These obviously aren't typical in the way that most of us are used to (although having spent most of my life in a tropical climate, I can't really include myself in the spring-summer-fall-winter group). It's March and in North Carolina my mother-in-law is starting her seedlings in preparation for spring. Here in March, it's mango season. Did you know that mangoes are one of Haiti's biggest export crops? Did you know that Haiti had export crops? More importantly though, mangoes provide a cheap and important nutritional supplement and are a source of income for rural families. The ti machann (vendors) that line the streets are selling endless piles of ripe mangoes - more varieties than I ever knew existed (over 140!) and each pile for exorbitantly less than you would pay for a single mango in North Carolina.

It's also post-Kanaval, pre-Easter time (ie. Lent). It turns out I was wrong when I mentioned dancing with a rara band in a previous post. Pre-Kanaval, said street bands are called bandapye (literally, foot bands) and it's not until Lent that they're known as raras. Rara music is played on wooden drums, whistles, horns made out of sheet metal (each of which only play a single note) and bamboo flutes. I haven't been able to determine what, if any, their association is with voodou, but protestants seem distinctly reticent to participate in raras. I've also been told that in the countryside, raras are used to denounce and publicly humiliate people that have done anything out of keeping with the community's values. Imagine a 40-day period in which anything wrong you've done throughout the year is exposed in song by 100 plus people, parading through the streets. That is rara time.

In keeping with the spirit of denunciation, rara lyrics are also very political, which brings me to my next point: in Haiti, the post-Kanaval season is usually marked by a tense political climate. The food riots that made international news last year were in April. Coup d'etats, protests and riots all tend to take place in the spring after Kanaval has ended and while heavy rains expose Haiti's desperate poverty even more than usual. If anything, the conditions that led to last year's riots are worse now. In the eight months (eight months?!) that we've been here, food prices have continued to rise and little has yet been done to mitigate the effects of last summer's hurricanes. The Senate elections that were supposed to take place in September are now scheduled for April 19th, but so far preparations to ensure that they will actually take place have been minimal.

For more on raras: Observations of a Haitian rara band

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