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"The history of Haiti is not pretty, and Haiti is not in great shape right now. But, I'm proud to know them, proud to know their history...and I hope that from now on whenever you encounter news about Haiti, you feel a better connection to the country, and understand them a little better, because they deserve to be more to us than just 'the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.' They were once the Avengers of the New World."
Mike Duncan, Revolutions 4.19 "The History of Haiti"

The Republic of Haiti (French: République d'Haïti, Haitian Creole: Repiblik Ayiti) occupies a little more than a third of the island of Hispaniola (now there's a famous name), with the Dominican Republic taking the remainder. It is the most populous state in The Caribbean, and, alongside Canada, one of the only two officially Francophone countries in the Americas.

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 colonizersnote . 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 de jure in 1795, though by the time the last Spanish had left, Haiti was already independent in fact if not yet name.

The country was originally colonized by literal Buccaneers (so named because they used to sell beef jerkynote  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 slaves from Africa to increase production. By the 1780s, Saint-Domingue—what the French called the territory—was supplying something like three quarters of the world's supply of sugar and coffee, which France could sell at high margins to make Saint-Domingue the single most profitable European colony by a country mile (yes, even more profitable than India).

The cost of this was a mind-bogglingly brutal form of slavery, the like of which has not been seen anywhere before or since. It was said that half of the slaves sent to work in the fields died within five years.note  Some of this was the harsh discipline on the plantations; some of it was the combination of long hours and maltreatment; some of it was the sheer difficulty of harvesting sugarcane (the plant is notoriously difficult to cut by hand and has razor-sharp leaves—which leaves can easily give you a nasty cut, which cut can easily become infected in the Haitian climate); and some of it—possibly most of it—was what we today would call industrial accidents caused by the owners' complete disregard to safety in the interest of profit and speed, especially on sugar plantations (which used a lot of heavy machinery to extract the sugar, and which extraction process frequently involved situations where a slave could be exposed to massive industrial juice presses and large amounts of sticky, hot molten sugar).

Life for a slave was a good bit less bad on the coffee plantations of the southern mountains; coffee production doesn't require a lot of machinery for processing, and harvesting coffee is less backbreaking and more tedious and eyewateringly boring. Also, coffee grew in the mountains, which were cooler than the plains where cane grew and thus had less risk of nasty tropical diseases. Moreover, coffee plantations tended to be smaller affairs run by a resident owner rather than the massive, almost-corporate canefields run by the French trading houses for the production of sugar, so punishments tended not to be quite as horrible. Still, slavery is slavery; the punishments were still pretty brutal, and the loss of dignity is enough to offend anyone (also, somewhere in between sugar and coffee in terms of brutality and danger to the slaves were the indigo plantations that dotted the mountain foothills).

However, Haiti soon came to be dominated by a mixed-race upper class in addition to the extremely small white upper class known as Grands Blancs. The Petits Blancs (Small Whites) who mostly owned no slaves and worked in mid to low-level jobs resented the fact that the free coloreds were often economically better off and insisted on increasingly racist laws, which in turn arose the ire of the free coloreds.

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 plus a shamefully small smattering of high-minded whites) 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 Louverture*, quickly swept over the entire island, forcing the French Commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax to emancipate all of the slaves in 1794.

Despite this, Louverture was actually quite proud to be French and would have been content leaving Haiti an internally autonomous French colony. "Papa Toussaint" drafted a constitution for Saint-Domingue that first and foremost declared the island's loyalty to France. It then proceeded to outline the "Louverturian state", a system of what amounted to enlightened absolutism, with all power given to the Governor-General—Toussaint himself—and managed by the one functioning institution in the region—the army. But the system Louverture envisioned was also rigorously legalistic, defined by strict codes that applied to everyone (except the Governor-General, of course) and enforced the legal equality of the races. However, "cultivators"—that is, the old plantation field slaves—were still required to work on the plantation, as for all that Louverture—himself a Black ex-slave—truly believed in equality of the races, he could not see any viable economic model for the colony other than plantation agriculture selling cash crops to the world.

