The Lakou System: A Cultural, Ecological Analysis of Mothering in Rural Haiti

Fam se poto mitan” (women are the center post) is a well-known Haitian proverb that highlights the central role women play not only in Haitian commerce, but also within Haitian families. In Haiti, 70% of rural households are headed by women, despite a history of embedded male dominance. Against the backdrop of ongoing poverty, sociopolitical crisis, and gender discrimination and oppression, Haitian women have been the stabilizing centers to uphold unique African traditions of womanhood and multiple mothering within a distinctive African space known as the lakou. Since the 19th century (1804), the lakou, referring to family members and the cluster of houses in which Haitian families reside, has been the principal family form. Initially, the members of a lakou worked cooperatively and provided for each other through financial and other forms of support (LaRose 482). Moreover, the original lakou was based on the African reality that raising children was too great a responsibility for only one or two people to bear, and that it was healthier for children— and mothers— to have contact with a wide circle of people and share parenting responsibilities (Ambert 530). Therefore, within this location or bounded space, where children have multiple caregivers, Haitian mothers were able to carry out their traditional functions according to the healthy, successful parenting models of Haitian communities.

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