A couple of months ago my brother proposed to his girlfriend of five or six years (they couldn’t decide) and she said yes! I admit I’m excited for him and his new fiancée. This changes our relationship a bit as he is now privy to certain conversations. Now, in case you didn’t know, my family is Haitian. I mean really Haitian. My kids were eating rice and beans before they had teeth. What does being Haitian have to do with getting married? Glad you asked. The simple answer is we do things differently, especially when it comes to weddings.
Seven years ago, when my wife and I decided to get married, we learned that within the Haitian culture there are some unspoken rules about getting married. In my mind (which can be a scary place at times), I thought I’d just propose, she would say yes, and we’d live happily ever after. As it turns out, it’s not that easy. The worst part is it seems like there are those who know, but choose to keep you in the dark as a rite of passage. It is both weird and special at the same time. My wife and I went through it and as frustrating as it can be, we don’t regret a moment of it. Now it’s my brother’s turn and being the loving and concerned big brother that I am, I will not rob my brother of that awesome experience. Rather, I’m going to document his experience and share it with you. For his sake, I hope he was taking notes.
My brother’s name is Coles. He’s a bit of a handful, and yes he was a cute baby (He looks nothing like that today). He’s a graduate of McDaniel College and holds a Masters’ in Gerontology and an MBA. Currently he works for CMS. You might remember him from a guest post a while back. Click here to read it. He currently lives in Maryland with his now fiancé, Rose. They don’t live together. In the Haitian culture living together before marriage is super taboo. We call it “placage” or “placé”. So when his girlfriend decided to move to Maryland for school, naturally it raised some eyebrows. We’ll get to that in another post.
His fiancée’s name is Rose. Ironically enough, my mother’s name is also Rose, and so is my sister, my aunt, my mother-in-law, and…you get the point. The name Rose, with all its variations, is very popular. I like Rose. She’s cool people. I think she does a good job of balancing out my brother. She has also figured out a way love my brother in spite of well, being himself. That’s huge. Presently, she works as a Human Resources Representative and is completing her studies in Public Administration with a concentration in Human Resource Organization.
When Haitian parents have children who are dating, my experience has been that they are either heavily involved or completely disconnected. In the Haitian culture, children are seen as an extension and reflection of their parents. As a result, their choices matter a lot. This is never more true than when it comes to choosing a husband or wife.
So in the case of my brother, everyone knew they were dating. However, it was not openly recognized until the “meeting of the families” (which is done to protect the parents in case the children “slip up”). You have to be careful about this meeting because it is generally interpreted as a formal proposition of marriage. It is the man’s responsibility to bring his family or representatives to the family of his girlfriend and make it official. Once this meeting happens, it is only a matter of when is the wedding, not a question of if there will be a wedding. In Haiti, this is done fairly early in the relationship. However, in America, we get away with waiting a little while longer.
So after five or six years (depending who you ask), this meeting finally took place. My brother, not being your typical Haitian thought he could just take my mother with him to this meeting. No way. In attendance were my brother, my mother, my sister, my aunt and 2nd cousin (you know how we do), and yours truly. On Rose’s side, were her mother and father. The funniest aspect of this meeting is that upon arrival, Rose’s parents know full well the reason for our visit, but don’t you dare come out and say lest you be banished from the village. We must go through the pleasantries and pretend we don’t know anything until “the moment”. Talk about suspense builder.
CAUTION: Do not facilitate this meeting if you do not plan to marry the young lady. In which case there is the question: “Sa wap fe la?” or “Why are you dating then?” There are serious consequences for the individual (usually male) and his family for not following through.
The meeting of the families is of such importance that it must precede all plans for marriage. You can go ahead and propose to your girlfriend all you want, but if you have not had this meeting yet, she might as well say “no” because it is not happening. In the case of my wife and me, we ended up having two meetings (that’s how ignorant we were about this stuff). The meeting itself ranges from being a small and intimate gathering, like the one for my brother, to a feast and party with music and dancing; almost like a pre-wedding reception.
A Haitian Wedding
So these two families are in full swing planning a December wedding. The future bride and groom live in Maryland and the wedding will be in South Florida. This means the families are heavily involved in the planning (not that it would have made a difference otherwise). We have to decide on venue, caterer, Haitian cake vs. American, and who makes the best kremas (it’s not a party without it…trust me).
As we progress with the plans, I will be writing periodic updates and sharing more of my culture around weddings and marriages with you. This will continue all the way up to the big day. If you have any interesting wedding/marriage rituals within you family or culture, let me know. I’m interested in seeing where different cultures and families intersect. Who knows, you might be more Haitian than you realize.
The Haitian Therapist