History of Haiti, a quick look

The history of Haiti is colourful and interesting.

Haiti shares an island with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Ocean.

Haiti consists of the western side of the island while the Dominican Republic lies on the east side.

Tropical lowlands make up the western coast of the country which give up to mountainous terrain on the eastern borders.

Port-au-Prince is Haiti's capital city. French-designed architecture is prominent on the houses and buildings in Haiti's cities.

Fancy Iron-laced balconies, such as in Paris and New Orleans are a regular sight in Port-Au-Prince and Petionville.

And, as in Paris, plazas and parks are sprinkled here and there.

French foods as well as Caribbean foods are enjoyed in this French-flavored land and the language of French is spoken freely, the educated and wealthier people speaking French, farmers and the poorer class speaking Creole, a French-influenced native dialect.

Of the seven million Haitian inhabitants, most of them are musical, artistic, passionate and humorous.

Most are farmers who work their fields with primitive tools.

Most live without running water or electricity. Clean water must be bought and is expensive.

Eighty percent are Roman Catholic but about half the population practices Vodou (Voodoo). Sugar cane is the chief export.

Haiti's monetary unit is the gourde.

Sadly, the forests and jungles have been ravaged and the average Haitian lives in poverty.

Two hundred thousand live in rickety shanties in the swampland outside Port-Au-Prince.

Because of recent civil strife, tourism is not profitable.

First called the island of Hispaniola, Spain changed the name to Santo Domingo but today the western part of the island is known officially as the Republic of Haiti.

Approximately 2600 B.C., settlers from South American areas arrived by handmade boats in the land we now call Haiti.

Around 250 B.C., South Americans known as the Arawaks are thought to have settled there, but records of their period in history of Haiti are sparse.

About 2000 years ago, immigrants (the Taino, or friendly people) from Venezeula occupied Haiti for hundreds of years.

Christopher Columbus, expecting to find gold on the island, stepped on Haiti's beaches in 1492.

Gold was discovered and visits to work the mines made Haiti well known to Spain.

The Tainos died out quickly but not before leaving some words we use today (tobacco, barbecue, canoe and hammock, for example).

When gold ore was depleted, and the Taino were gone, the Spanish brought in African slaves to work in the Spaniards' newly developed sugar cane fields.

Spain allowed French traders to come in to the country but deceitfully sent them to isolated areas where they could make no profit or progress.

In the 17th century, French pirates attacked Spanish ships as they sailed through the Caribbean seas and Haiti came into France's possession.

A compromise was reached and France obtained one third of the western region of Hispanolia.

Spain drew a division line, allowing the French occupancy in the region which the French called Saint-Dominique.

This land soon became the richest colony in the world and it was a prosperous period in the history of Haiti.

Cap Francai, the capital, was nicknamed "The Paris of the New World".

Most of the population on the island was made up of slaves.

The French were cruel and abusive with the slaves, punishing them unfairly, torturing and even slaughtering them.

Slaves were baptized as Roman Catholic and were branded according to their masters.

By 1743 five hundred thousand slaves had been brought in from Africa and subjected to seventy thousand owners.

In 1791 the first black rebellion took place with many massacres to follow.

Napoleon Bonaparte sent his army to subdue the uprisings in 1801 but was not successful.

The following year saw thousands more African slaves imported into the country.

In 1803, black rebel Jean-Jacques Dessalines ripped the white from the French flag, declaring that he would see to it that the white man be banished from his country.

In 1820 Henry Christophe proclaimed himself king, building an enormous palace for himself out of Haitians' money and lives.

Fights broke out for the next several months until Haiti bought its independence from France at the cost of 150 million French francs, making it the first black-led republic in the South American hemisphere.

The republic lasted only temporarily until Dessalines crowned himself as emeror of Haiti, dictating and controlling, killing any white person that came into his view.

Europe, in order to squash Dessalines movements, isolated the country, freezing imports and exports and placing the country in an economic stand still.

Dessalines was finally captured and ultimately executed.

The country subsequently went into a long period of civil unrest.

Racial problems are prevalent.

Although 95 percent of the population was black and predominately poor,the 5 percent, educated and more financially secure, was mulatto (with Caucasion blood). Great racial division was practiced.

Between 1849 and 1915 (66 years) twenty one of the twenty-two heads of state were either murdered or forced into exile.

Only one finished a complete term in office.

In 1915, after the latest president was dismembered, the United States (with important dealings in the Panama Canal) moved in on Haiti, seizing gold deposits, disarming its military and redesigning its constitution.

The United States built hospitals, schools, improved the water works and electricity, and built better roads.

Most of the labor was manned by prisoners.

The Haitians rebelled against the U.S. but to no avail.

They turned to their Vodou religion and their ancient African philosophies and chose to follow a popular rebel, Dr. Francois Duvalier ("Papa Doc").

The Americans left Haiti in 1934, leaving the country in the beginnings of prosperity. However, the country was in economic shambles again within a few years.

Civil unrest went amok between mulattos and the blacks and twenty thousand Haitians lost their lives in the midst of it.

In 1956 "Papa Doc" became president of the country. The mulattos rebelled at the election and Duvalier's troops worked day and night at muscling them into submission.

To keep the people under his control with fear, Duvalier named his militia "The Tontons Macoutes" (or "uncle bogeyman").

He revised the constitution to allow him to be president for life and for his son to inherit the presidency upon his death.

After his death, Duvalier's son, Jean Claude ("Baby Doc") did become president.

The country fell into severe economic crisis of the entire world, which so remains to this day.

He, sensing political upheaval, eventually fled to France. Dictator "Baby Doc" eventually was forced into exile to the satisfaction of the poverty-stricken people.

In the early 70s the United States pointed to Haiti as one of the highest risk areas for the AIDS virus.

This revelation brought tourism, which had already been floudering, in Haiti to its knees.

After a few more corruptive power struggles, a young black priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in a landslide of votes.

Escaping assassination attempts and fellow- Haitians being killed by coups, Aristide survived but stepped down from office.

Thousands of Haitians, fearful of the violence at home, escaped in boats to the United States.

More political unrest carried on, with rebellious political groups springing up from all sides.

It took the United Nations peacemakers to calm the torrents.

In 1998, as if there wasn't enough chaos, Hurricane Georges dealt a mighty blow to the land.

After more political scuffles, Aristide, with the aid of the United States military, again became president of Haiti and remains president today, although political tides of unrest still pound against his administration.

More about Haiti
All about Haiti | Learn French in Haiti | History of Haiti | Map of Haiti
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