The Haitian Trader’s Lexicon

Millions of Haitian women are overcoming their lack of access to education, jobs and infrastructure by buying and selling products for a living. While their sales titles and functions vary — from madam sara to komesan and marchande — the Madam Sara project embraces them all. Over generations, Haitian women have developed an exquisitely tuned market system that includes methods of credit, distribution and pricing. Here are just a few of their terms:

Ti machann – Little seller

Pepe – Used clothes

Triye pepe – To sort or arrange mixed clothes

Pepe a che – The clothes are expensive

Pafwa pepe a difisil pouw gwenn li – Sometimes it’s difficult to find the clothes

Machin pepe – Clothes truck

Depot – storage facility

Zaza – Reject clothes

Revende – Reseller; sell back

Jacmel-based anthropologist Timothy Schwartz collected these terms:

Kitivote – rural producer

Marchann kinkay – ambulatory merchant

Marchann chita – roadside or market merchant

Komesan – distributor of imported goods

Ti madam sara and Gwo madam sara (southeast region) – Little and big sellers, distinguished by their working capital. Little sellers buy locally and use foot or animal transport to sell or resell their goods. Big sellers use trucks and offer credit.

From Dr. Sidney Mintz’s defining study of Haitian economic relationships:

Pratik – “It means that you are selling. I come to buy from you each day. I need credit; you sell to me (on credit); the money is ‘content’ that you sell to me. I always buy from your hand; I pay you well. That’s what pratik is.”

Bénéfis – profit

Mâmâlajâ – capital (from lajâ, the word for money)

Komè – a kind of ritual relative or godparent

From Madam Gerard, a madam sara in Ka-Blain:

Eskont – a loan from an individual, usually at high interest.

From Norluck Dorange, journalist and vodun scholar:

Sol – A rotating form of credit where members of a group deposit equal amounts of money into a fund. One by one, each member uses the money and replaces it for the next person, until all have had a turn.

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