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Study: Majority of Haitian migrants in the Bahamas are Protestant

By Natalia Bonilla

San Juan, Nov 20 (EFE).- Protestantism has become the majority religion for Haitian immigrants in the Bahamas, where they make up 16 percent of the population, according to a forthcoming book by U.S. anthropologist Bertin Louis.

“My Soul is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas,” due to be launched Nov. 28, explores the link between the Haitian Protestants’ faith and how they re-imagine Haiti.

“To be a good Christian is to be a good Haitian citizen as well, and that’s where the political critique comes from,” Louis said.

For this study, the expert visited the Bahamas in 2005 and 2012 to collect data and conduct 53 in-depth interviews with Haitian Protestants.

Louis, interim vice chair of the University of Tennessee’s Africana Studies program, said Haitian immigrants in the Bahamas are usually Protestants before reaching the archipelago, where Protestantism is one of the main religions.

“They have a certain type of appearance that was developed in Haiti. They take that fashion sense into the Bahamas, the way they appear and the way they behave, as a way to kind of reflect what a proper Christian should be,” Louis said.

On New Providence island, Louis noted an increase in the number of Protestant churches with Haitian pastors from 20 in 2005 to 42 in 2012.

Factors such as migrants. population growth and “social marginalization in the Bahamian society” could have contributed to the change, he said.

Under a new immigration law that took effect Nov. 1, the Bahamian government will not accept applications for work permits from persons residing illegally in the country and legal immigrants must carry their passports at all times.

Some 50,000 Haitians were living in Nassau, the Bahamian capital, in 2013, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Although precise official data is lacking, the vast majority of immigrants in the Bahamas are known to be Haitian, a population whose homeland is the poorest country in the Americas.

Louis, who is of Haitian descent, said the rise of Protestantism in Haiti began during the 1957-1971 dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

“He was inviting Protestant missionaries to take (over) the services that the government should have provided to the people, such as giving food, schooling folks and giving clothes,” the professor said.

More than a third of Haiti’s population is Protestant and the proportion could go as high as 45 percent, he said.

“Imagine if 50 or 51 percent of Haiti becomes Protestant. If it does, that would become a big turning point in the history of the country and what it means to be Haitian,” Louis said.

“Hopefully this book will help make them (Haitian Protestants) visible and make people stop ignoring that part of Haitian identity in the Bahamas,” the author said.