Useful Notes: Haiti
The Republic of Haiti, in French République d'Haïti, in the local creole Repiblik Ayiti. Occupies half of the island of Hispaniola (now there's a famous name), with the Dominican Republic taking the other. Hispaniola was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus on December 25th, 1492 when he accidentally crashed his flagship into it (everyone on board had a bit too much to drink at the Christmas feast). The island was originally inhabited by Taíno Indians, which were promptly wiped out by smallpox and the Spanish colonizers. In 1697, Hispaniola was bisected to form the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti) and the Spanish Santo Domingo (present day Dominican Republic) by the Treaty of Ryswick. France would later take over the entire island in 1795. The country was originally colonized by literal Buccaneers (so named because they used to sell beef jerky made on wooden racks called bucannes before realizing that piracy paid better). But as ship raids grew more difficult to pull off, most of these scallywags settled down to become plantation owners, mainly growing sugarcane and coffee (via slave labor). The business rapidly became incredibly profitable and the colony dealt with this by importing hundreds of thousands of African slaves to increase production. The Haitian plantation system mindbogglingly brutal, it was said that half of the slaves sent to work in the fields died within five years. This all changed in 1791, inspired by the egalitarian sentiments of the French Revolution, and the fact that they outnumbered the whites 10-to-1, the slaves (aided by black freemen and mixed-race mulattos) revolted. Despite the heavy resistance (the slavemasters had been preparing for such revolt all their lives), the rebellion, led by the self-taught military genius Toussaint L'Ouverture, quickly swept over the entire island, forcing France to emancipate all of the slaves in 1794. L'Ouverture would have been content leaving Haiti a French colony nonetheless until Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to reintroduce slavery and sent over an army to enforce the edict. Yellow fever and the seasoned Haitian army made short work of the French and Haiti became independent in 1804, the first state to undergo a successful slave revolution and the only one in the Western Hemisphere. However, L'Ouverture was captured during the fighting and died in a French jail in 1803. Haiti eventually took over the eastern part of Hispaniola, uniting the island, which displeased the Spanish-speaking of the eastern part mightily; they fought against Haitian rule won their independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. Since then the country has undergone a succession of coups, repeated occupation by the USA, the rule of the father-and-son despots known as "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvalier (the latter rising to power at 19), followed by what can only be called anarchy. Things were finally settling down politically, just in time for a horrific earthquake to hit in January of 2010. The parents of current Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime left for The United States after their own parents (i.e. Reggie's grandparents, on both sides of the family) started having harsh political disputes among each other. In fiction: Haiti is mostly known for voodoo (despite being 95% Christian), specifically the Hollywood portrayal of it.
The Haitian flag
- Quantum of Solace
- Saint-Monique in Live and Let Die is a No Celebrities Were Harmed Hollywood Atlas depiction.
- The Serpent and the Rainbow
- Danny Glover's pet project is a biopic of Toussaint Louverture (the leader of the aforementioned slave revolt). He's had a hard time getting funding, primarily (it is said) because the film would have no or virtually no white people.
- Arcade Fire's song "Haiti" (from Funeral) is about the days of Duvalier. Frontwoman Régine Chassagne is the daughter of white Haitian emigrants to Quebec.
- Alexandre Dumas père was of Haitian descent through his father, Napoleonic general Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.
- Steely Dan's "Haitian Divorce" references a long-forgotten practice of New Yorkers going to Haiti to get a divorce (NY divorce law is typically about two steps behind everyone else, not getting non-consensual no-fault divorce until 2010—most other jurisdictions had had it since the 70s or 80s). The woman in the song also has a fling with a hot Haitian guy while in the country to her papers, leading to a particularly obvious child.
The Haitian flag
The blue and red halves are derived from the Tricolore, symbolizing the black majority and peoples of mixed descent, respectively. At the center is the coat-of-arms, featuring a Phrygian cap, a symbol of liberty, perched atop a palm tree. The tree is surrounded by six flags, symbolizing Haiti, which are in turn surrounded by tools of war, such as guns, cannons, anchors and a drum, symbolizing the Haitians' readiness to defend their homeland.