I was born in the Republic of Haiti; meaning “land of the mountains”. Due to the countries’ turbulent and mysterious past, I’ve always been fascinated by its history its African roots. Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. According to india.com, around Ninety-five percent of the populations are of African descent, while Multi-racial, Arabs, and Europeans make up the rest of the 5 percent. French and Creole are the two official languages.
In January 1804 Haiti gained their independence; after a successful slave revolt initiated against the French. Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. Haiti became the first black independent nation. Haiti is the second oldest nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the United State; however, the U.S did not recognize Haiti as an independent nation until 1862; though freed in 1804. Political turmoil, economic despair, and poor leadership have plagued the country for over two centuries.
In the eighteenth century, Haiti was the richest country in the Western Hemisphere. Today it is the poorest in the West. Haiti seems to be isolated from the world due to the fact that it the first black independent nation, religion of Voodoo, and leaders have failed to deal with the many problems the Nation face.
The first recorded history of Haiti began in 1492 when the European navigator Christopher Columbus landed on the island. The island inhabited by Taino (Indians), who called the island Ayiti (I-E-T).
Columbus quickly claimed the island and renamed it La Isla Espanola (the Spanish island). Spain retained the Eastern side of the island (Dominican Republic), while the western part of the island ceded to France.
Over the next century, to run the plantations the French would import Hundreds of Thousands of slaves from Africa. Many of these slaves worked so hard that they died within three years of their arrival.
Beginning in 1791, Haitian leaders, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe began a slave revolt to Haiti’s independence in 1804. The Haitian slaves ousted out Napoleon and military. By 1804 the island became the first black independent nation. After the death of L’Ouverture, another leader of the revolt, Dessalines declared himself Haiti’s first emperor. People believed, with power comes abuse, which led to his assassination.
L’Ouverture was one of the most successful black commanders; a former domestic slave. But, unlike L’Ouverture, Dessalines showed no mercy to the Europeans and the French.
He issued a proclamation declaring, “We have repaid these cannibals, war for war, a crime for crime, and outrage for outrage”. One exception was the Polish military force (part of Napoleon force). Some of the poles refused to fight against blacks due to their belief in “liberty for all.” There were a few who actually joined the Haitian rebels. The remaining Poles were giving permission to leave Haiti and sent to France at Haiti’s expense. Today, the descendants of the Poles who stayed live in Fond Des Blancs, Haiti.
The Haitian revolution influenced slaves to rebel in the United States and British colonies like Trinidad, Tobago, and the Bahamas. The U.S, France, and Europe isolated Haiti, and the social conflict due to the rebellion affected the country in many ways for years to come.
According to Haitian writer, Micheal J. Dash, the U.S government feared that the revolt would inspire similar rebel in States, which resulted in a growing conservatism in United States political culture.
Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Haiti, but voodoo considered the national religion; often practiced along with Christianity. It has strong African roots, as well as strong French roots due to the French and European colonization of Haiti. Haiti has many similarities to the rest of Latin America; it is a predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Outsiders call the Voodoo religion “black magic”. Misconceptions of voodoo have giving Haiti a reputation for sorcery and zombies. Catholics and Protestants, in general, believe in “Lwa” (family or ancestors spirits), but Baptist and most outsiders consider them demons to be avoided and not family spirits to be served (Schwartz).
People believe that the Lwa protect their children from misfortune. The Lwa’s in return expect the families to “feed” the Lwa through periodic rituals in which food, drink, and other gifts offered to the spirits. Services are usually held at a sanctuary on the family land.
There are many Lwa in Voodoo; the rada and the Petro. The rada spirits are mostly are mostly seen as “sweet” Lwa, while the Petro spirits are seen as “bitter” because they are more demanding of their children. Rada spirits are traced to African origins, while the Petro spirits seem to be of Haitian origin. Lwa (Loua) seem to families members in dreams and even more dramatically, through trances. Lwa’s usually have distinct identities; they have traits that range from good, evil or demanding. They show displeasure by making people sick. To diagnose and treat the illnesses voodoo is often used.
