Poor Haiti! Columbus found the island in 1492 and named it Hispanola.
Before long the native Arawak Indians were virtually extinct (Hayti
means mountainous land in the Arawak language). By the mid-17th
Century Haiti was colonized by the French and was a productive source of
cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. Demand for products created
demand for inexpensive labor so slaves were imported from West Africa.
By the late 18th century Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the
world and a comfortable place to be for the lucky few at the top of the
Haitian tree. However the problems that still effect Haiti today
were brewing. The slaves had brought with them the practice of
voodoo which clashed with Catholicism, the French were exceptionally harsh
in their treatment of their slaves, creating hatred from an already
simmering environment. Lastly, a class of mulattos arose from the
offspring of slaves and slave owners creating a class system that is still
present today - the majority of Haitians are dark-skinned, voodoo
worshiping Creoles, and a minority are light skinned, Catholic, French
The slaves ousted Napoleon in 1804, following a revolt that began in 1791, creating the first black independent nation. Last year Haiti celebrated 200 years of independence. However, an almost continuous stream of dictators have left a legacy of poverty and violence. In 1844 the island split in two with the larger eastern part becoming the Dominican Republic. The third of the island that remained Haiti is smaller than the state of Maryland.
Today Haiti has the dubious honor of being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a population of 7.5 million, an infant mortality rate of 74/1,000 and a median age of 18 years.
This article is from the March 2, 2005 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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