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Harold Courlander Haitian Collections

Harold Courlander (1908-1996) was an anthropologist, folklorist, and novelist who was best known as an expert on Haitian culture. Starting with his first trip in the mid 1932, he made more than twenty trips to Haiti and produced numerous books and articles on the subject of Haitian music and oral literature. He published his first book on the subject, Haiti Singing, in 1939, but his most important publication was The Drum and the Hoe: Life and Lore of the Haitian People in 1960. He also did fieldwork in the southern and southwestern United States, publishing important works on African American and Hopi music and oral culture. He collaborated with his close friend, George Herzog, on the book The Cow-Tail Switch and Other West African Stories published in 1947, the year before Herzog founded the Archive of Folk and Primitive Music at Indiana University. Some of Courlander's field recordings were released through Folkways and Ethnic Folkways Records. Like the work of his contemporaries Melville Herskovits and Lorenzo Dow Turner, Courlander's work in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States outlined the dimensions of the African diaspora. The Archives of Traditional Music holds twelve collections of Courlander's recordings from various research trips throughout his career, including four from his research in Haiti.

Collection title: Haiti, 1939-1940
Accession number:
54-067-F

This collection represents the earliest recordings Courlander made in Haiti. The 111 aluminum disc recordings in this collection are copies of the original lacquer discs which do not seem to have survived. The recordings document a wide variety of Haitian genres and styles including Vodoun songs, Juba dance songs, Carnival songs, Ibo dance songs, Children's game songs, Vaccines (bamboo trumpets), "Political" songs, Meringues, Haitian dance orchestra, and Marimba music, to name just a few. The collection includes song texts in Haitian Creole with English translations. Some of these songs appear transcribed in his books The Drum and the Hoe (1980) and appeared on the Folkways recording Folk Songs of Haiti. This collection has the distinction of being the first ATM collection for which listening copies were made for the public.

Sample 1: Rara dance music. Three bamboo trumpets. c. 1939. Haiti. The musicians play their hocketing parts independently first, and then play the interlocking music together as it is intended (12-5146 B).




Collection title: United States, New York, Haitians, 1940-1941, Harold Courlander
Accession number:
84-1434-F

This is the oldest significant audio collection of Haitian Creole stories, recorded by Harold Courlander in New York City in 1940 and 1941. Courlander incorporated some of this material into his print publications, including the popular Uncle Bouqui of Haiti, and although selections were issued as recited in English by a professional storyteller on the 1956 Folkways LP of that same name, the original recordings in Haitian Creole have never been disseminated. The original recordings were made on 12" lacquer discs, a format that is at high risk for delamination.

Collection title: Haiti, ca. 1950-1954
Accession number:
84-1435-F

This collection of 18 open reel tapes are copies of original lacquer disc recordings that are presumed lost. The collection documents work songs, meringues, popular music, street singers,piano music, proverbs, folk tales, and numerous interviews discussing topics such as loa, Bain de Noël, wakes, musical instruments, the mangé mort feast, the mangé yam festival, and Rara.

Collection title: Haiti, 1975, 1979, 1983
Accession number:
84-1436-F

This small collection of audio cassettes documents discussions of vodoun, dance music (Rada and Petro), cult songs (mostly Rada), Legba, Ibo Combo (popular ensemble), and Rada ceremonial songs.