QUICK FACTS ABOUT HAITI
Official name: Republic of Haiti (French: Haïti; Haitian Creole: Ayiti), officially the Republic of Haiti (French: République d’Haïti; Haitian Creole: Repiblik d Ayiti)
Form of Government: Republic
Current President: M. Michel Joseph Martelly
Our capital: Port-au-Prince
Our population: 9,035,536
Our official languages: French, Creole
Our currency: Gourde
Area: 10,714 square miles (27,750 square kilometers)
Beyond the mountain is another mountain. — Haitian Proverb
Haiti is a country on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. We occupy the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which we share with the Dominican Republic. We are situated between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. We have two official languages: French and Haitian Creole, or “Kreyol”, which is a simple version of French mixed with native African languages. Our tropical country is west of the Dominican Republic and south of the island of Cuba and quite a short distance from the United States. We are only about 700 miles south off the coast of Miami and an hour and a half away in flight. Our country is 27,750 square km (10,714 square miles) about the size of Maryland or Hawaï to put it in perspective.
Our country is mountainous and inherits its name from our Indian predecessors which in their native language named it Hayti which means “land of the mountains.”
CLIMATE & NATURE
With our tropical climate and trade winds Haiti enjoys warm temperatures for most of the year. Our mountain peaks reach over 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) here, but our coastline is flat and rich in sea life and coconut trees. Royal palm trees, a pride emblem of our national flag, are prevalent here and can reach 60 feet (18.3 meters) tall.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems we face today is deforestation as our forests, throughout the last three decades, have been cut down by the population to make way for farmland and to make firewood.
Haiti produces coffee, rum, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, and sorghum.
HISTORY SUMMED UP
As we are taught in Haitian History, we got discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 when he landed on the island of Hispaniola and Haiti became a Spanish colony. The Spanish killed off most all the native peoples and imported African slaves to work in the colony.
The French took over the colony in the 1600s and increased production in many crops such as coffee, cotton, and sugarcane. Slaves revolted against French rule and we won our independence and became the first African-American republic in the New World in 1804. French rule, however, remains evident in modern Haitian society, particularly in the wide use of the French language, and in the contributions to the country’s cuisine. French cheeses, desserts, and breads are commonly found at local markets and stores.
Dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier ruled the country in 1957 and the deep poverty was hidden behind strong government controls. Many Haitians left the country and took exile in other countries. Duvalier’s government was ousted in 1986.
In 1988 military controlled elections were held, and Leslie Manigat became Haiti’s first elected President since the Duvalier rule. His ousting by the military four months later would be the first in a chain of political upheavals, which led to several coups, US trade embargo from 1991-1994, invasion, elections, interim governments and again elections.
The catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th 2010 had devastating effects on all levels, and left us with up to 217,300 dead and over one million homeless. The presidential elections that were to take place that same month were subsequently postponed, and in April 2011, current President Michel Martelly was elected president and wins a landslide victory.
Haiti has yet to see the era of growth and stability its people deserve.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
The Haitian population is 95% black and 5% white.
The state religion here is Roman Catholicism, which most of the population professes. With the active presence of missionaries throughout the country, some people have converted to Protestantism throughout the years. Much of the population also practices voodoo traditions, which is a mixture of African slave traditions and Catholic beliefs. Many Haitians tend to see no conflict in these African-rooted beliefs co-existing with Christian faiths.
Though Haitians place a high value on education, few can afford to send their children to school, much less to secondary school.
Large-scale emigration – principally to the United States but also to Canada, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and other Caribbean neighbors – has created what Haitians refer to as the Tenth Department or the Diaspora who play an important role in Haiti’s economy – many Haitian families depend on remittances sent by Haitians living abroad to help with medical and educational costs for their families living on the motherland. It is estimated that about one in every six Haitians live abroad.
Carnival, Easter and New Year’s Day are our biggest, most celebrated holidays here, with all their customs and religious traditions, and attract many of the Diaspora for vacationing with family. Haitian parents are strict, but very affectionate.
MUSIC AND TRADITIONS
Our cultural heritage is rich and worth discovering.
Our music combines a wide range of influences drawn from the many people who have settled on our Caribbean island. It reflects French, African rhythms, Spanish elements and others who have inhabited the island. Our various styles of music are well known in various parts of the world.
We have first and foremost our Compa music (aka Kompa), highly popular locally, and also in other countries in the Caribbean, Africa, Cape Verde, Portugal, France, part of Canada, South and North America. Compa is a modern méringue musical genre with European and African roots. Mini-jazz rock bands are a derivative of this genre, and many of the Compa bands nowadays perform internationally.
Rasin music, also highly popular, takes essence from Vodou ceremonial traditions, and has today delivered new genres known as Rara parading music.
We also have Twoubadou ballads, which are guitar based musicians. The word comes from troubadour, a medieval poet-musician who wrote and sang songs about courtly love. Till today, like the ancient troubadours, our Haitian twoubadou compose and sings songs that tell about the bitterness and humor of love, often using risqué or suggestive lyrics.
Rap Kreyòl and Raboday are our most recent music genres. They are mostly hip hop based and have the added twist of high rythms known as Haitian drums.
When you are in Haiti and you hear the sound of our drums, you cannot help but to move your body.