Haitian Bean Circuits: Cropping and Trading Maneuvers among a Cash-Oriented Peasantry

For several decades anthropologists working in the Caribbean have been explicitly aware of the need to look beyond the confines of the communities which they study, to take into consideration major national and supranational forces which have shaped and influenced local life (e.g. Smith 1956: chap. 8; Steward 1956:6-7; Padilla 1960:22; Manners 1960:80-82). But at first glance, the situation of the people of rural Haiti appears to be somewhat exceptional in this regard. Analysts of rural Haitian society appear to be more impressed by the isolation of the peasant’s life than by his involvement with events and people outside his community.
This paper is in part an argument against the incautious use of the word “isolated” to describe the situation of the Haitian peasant During the twenty-one months we spent in a hamlet of the Cul- de-Sac Plain in the Western Department of Haiti, our initial feelings of radical isolation from external events gave way to an increasing awareness of how deeply certain crucial features of the behaviour of the villagers were in fact shaped by (and had consequences for) the behaviour of people outside the community. Though the interventions of foreign economic agents, or even of national institutions such as schools or health services, are measurably weaker in rural Haiti than, for example, in any other island society of the Greater Antilles, the Haitian peasant cannot be said to live in self-contained communities. The residents of the village where we did our fieldwork were brought into significant contact with people outside their community-with people even in distant parts of Haiti-through the energetic operation on a national scale of what is generally referred to as the “internal market system” (Mintz 1959 and 1960a). Though Haiti as a national polity has been-and to some degree still is-relatively isolated from external involvements, the different regions within Haiti itself are linked to each other by active trade networks. The agricultural activities of our male informants were largely oriented toward various trade outlets, and most village women earned a substantially independent livelihood through their activities as professional intermediaries in the internal market system. Thus, despite its relative physical isolation, our community was not isolated in any important functional sense, and critical aspects of peasant activity and peasant concerns could be comprehended only by reference to this supracommunity market system.