Since coming to Haiti I’ve been fascinated by the relationships that Haitians have with animals. I was raised, like many people in the United States, to think of the animals that I live with as friends, with feelings and desires just like me. This idea is so ingrained in me that I apply it not just to common or empathetic creatures like dogs and cats, but also to less relatable ones like goldfish and ants. This even extends to the point that I often give the same amount of respect to both humans and animals. In Haiti, I’ve realized that this is not the case for the rest of the world.
Everywhere I look in Haiti I see how important animals are in Haitian’s lives; mules (milèt in Creole) help many farmers in rural areas like Morne Michel and Bois Jolie transport cargo across rough terrain; dogs guard family compounds; and chickens, turkeys, cows, goats, and pigs provide people with nutrition, manure, and capital. However, it seems that regardless of how important these animals’ roles are, Haitians do not treat them the same way I (and many other Americans) do.
For example, mules will often pause for a mouthful of vegetation while hauling a load and their owners will respond swiftly with either a jerk of the lead-rope or a smack to the rear with a stick. Or when dogs misbehave, even their owners will shout and throw rocks at them.
I probably sound contemptuous, but I don’t mean to. This is just what I see happening. In fact I believe that Haitians understand even better than I how important these animals are and that comes with a respect all its own. In the United States we can treat our animal partners as friends because they aren’t also our tools. But Haitians can’t afford to be friendly with their animals if they aren’t fulfilling their primary purpose as a utility.
Human lives around the world have been, and always will be, directly connected to the lives of the animals around them. How different cultures approach relationships with animals speaks volumes and what I’ve witnessed in my time here has not only helped me understand Haiti better, but also made me reflect on the culture I come from.