The History of Haiti is a complex tableau of many influences. The early inhabitants were decimated by the coming of Columbus, and by the time of the revolution most evidence of their presence was wiped out. The earliest Europeans were Spaniards who mined and used the current Santa Domingo as their port. Early disputes with the French ended with a division of the island into two separate colonies.
French involvement started when the French pirates, “Buccaneers,” lived on the island of Tortua (turtle Island) just off the coast of present day Haiti. They were there to watch for Spanish Galleons laden with gold which they would then try to capture. They sent expeditions into the main land to hunt mainly for pigs that they cured and sold to ships as a way to remedy scurvy. Eventually the opportunity of sugar enticed French entrepreneurs to establish plantations. These plantations and the mining contributed to the demise of the local natives and led to the implementation of slavery.
At one point Haiti produced 75% of the sugar in the world, which created incredible wealth. The plantations bred more than just sugar cane. A population of over 20,000 mulattoes existed when the revolution happened in 1800. Many of the mulattoes were sent to France for education, and after the revolution became the intelligentsia of Haiti. This Rich / Poor divide still exists today. The history with France is long and winding. Until just after the earthquake Haiti was sending a million dollars a year to France as reparations for their revolution. The French ended this after the earthquake.
Some people say that Haiti is more African than Africa, because the revolution in 1800 allowed the African culture to survive without the many years of colonization that happened in Africa. This African culture is deeply embedded in the people of Haiti, showing up in language, marketing, family attitudes etc. Voodoo has been identified as one unifying force that allowed the revolution to happen.
Since the revolution ended Haiti has had a long history of failed governments; many kings, dictators, and emperors whose mode of operation was to take as much as possible. That, coupled with a bureaucratic style of operation modeled by the French, has led to a failed government that is today struggling to find its feet while repeating much of what has passed before.
The Catholic Church has deep roots in Haiti; 85% of Haitians identify themselves as Catholic. There is a strong Protestant influence. Churches are heavily attended and are a central part of many Haitian lives.
The United States has a checkered relationship with Haiti. Toussaint Louveture, the general who led Haiti in the revolution, learned much in the US as he served in the Army there. But the US did not recognize the Haitian government for 60 years, until the end of US Civil War. In 1915, under the guise of saving Haiti from the instability of five deposed Kings, the US occupied Haiti. US officials tried to stamp out Voodoo, built roads and dams, orchestrated a Constitution and left in 1935, soon to be followed by a long brutal rein of the Duvalies. Bill Clinton helped Aristide return to finish out his term of office after a brutal military coup. More recently the US was involved in the ousting of Aristide.
Another influence in Haiti has been Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and many churches. Since the Hurricane in the 1950s these entities both large and small have attempted to help change the dire conditions in Haiti, often taking on governmental functions such as education, sanitation, food security, etc. Some point to this as part of the problem because government often gets undermined.
Being a Carribean nation, there is a strong influence in Haiti of various other South American and Carribean countries. Cuba has had a strong presence in the health field, sending doctors and pharmacists and training Haitians in Cuba.
Touted as the first Black republic, Haiti is loved in Africa. It is indeed a highly complex and fascinating country.
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