Tap Tap Culture
Another lost Haiti blog post…
Public transportation in Haiti reminds me of public transportation in Sub-Saharan Africa, with one awesome exception: Haiti has tap taps.
Tap taps are the ubiquitous form of shared truck taxis that take people anywhere and everywhere in Haiti, for a small price. The name comes from the practice of tapping one’s knuckles or the coin that you are going to pay your fare with against the metal roof or sides of the vehicle to signal the driver that you want him to stop. This is not unlike most bush taxis in Africa, but these Haitian taxis are painted over every square inch with outrageous scenery and even have custom shaped windows and strange appendages. Nairobi matatus are the closest equivalent I’ve seen in Africa to Haitian tap taps, but matatus go in for serious sound systems while tap taps are mainly about the artwork. It is not unusual to see a tap tap with Jesus, a European soccer star, a rapper, and the driver’s mother, all on the same bus, along with strangely entendre laden slogans like “toute doucement” ["everything softly"].
Tap tap owners and drivers seem to be competing to have the most wildly decorated tap tap, and supposedly potential passengers are more likely to choose the tap tap they ride in based on which one is better decorated. While I was in Haiti, I observed that in Port-au-Prince certain celebrities were more frequently chosen than others to grace the sides of city tap taps. Miami rapper Rick Ross was very popular, as was Snoop Dogg. Brazilian soccer stars Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were also popular choices. Jesus, often holding a sheep in an awkward pose, was the most popular figure of all, though bikini clad women ran a close second and I once saw an awesome tap tap featuring the character Legolas from Lord of The Rings.
Click here for a great video on Haitian tap tap culture.
I wish I had taken more/better photos, but most of the time I was in a moving armored car with inch thick glass and the windows rolled up [ridiculous and unnecessary]. Not exactly ideal picture taking conditions, but in any case, here are a few of my “transportation” pictures from Haiti…