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 both by human society— place in a voodoo ritual, ease of marketing— and by constraints of the land— the need to forage and browse in wasteland scrub.