Dec 27, 2013

Jacmel, Haiti's Handicraft Capital

The three-hour ride from Port-au-Prince to the southern coastal
town of Jacmel was exciting as we traveled over the mountains. We stayed on the edge of Jacmel at the hillside Le Colline Enchantee hotel where we had a great cabana with an alfresco shower and our favorite amenities – air conditioning and internet access. The owners, Michele and Michel Gehy were so welcoming and helpful. When I mentioned to Michele that I thought Haitian Banana Fritas were tasty she said, “Let’s go into the kitchen and I will show you how to make them!” Typical Haitian hospitality.

Jacmel is a great beach location but it also supports all the arts. We visited the Cine Institute that is training film makers. We walked in on a class teaching English to the students and chatted a bit.  We also stopped at a music school where some of the students had played at the White House.  In fact our guide, Michaele, had been invited to the White House twice!

We were fortunate to see a show highlighting their traditional
dances.  It was a riot of color and movement.  One of the dances had the handsome gentleman dancer pantomiming asking the pretty young ladies to dance.  They all refused!  There must have been more to that traditional story and dance.  We also saw some of the animal costumes that are popular during Carnival.  Their carnival is very family-friendly. 

Jacmel was hit hard in the 2010 earthquake but the outlook is “Let’s move forward.”  A program to encourage art with youngsters has led to beautiful mosaics though out the city. They not only add color but also celebrate Haitian culture. Haiti is a poor country by most standards but the artwork they have created from basically nothing is absolutely incredible.  There are many handicraft shops in the area. We visited Les Creations Moro, where Moro is as
colorful as his creations. Moro explained that many of his unique artworks are made from discarded cardboard.  He makes a variety of masks that are popular during Jacmel’s carnival in February and donned one of his zebra masks. His works are in so much demand that he has workers who help him but he creates everything personally. Nearby was Charlotte’s Handicraft Shop where the unique creations are made from calabash and palm fronds. 

I would love to return to Jacmel in a couple years because Moro told us that the some of the city streets are scheduled to be closed off and completely restored to their colonial grandeur. Jacmel played a part in the South American independence movement. Simon Bolivar, the South American “George Washington” was hosted by the people of Jacmel. It is where he organized his army and the people of Jacmel like to say, “Jacmel is where the Columbian and Venezuelan flag was designed.”  Colombia and Venezuela are investing millions in the restoration of the historic center of the city.  Even now many of the
buildings have been beautifully restored. Many of the buildings are brightly painted with wide balconies with filigree railings. They people of Jacmel are quick to point out that the area was the first town in the Caribbean to have telephones, electric lights and potable water.  At one time it was a bustling port.  One of the things I didn’t get to see – another reason to return – was the Bassins Bleu, three bright blue pools connected by waterfalls.  The pictures I saw were spectacular.