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Haiti - A Photo Documentary by Larry Davis

The Haiti Project - History of Haiti

A tiny tropical island sits in the Caribbean, decorated with palm trees and colorful hibiscus flowers. Its mountains stand majestically looking down upon sandy beaches and green valleys. From afar it appears as any other island one might encounter sailing the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Yet, as we draw closer we notice a difference. There are no tourist resorts dotting the coasts, no high rise hotels with sand volleyball courts and marimba bands. This is Haiti, this is different. If the land could speak it would tell of tragedy and violence, of abuse and bloodshed, of power and greed. Why does the country stand apart from its neighbors? The answer lies in the turbulent history of this tiny nation.

The Early Years

Christopher Columbus landed on the tiny island he called, "La isla espanola" in December 1492 (The name was later shortened to Hispanola). The island was inhabited by local Arawak Indians who referred to their home as "Hayti", or mountainous land. In keeping with imperialistic ideology, the Spaniards used and abused the native Arawaks to the point of near extinction.

It's location and lush soil made Haiti a treasure constantly sought after by Britain, France and Spain. Finally, by the middle of the 17th century the island became a French colony.

Under French rule Haiti flourished. Haitian products were in great demand in the European market and the tiny island became invaluable as a resource for cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. Unfortunately, the great demands for these products also created a demand for inexpensive labor. The French, as the Spanish before them looked to Africa as a solution to the labor problem. They imported slaves from the west coast of Africa.

By 1780, Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the world. France relied heavily on the slave trade to maintain its economic base. This created a number of problems that would later affect the future of Haiti. First, the slaves brought with them the religious practices of voodoo which for them was more a lifestyle than a religion. Second, the French treated the slaves with undue harshness creating hatred amid an already resentful environment. Third, a class of mulattos arose from the relations of the slave owners and the slaves. There arose a class system, still present today, with a minority of light skinned, sophisticated, Catholic, French-speaking Haitians at odds with dark-skinned, voodoo worshipping, Creole-speaking masses.

In 1791, a successful slave revolt was initiated against the French. The Haitian slaves ousted Napoleon, and by 1804, the island becomes the first black independent nation, with General Dessalines declaring himself emperor. With power comes abuse and the abuses of Dessalines led to his assassination. He was followed by Henri Christophe, an illiterate ex-slave who ruled in the north and Alexandre Petion, a mulatto who ruled in the south. When Christophe died the north and south united. In 1844, the island split into two countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The tiny country of Haiti was in a state of anarchy, poverty was rampant and there was no one with the support or ability to rule and govern fairly. The class system was ever present with the wealthy at one extreme and the poor at the other.



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