The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > March 2010 > Preserving Haitian Culture
Preserving Haitian Culture

In 1936, Alan Lomax, assistant-in-charge of the Library’s Archive of Folk Song (then in the Music Division, now the American Folklife Center Archive), arrived in Haiti with 155 pounds of equipment, including a disc recorder and aluminum blanks. Over the course of his four-month stay. Lomax, together with his wife Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold and his assistant Révolie Polinice, recorded street cries, old French ballads, early forms of merengue, large percussion bands and voodoo ceremonies, among many other sounds. In all, Lomax returned with about 50 hours of recorded sound and six moving pictures, which were at the time the most extensive documentation of Haitian traditional culture ever undertaken. This remarkable collection became part of the Library’s folk archive and is now accessible to researchers in the American Folklife Center.

“With only the gods” by Margo Humphrey. SUMMARY: Haitian children in a boat with figures of gods from Haitian mythology on the bow and stern on a storm-tossed sea. 1994. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-ppmsca-02369 (digital file from original); Call No.: Unprocessed in PR 13 CN 2006:006 no. 853 (D size) [P&P] Alan Lomax in the Caribbean. 1962. American Folklife Center. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

The story of the Haitian materials does not end with their arrival at the Library, however. Seventy years later, with the help of the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), an organization founded by Lomax as a center for the exploration and preservation of the world's expressive traditions, and the Magic Shop recording studio in New York, the Library’s American Folklife Center and its Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division recording lab performed extensive preservation work on the Haitian recordings. The entire collection was then mastered using state-of-the-art tools in the summer of 2009.

In the words of Anna Lomax Wood, “Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress recognized African-American culture as a diaspora of powerful affiliations and exchanges extending beyond the boundaries of the United States, to and from Africa. We thus respectfully offer this work as an homage to the artistry, spirituality and courage of greater Africa, as represented by the Haitian people.”

With the Library’s consent, ACE has plans to repatriate the entire collection to Haiti, completely restored and remastered. There, they hope to work with local people and institutions to ensure that it is used and disseminated.

The folklife center’s Traditional Music and Spoken Word Catalog includes information on the seminal field recordings associated with Lomax, including his Haiti field collection, as well as treasures by other notable collectors including Herbert Halpert, Zora Neale Hurston, Henrietta Yurchenco, Vance Randolph, and Helen Creighton.

In March 2004, AFC acquired the Alan Lomax Collection, which comprises the unparalleled ethnographic documentation collected by the legendary folklorist over a period of 60 years. The Alan Lomax Collection joins the material Lomax colected during the 1930s and early 1940s for the Library's Archive of American Folk Song, and its acquisition brings the entire 70 years of Lomax's work together under one roof at the Library.