A little Haitian History

Wednesday, June 3

Before I post more of my pictures, I thought it important to share a brief history of Haiti with you. I gotta admit, I knew next to nothing about Haiti as I sat on the plane and descended onto the island. Good thing my best friend majored in history in college and welcomed me to Haiti with open arms and a lot of useful Haitian historical trivia:) As Katharine warned me, the history of Haiti can get depressing fast, but it is equally fascinating and I think you'll find it will give you better context into the stories and pictures I share!! Ready for Haiti history 101? Let's go...

If you just suck at geography, Haiti is in the Caribbean and shares an island with the Dominican Republic. Are you visualizing where we are now? Ok, great...

Christopher Columbus actually landed in the north of Haiti in 1492, and the Spanish began settling the island of Hispaniola. In the next couple centuries,the western part of the island began to become inhabited by many French Pirates and buccaneers, who soon sent word to their French counterparts to move to the island and set up shop. Soon after tensions began to rise between Spain and France for the island's ownership as both countries had more or less settled on different parts of the island and wanted to dig into the natural resources. They evidently came to an agreement...Spain taking 2/3 of the Eastern half (what is now the Dominican Republic), and the French taking 1/3 of the western half (what is now Haiti).

The French began cultivating hundreds of sugar cane plantations, and bringing slaves from West Africa over by the boat load. Haiti's sugar cane plantations were among the most brutal, as one third of the African slaves brought over initially were dead in the first few years. The combination of efficient slave labor and natural resources made Haiti France's richest colony, and at one point, generated the most wealth of any colony in the world. Crazy, right?

In the late 1700s the slaves began to revolt and attack the plantation owners. France sent thousands of troops to Haiti, but by January of 1804, it was clear that the country belonged to the slaves who fought for independence. Pretty incredible to me that a group of slaves were able to band together and overthrow a colonial power, right?!? Yet sadly, in 1825 King Charles of France forced the President of Haiti to sign a treaty, insisting that Haiti pay them 150 million francs in exchange for their freedom. This severely crippled the island's economic situation.

Speaking of unfortunate events (like a debt of 150 million francs!), Haiti went from bad to worse when  "Papa Doc" and later his son "Baby Doc" came to power. Dr. Fran├žois Duvalier ("Papa Doc") was elected President of Haiti in 1957 and remained president (aka: DICTATOR!!!) until his death in 1971. To make a long sad story short, neither was a very good leader or steward of their people or resources, stunting growth of the Haitian economy, and committing massive human rights abuses (they jailed, tortured, killed thousands of political opponents,etc).

As if things weren't already in a troubled state, 2010 was tragic year when the earthquake struck and killed over 230,000 and left over 1.5 million homeless, living in tents in any open area they could find. While my visit was 5 years after the earthquake and most noticeable signs of the quake were cleared up (rubble, etc), the traumatic emotional signs of the quake remain, as well as the economic set-backs of many crumbling buildings and economy. 

With a succession of bad leadership, poor foreign relations, and the devastating earthquake that shook the country in January of 2010, Haiti has had it's share of tragic challenges. Not to mention it's shocking levels of deforestation (Haiti currently has less than 3% tree cover where it used to have over 80%), which explains a lot of its environmental degradation today.

So that's the Haiti I visited. Yes, it is a very poor country, there's no way around that. The electricity was off most of the day, there was very little tourist infrastructure, and from what I heard the general population was quite disillusioned with the government (which, as a side note, is run by a president who used to be a pop singer named Sweet Mickey. Yep, Sweet Mickey).

However, what I found in Haiti is absolutely worth visiting. The rich culture, the people, and the sites are all worth exploring. The history really moved me, as it is a country that threw off it's oppressors in a way no other colony was able to do.  People were friendly, many hardworking. And the beauty of the island was such a hidden treasure. And this is what I hope to show in my pictures...that Haiti, for all it's unfortunate history, is still such a gem in the Caribbean, both it's people and landscape. I hope you'll enjoy Haiti through my lens!! 

Whew...thanks for hanging in there with me as I flew through that history! I hope you learned something new, and are set to track with me these next few weeks!! Coming up are ALL my pictures and stories from different places in Haiti. I hope you'll enjoy!  Happy Wednesday friends! xoxo 

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