Theology does not dismiss the ancestral worship; the worship of ancestors and Gods are two different cults. Many accomplished herbalists are voodoo priest who treats a variety of illnesses. The male specialists are called houngan or Boko and females mambo.
Funerals are important social events in the country, involving several days of feasting and the consumption of rum. It’s sad, but I sometimes look forward to funerals and weddings because families travel from far away to sleep at the house and friends and neighbors congregate in the yard, while the men play dominoes and women cook. Burial monuments are often costly and elaborate.
Haiti has had some great leaders in the past, but not too many were able to rule and govern the island. For over two centuries, political corruption, turmoil, and despair have plagued the country. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (survey), Haiti was ranked as one of the most corrupt nations.
From 1804-1915, More than 70 dictators ruled Haiti. Haiti’s revolt victory did not translate into a successful national government or a strong economy. With prolong instability the Haitian military force weakened.
The country has seen decades of dictatorship, violence, and environmental degradation has left it poorest in the West Indies. A mostly mountainous country, Haiti attracted a lot of foreign interest and achieved notoriety during the brutal dictatorships of voodoo physician (priest) Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby-Doc” Duvalier; Thousands of Haitian citizens were killed under their 29-year rule.
In the 1990 election, Haitians hoped that former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide would be better than previous leaders when he won Haiti’s first free election; Aristide was overturned by the military a short time later (bbcnews.com). A bloody rebellion and advice from France and the United States, force Aristide out of the country in 2004. Since then, Aristide has been living in Africa.
Haiti has a very poor healthcare system. The island is vulnerable to a lot of natural disasters such as hurricanes, rain season usually brings flooding. before it’s recovery from one disaster. Another one usually follows.
Haiti also has a public health care crisis. According to Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) meaning Doctors without Borders. The organization states that public hospitals and clinics are plagued management problems and shortages of medications. Thousands of young children die of preventable diseases, and the woman dies sadly during childbirth because they live too far away from medical help.
Cholera, respiratory infections, malaria, and HIV/AIDS are the most common cause of death.
In the early 1980’s, the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention traced a number the first Aids cases in the U.S to Haitian immigrants.
This led to alot of tension in the Haitian community because they began to feel like they were not welcomed. People stared, there were jokes, especially in the public schools in Florida. The children were teased, which led to gang violence between Haitians, African-Americans, Jamaicans, and Hispanics.
Even before the 2010 earthquake, between 5,000 and 10,000 Haitian children were already homeless. Many resorts to begging or prostitution to survive. Most rivers in Haiti are polluted with waste. Most diseases are transmitted by contaminated food and water.
Rape in Haiti is also a big problem, as it is often used as a political weapon. For example, after the 2010 earthquake, some men that were part of the food distribution team would demand sexual favors from these desperate women that wanted to feed their children and families.
Haiti has about 14 airports; only four has paved runways. Experts claim that it will take decades for Haiti to recover from the January 2010 earthquake.
Throughout the mid and late twentieth century’s, Haiti experienced a” brain drain” as educated professionals and business owners left the nation to escape brutal dictators. This weakened the country because it was left with fewer and fewer skilled workers to run businesses, health centers, government offices, and schools.
Today the Chief of State is President Michael Joseph Martelly, a former entertainer. Conservative Haitians weren’t sure about him at first but he seems to have good intentions.
Today, Haiti is still struggling with poverty and instability. Elections have failed to produce leadership that can deal with the many problems of a country the size of Maryland. The future of Haiti depends on better leadership, better education system, and access to basic health care for all its citizens.
Haitianite.com. Duffy Boukman – Samba Boukman, 2 December 2006. Web. 3 June 2011.
The World Factbook. Central America and the Caribbean, 26 May 2011. Web 3, June 2011.
BBC News. By Henri Astier. 21 February 2010. Web. 5 June 2011.
Traveling Haiti.com. Celebrating the Beauty of Haiti and Haitian Culture. 2011. Web. 05 June 2011.
Randomehistory.com Little Known Facts about Haiti. Web. 05 June 2011
- The Misconceptions of Voodoo (merlozemedia.wordpress.com)
- Haiti’s President Michel Martelly’s Visit to Cuba Ended Today (repeatingislands.com)