May 13, 2016 · 5:00 PM EDT
Haitians dance under a sacred ceibo tree in a voodoo ritual on the third day of the annual gathering in the Souvenance community. Descendants of the people of Dahomey, a former kingdom in what is now present-day Benin, show their devotion to their ancestors and various spirits, The third day of ceremonies represents their journey back to Africa. Picture taken April 1, 2013.
The African Union has 54 member states. Actually, make that 55: Next month, Haiti will officially become a member.
Yep, Haiti — in the Caribbean — will become part of Africa. It will be the first non-African country to join the AU bloc.
Culturally, though, a lot of people feel like the two are already joined.
“Haiti always calls itself … a little piece of Africa in the Caribbean, so I think it’s only fitting that now they made it official,” said Garry Pierre-Pierre, publisher of the Brooklyn-based Haitian Times.
“We share so much of the African culture from religious practices to the way we interact,” said Pierre-Pierre. “When I lived [in West Africa], it reminded me so much of Haiti, it was uncanny.”
The primary benefit for Haiti in joining the AU will be the economic ties.
“Haiti wants to develop a lot of industries, tourism one of them,” said Pierre-Pierre, a former New York Times reporter. “I think there are a lot of opportunities for commerce, for raw materials that are plentiful in Africa.”
It works both ways.
“As Africa develops industries it will be looking for markets, and Haiti will be one of them,” said Pierre-Pierre.
Beyond the economic ties that bind, joining the AU is for most Haitians a symbolic step — the union has been discussed for several years. Pierre-Pierre thinks that in 20 years, Haitians will look back on the decision and say, “What a brilliant move this was. What took it so long?”