Louverture hoped this would be enough to keep the French metropole from interfering further in the island's affairs. After all, "rigorously legalistic enlightened absolutism" is a fair description of the state Napoléon Bonaparte was building for himself back in France. However, Napoléon 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 in recorded history to undergo a successful slave revolution and the second state in The Americas to achieve independence after the United States.note  However, Louverture—who, interestingly, never once declared formal independence during his time as leader of the country—was captured by the French, who were using the False Reassurance of a parley. He died in a French jail in 1803.

Louverture was succeeded by the radical Black supremacist Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who massacred most White Haitians remaining in Haiti in revenge, and styled himself after his old enemy Napoleon by declaring himself Emperor of Haiti, as the country became more autocratic. Dessalines was quickly assassinated, and the country was divided in two. General Henri Christophe established State of Haiti (later Kingdom of Haiti) to the north, which was if nothing else an attempt to revive old Papa Toussaint's vision of an enlightened autocracy ruling over a plantation economy in the context of racial equality (without the Whites Dessalines had killed). In the south, the Colored leader Alexandre Pétion established the Republic of Haiti; this was originally a genuine attempt to establish a constitutional regime (albeit one with relatively minimal popular participation), but Pétion gradually assumed more and more power in himself.note  However, for a variety of reasons, Pétion abandoned the plantation-centered model and allowed Haitians of all (well, both) races to establish smaller, self-owned farms. This meant that the economy basically stopped producing sugar (the single most lucrative crop of pre-revolutionary Saint-Domingue), but oh well, at least the people were quiet.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Empire defeated the remaining French and recolonized eastern Hispaniola. However, the two Haitian states eventually reunified, and took over the eastern Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola in 1822.

Despite losing the war, the French returned in 1825 to demand the Haitians pay an indemnity for French property losses incurred due to the war. In exchange, the French said, they'd recognize Haitian independence. The Haitian president of the day, Jean-Pierre Boyer (an old lieutenant of Pétion), agonized over this decision for weeks, knowing that the amount they were asking (the figure amounted to 100 million francs, or $21 billion today) was (1) exorbitant and (2) insulting, as the amount demanded clearly included "compensation" for the lost value of slaves, and was thus asking the Haitians to "buy" with cash the freedom they had won with their blood, sweat, and tears. But recognition by France was potentially the key to economic success, since if France recognized Haiti, so would the rest of the world. Also, the French had a navy and Haiti really did not, and it seemed like the French would have no qualms using that navy against Haiti should Boyer turn down their offer.

In the end, Boyer swallowed his pride and accepted the deal. France did indeed recognize Haitian independence, and the rest of Europenote  followed suit. But alas for Haiti, recognition did not bring prosperity. Haiti was forced to take out gigantic high-interest loans from French banks to pay the indemnity. While Haiti managed to pay off the French government in the mid-19th century, they didn't fully pay back the banksnote  until 1947.

Meanwhile, Boyer's regime was facing trouble in the Spanish-speaking of the eastern part of the island due to their incompetent rule. They fought against Haitian rule and won their independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. The new Dominican Republic, beset by economic troubles, in turn asked to be re-colonized by the Spanish (the only place ever to be colonized three times by the same European power), but the move was highly unpopular, and this time Haiti actually lent aid to the Dominican independence movement they once fought against. The Spanish were forced to withdraw in 1865, the year in which the American Civil War ended. With it ended any hope of going against the Monroe Doctrine unchallenged.

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), and a struggle to establish a democratic system following the Duvaliers. Things were finally settling down politically, just in time for a horrific earthquake to hit in the January of 2010, and the country has yet to fully recover from the loss of infrastructure. In July of 2021, president Jovenel Moïse was killed by assassins and found with a gouged eye and 12 bullet wounds inside his home. Since Moïse's assassination, the country has had no president, prime minister, or even a legislative assembly, with Ariel Henry (whom many suspect played a part in the assassination) serving as de facto leader. Henry resigned in March 2024, and further collapse of law and order ensued with the gang war.


