Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

William V. Davidson


Geographers are challenged to explain "the why of where." This study grapples with "whys" of peasant subsistence in contemporary rural Haiti. Cultural ecology, one of the fundamental themes in cultural geography, examines the interplay between cultural traditions and the realities of subsistence in a given physical environment. Haitian cultural traditions derive from a rich melange of folkways from West Africa, Indian Middle America, and Western Europe. The land is semiarid and hilly in Northwestern Haiti, the poorest, driest, and most sparsely settled of Haiti's provinces. Crops and livestock betray traditional preferences in foodways, and reveal much about the constraints of the land. This study examines crops such as the roots and tubers that come from various culture realms but that particularly emphasize Haiti's African heritage. The predominant species of livestock, goats, chickens and hogs, fill roles required of them by both human society--place in voodoo ritual, ease of marketing--and by constraints of the land--the need to forage and browse in wasteland scrub. While cultural geographers generally focus their attention on material manifestations of culture on the landscape, non-material culture traits are influential upon the local genre de vie, or way of life. Religion and belief systems are commonly accepted subjects of geographical inquiry, yet this study gives more attention to a parallel cultural construct, local political traditions and how they interrelate with and influence rural subsistence strategies. Among the rural folklife elements with strongest political implications are land tenure customs, coffee marketing mechanisms, maize storage methods, and the rationale behind the selection of root crops. These factors are compounded with the troubles of three of Haiti's most important agricultural industries--coffee, sugar cane, and swine. This paper calls attention to the convergence of these impacts upon the Haitian peasant. The ensemble of demands of rural subsistence is summarized with the "basic needs" approach to development. Groundwork is laid for an alternative rural development plan based on economic resources now relatively underexploited. Citrus cultivation is reexamined in the context of international markets. Renewable energy resources are reevaluated in light of changing technology.