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HAITI FORMALLY RENOUNCED its colonial bond with France in January 1804, as the result of the only successful slave rebellion in world history. The country's longevity as an independent nation in the Western Hemisphere is second only to that of the United States. Over this span of almost two centuries, however, the country has never known a period free of tyranny, repression, political conflict, racial animosity, and economic hardship.

Haiti, the first black republic in modern times, sprang directly to self-governance from French colonialism, a system that had a profound impact on the nation. Haiti's colonial origins had demonstrated that an illiterate and impoverished majority could be ruled by a repressive elite. The slaveholding system had established the efficacy of violence and coercion in controlling others, and the racial prejudice inherent in the colonial system survived under the black republic. A lightskinned elite assumed a disproportionate share of political and economic power.

The chaotic and personalistic nature of Haitian political culture combined with chronic underdevelopment to provide fertile ground for a succession of despots, strongmen, and dictators. Even the few national leaders whose election apparently reflected popular sentiment, such as Dumarsais Estimé (1946-50) and François Duvalier (1957-71), rejected constitutional procedures in favor of retaining personal power. The popular revolt that deposed President for life Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-86) demonstrated the Haitian people's rejection of parasitic despotism. At the same time, however, the revolt reaffirmed another lesson of Haitian history: violence has often been the only effective route to change.

Haitian rural society is predominately made up of subsistence farmers who rent or own a small plot of land and cultivate beans, sweet potatoes and other crops using labor-intensive technology such as picks and hoes. Most families live in small one- or two-bedroom homes without electricity or running water and rely on charcoal as the principle energy source. The load is lightened a bit by communal work teams called kombits, music, and pastimes like Krik Krak, an oral game of riddles. But make no mistake - Haiti is hard living and the poverty is more harsh than quaint. Perhaps the country's celebrated sense of humor is requisite for survival.

Many young people hoping to escape the cycle of rural poverty move to Port-au-Prince or Cap Haïtien, and most end up living in shantytowns like Cité Soleil, where 200,000 people occupy 5 sq km (2 sq mi) of reclaimed swampland. An almost total lack of civilian infrastructure is as obvious as the open sewage ditches and as invisible as the dearth of accountable police maintaining some semblance of law and order. In the cool hills above the slums, however, the mainly mulatto 1% of Haiti that controls 44% of the country's wealth live in the gated communities of Pétionville, where fine restaurants and glittering shopping centers cater to a very different side of Haitian society.

There are deep and bitter divisions between blacks (about 95% of the population) and mulattos (about 5%). While blacks have always had an overwhelming majority, mulattos have had advantages within education, government and the military. Most mulattos speak French, the language of higher education and most job opportunities, while the vast majority of Haitians speak Creole. This two-tiered social system is perhaps the greatest barrier to Haiti coming into its own as a stable and successful Caribbean nation.

Haiti is the home of much-maligned but beautifully spiritual Vodou (Voodoo). At its heart, Vodou is a pantheistic African religion similar to the Nigerian Yoruba faith, which was brought over by African slaves and later syncretized with Catholicism. After missionaries persuaded the slaves to convert to Christianity (religious leaders being tortured to death and that sort of thing), certain Catholic saints with attributes similar to those of African deities came to symbolize the spiritual paths that had been venerated for generations.

Rituals commemorating the lwa (spirits), lucky events, births and deaths involve dancing, drumming and spirit possessions. Ceremonies are also performed to gain a certain lwa's favor, perhaps to heal disease or end a run of bad luck, and may include offerings of food, toys and even animal sacrifice. Other forms of prayer include the veve, a pattern made of cornmeal that pleases a specific deity, and the creation of colorful prayer flags, which are considered Haiti's finest form of folk art and collected worldwide. The music, drumming and dancing associated with Vodou rituals have become an important part of Haitian pop culture.

The national dance is the méringue (a cousin of the Dominican version), though you can also see people doing the juba or the crabienne. Haitian music has been influenced by Cuban styles and American jazz. One of the most popular imports is the compas, though zouk, reggae and soca have significant followings.

The country has many celebrated painters, chief among them Hector Hyppolite, LaFortune Félix and Prefete Duffaut. Haitian painting has a rich visual and thematic vocabulary, often rendered in vibrant colors and sensual, organic forms. Haitian writers include Philippe-Thoby Marcelin, René Depestre and, most influential, Jean Price-Mars. Together, these writers created the basis of a national literature, which has recently seen a shift toward writing in Creole rather than French.

Reference lonelyplanet.com

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Location: In the West Indies, maintaining the far west of Hispaniola surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, the Golfe de la Gonave, and the Atlantic Ocean.

History: Haiti is best known to be discovered by Christopher Coulumbus, but there were many cultures that inhabited the land before his arrival in 1492. The first known settlers were the Ciboneys, who migrated from what is now known as North America in 450 A.D. Then in 900 A.D., the Tainos, who belonged to the Arawak nation settled in large villages. They Arawak Indians called the land ‘Ayiti’, which means ‘land of mountains’. Christopher Coulumbus arrived on the island on December 5, 1942, but did not stay long because there were other lands to explore. He left Spaniards in charge of the land and while Columbus was away, they became responsible of almost terminating all of the Arawaks and then moving westward towards what is now Mexico and Peru. This caused the island to be empty for many years until the French colonized the land in the middle of seventeenth century. During France’s reign, Haiti became one of the most prominent countries in the world. Resources such as sugar cane, cotton, cocoa, and coffee became the most important sources to Haiti’s wealth. These resources became a high demand by European markets and because of the increase in demand, the French needed cheap labor. As other countries did, the French looked towards

Africa for slaves and since the slaves were not treated fairly, they soon became France’s downfall. The slaves became the most important thing to Haiti’s economy and future and in the year of 1791, the slaves planned a revolt against the French and became successful. In 1804, the slaves took over Napoleon’s reign and Haiti became the first independent black nation headed by General Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines misused his power and his death was the effect of his misuse. The country was split into two in 1844, making Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and for years after came an abundance of poverty and an inability to find leadership for Haiti. It was not until the second World War when the Americans occupied Haiti to make sure no other countries like Germany would invade.

Because of the American Marines, Haiti was able to build roads, hospitals, houses, and sewage systems. The country was looking up until the Americans left and the fight for power between the voodoo followers and the Catholic Church started. There were many leaders, but none that could make an effect on the country until Francois Duvalier named himself president of Haiti. Duvalier was finally able to make a government that could stand on it’s own, but it did not help the people or country in any way. After Duvalier’s death, his son took over but only made things a little better for the people. Since then, there has been many tries to find a leader that can make a difference for Haiti and help solve the problems, and just recently they have elected president Rene Preval who might be able to solve them.

Features and Haiti Today:Today, Haiti’s population is over five million people and is poor and highly urbanized. It has struggled economically after winning their independence and has not found a solution to their poverty problems. Things have not changed and they still find themselves at the bottom of economic power. The people of Haiti are mainly of black-African origin and speak either Haitian Creole or French and are Roman Catholic and Protestant or voodoo worshippers. Voodoo has been the best known feature of Haiti and has gained an image of being a country of sorcery and zombies. Many exaggerate the sense of voodoo in Haiti, but the people of the land keep it within the limits of the family.
References:

Haiti(1996) http://www.magicnet/~lmorris/index.html.

“The Art of Haiti.”(1996-2000) http://www.medalia.net/Hhistory.html.

“The Early History of Haiti.”(1975,1978) http://pasture.ecn.purdue.edu/~agenmc/haiti/history.html

Written by: Adam Daly