Notable Haitians and people of Haitian descent:

  • Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the person regarded as the founder of the US city of Chicago, as well as its first non-native settler. Some sources claim that he originated from the French colony of Hispaniola (what is today's Haiti), and while the authenticity of these are disputed, what is certain about him is that he was black and he came from a French colony.
  • Reggis Fils-Aime, 3rd President of Nintendo America, was born to Haitian immigrants, who left Haiti because their parents (i.e. Reggie's grandparents, on both sides of the family) started having harsh political disputes among each other.
  • Garcelle Beauvais grew up in Haiti, before moving to the US when she was seven.
  • Gary Dourdan, one of the original cast members of CSI.
  • David Jolicoeur, also known as "Trugoy the Dove", one third of the hip hop group De La Soul.
  • Two of the three members of The Fugees, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel, are Haitian-Americans. The group was named after the derogatory word for Haitian refugees in the United States.
  • Jimmy Jean-Louis, best known for playing "The Haitian" in Heroes. He moved to Europe when he was twelve to pursue a modeling career, but remains a Haitian citizen.
  • Meta Golding was born in India to Haitian parents, though she grew up in the US.
  • Jon Theodore, current drummer for Queens of the Stone Age and formerly of The Mars Volta.
  • Jamie Hector is of Haitian descent, and raised money to support the victims of the 2010 earthquake.
  • Marlyne Barrett (The Wire, Chicago Med).
  • Tony Award-winning actress Nikki M. James was born in New Jersey to a Vincentian father and Haitian mother.
  • Eric André, of The Eric Andre Show fame, is of American Jewish and Haitian descent, and identifies as Black Jewish.
  • Natalie Paul (Show Me a Hero).
  • Jason Derulo (real name Jason Joel Desrouleaux) was born in Florida to Haitian parents, and grew up speaking Haitian Creole as his first language. His last name is nigh-unreadable to Anglophones, so he simply respelled it based on how it is actually pronounced: Derulo.
  • Rapper 21 Savage (Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph) is of Haitian descent on his father's side.
  • Jharrel Jerome, born to a Haitian father and a Dominican mother, is the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy for When They See Us.

Haiti in fiction

Haiti is mostly known for voodoo (despite being 95% Christian), specifically the Hollywood portrayal of it. While Vodou is a part of Haitian tradition (even among Christians, Vodou practitioners are often seen as having supernatural powers), the perception of the faith situation in Haiti is almost certainly due to the influence of the Duvalier family; Papa Doc used the religion as a weapon of terror against the populace.

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 and their hard-won freedom.

The Haitian national anthem

Pour le Pays, Pour les ancêtres,
Marchons unis, Marchons unis.
Dans nos rangs point de traîtres!
Du sol soyons seuls maîtres.
Marchons unis, Marchons unis
Pour le Pays, Pour les ancêtres,
Marchons, marchons, marchons unis,
Pour le Pays, Pour les ancêtres...

Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie
Bêchons joyeux, bêchons joyeux
Quand le champ fructifie
L'âme se fortifie
Bêchons joyeux, bêchons joyeux
Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie
Bêchons, bêchons, bêchons joyeux
Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie.

Pour le Pays et pour nos Pères
Formons des Fils, formons des Fils
Libres, forts et prospères
Toujours nous serons frères
Formons des Fils, formons des Fils
Pour le Pays et pour nos Pères
Formons, formons, formons des Fils
Pour le Pays et pour nos Pères.

Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie
O Dieu des Preux, O Dieu des Preux!
Sous ta garde infinie
Prends nos droits, notre vie
O Dieu des Preux, O Dieu des Preux!
Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie
O Dieu, O Dieu, O Dieu des Preux
Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie.

Pour le Drapeau, pour la Patrie
Mourir est beau, mourir est beau!
Notre passé nous crie:
Ayez l'âme aguerrie!
Mourir est beau, mourir est beau
Pour le Drapeau, pour la Patrie
Mourir, mourir, mourir est beau
Pour le Drapeau, pour la Patrie.

For the country,
For the ancestors,
Let us march. Let us march united.
Let there be no traitors in our ranks!
Let us be masters of our soil.
United let us march
For the country,
For the ancestors.

For the forefathers,
For the country
Let us toil joyfully.
When the field is fertile
Our soul strengthens.
Let us toil joyfully
For our forebears,
For our country.

For the country
And for the forefathers,
Let us train our sons
Free, strong, and prosperous,
We shall always be brothers.
Let us train our sons
For the country
And for the forefathers.

For the forefathers,
For the country,
Oh God of the valiant!
Take our rights and our life
Under your infinite protection,
Oh God of the valiant!
For the forefathers,
For the country.

For the flag,
For the country
To die is a glorious deed!
Our past cries out to us:
Have a seasoned soul!
To die is a glorious deed,
For the flag,
For the country.

Pou Ayiti peyi Zansèt yo
Se pou-nou mache men nan lamen
Nan mitan-nou pa fèt pou gen trèt
Nou fèt pou-nou sèl mèt tèt nou.
Annou mache men nan lamen
Pou Ayiti ka vin pi bèl
Annou, annou, met tèt ansanm
Pou Ayiti onon tout Zansèt yo.

Pou Ayiti onon Zansèt yo
Se pou-nou sekle se pou-nou plante
Se nan tè tout fòs nou chita
Se li-ki ba nou manje
Ann bite tè, ann voye wou
Ak kè kontan, fòk tè a bay
Sekle, wouze, fanm tankou gason
Pou-nou rive viv ak sèl fòs ponyèt nou.

Pou Ayiti ak pou Zansèt yo
Fo nou kapab vanyan gason
Moun pa fèt pou ret avèk moun
Se sa-ki fè tout Manman ak tout Papa
Dwe pou voye Timoun lekòl
Pou yo aprann, pou yo konnen
Sa Tousen, Desalin, Kristòf, Petyon
Te fè pou wet Ayisyen anba bòt blan.

Pou Ayiti onon Zansèt yo
Ann leve tèt nou gad anlè
Pou tout moun mande Granmèt la
Pou-li ba nou pwoteksyon
Pou move zanj pa detounen-n
Pou-nou ka mache nan bon chimen
Pou libète ka libète
Fòk lajistis blayi sou peyi a!

Nou gen drapo tankou tout pèp
Se pou nou renmen-li mouri pou li
Se pa kado blan te fè nou
Se san Zansèt nou yo ki te koule
Pou nou kenbe drapo nou wo
Se pou nou travay met tèt ansanm.
Pou lòt peyi ka respekte-li
Drapo sila a se nanm tout Ayisyen.

For Haiti, the Country of the Ancestors
we must walk hand in hand
There must not be traitors among us—
We alone must be our master
Let's walk hand in hand
that Haiti may be more beautiful
Let us put our heads together
for Haiti on behalf of all the ancestors

For Haiti on the behalf of the Ancestors
Let us mow, let us sow.
All our strength rests in the soul—
It is what feeds us.
Let us mound up earth, let us send water
With joy, the earth must be fertile
Mow, water, women and men
that we may live by our own arms' strength alone.

For Haiti and for the Ancestors
We must be courageous, capable men.
People are not born to serve others
That is why all mothers and fathers
Need to send children to school,
to learn, to know
what Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe, Pétion
did to take Haitians from under the whites' boot.

For Haiti on the behalf of the Ancestors
Let us raise our head and look above.
Let everyone to ask the Lord
to grant us protection
that the evil angels may not divert us,
that we may walk in the right path.
For liberty to be able to liberate,
justice must spread over the country!

We have a flag like all peoples.
Let us love it, die for it.
It was not a gift from the whites—
It was our Ancestors' blood that was shed.
Let us hold our flag high.
Let us work together and focus
that other countries may respect it
This flag is the soul of every Haitian.

  • Unitary semi-presidential republic
    • President and Prime Minister: Ariel Henry (acting)
    • President of the Senate: - (vacant)
    • President of the Chamber of Deputies: - (vacant)

  • Capital and largest city: Port-au-Prince
  • Population: 11,439,646
  • Area: 27,750 sq km (10,710 sq mi) (143rd)
  • Currency: Haitian gourde (G) (HTG)
  • ISO-3166-1 Code: HT
  • Country calling code: 509
  • Highest point: Pic la Selle (2680 m/8,793 ft) (83rd)
  • Lowest point: Caribbean Sea (7,686 m/25,217 ft) (-)