Land of Hope and Glory . . .
A nation that was once the richest in the Caribbean now faces an uphill struggle to recapture its former status. But Haitians believe that change is in the air . . .
“Until she spoke, no Christian nation had abolished Negro Slavery. Until she spoke, no Christian nation had given to the world an organised effort to abolish Slavery. Until she spoke, the slave ship, followed by hungry sharks, greedy to devour the dead and dying slaves flung overboard to feed them, ploughed in peace the South Atlantic, painting the sea with the Negro’s blood. Until she spoke, the slave trade was sanctioned by all the Christian nations of the world and our land of liberty and light included. Men made fortunes by this infernal traffic and were esteemed as good Christians and the standing types and representations of the Saviour of the World. Until Haiti spoke, the church was silent, and the pulpit was dumb. Slave-traders lived and slave traders died. Funeral sermons were preached over them and of them it was said that they died in the triumphs of the Christian faith and went to heaven among the just.”
Haiti by abolitionist and master orator – Frederick Douglas- 2nd January 1893.
The above extract is proof, if proof were needed, that Haiti, the western side of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two thirds of the island), is more than a series of headlines that scream of crippling poverty and nefarious rituals, corruption and political unrest. The Caribbean country has boasting rights to a number of firsts: it was the first black Caribbean country to gain independence in 1804, becoming the first black republic, Toussaint L’ ouverture became the first black hero after he led a slave rebellion and as irony would have it, saint-Domingue, as Haiti was called then, was the wealthiest, most resource-rich, most valuable colony of its age.
Today, the voices that Douglas heard sadly do not reflect this country’s glorious past, but there are whispers from deep within the crevasse of history that may one day turn into shouts; and what those whispers are saying is ‘look at Haiti; we have something to offer the tourist.’ Yes, but what, you might wonder.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 80% of the population living in abject poverty. Haitians rely mainly on small scale subsistence farming to make a living.
Politically, too, things could be better. Following elections in May 2000, almost all aid to Haiti was suspended because of unrest. The economy shrank and Haiti owed more than £280 million at the start of 2003. Haiti also suffers from rampant inflation, a lack of investment and a severe trade deficit. Civil unrest in 2004 combined with damage from flooding in southern Haiti in May 2004 further impoverished the country. Rene Preval was declared the winner of presidential elections in February 2006, with 51% of the vote. Widely seen as a champion of the poor, he says he wants to tackle social inequalities and create jobs.
Historically the country has had to take a defensive stance almost from the word go. The Native Arawak Indians – who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when the explorer Christopher Columbus stumbled across it in 1492 – were wiped out by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola and in 1697; Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, what is known today as Haiti.
Now, though, with nothing more than determination and dogged optimism, Haiti is fighting back and has vibrant and burgeoning arts scene. They say that in Haiti everyone paints; and they paint cloth, paper, wood . . . whatever they can lay a brush on. And the results are spectacular with bursts of colour and imagination that captures the vibrancy and hues of the country, as well as the hopes, the suffering and the minutiae of everyday life.
Where Haiti is poor politically, socially and economically, it is rich and bountiful in its creativity. From landscapes, market scenes, scenes from the street, religious imagery and rural life to architecture, all is recorded. Many travellers to the Caribbean say that Haitian art is more aesthetically satisfying than art from anywhere else in the region and actively search out artists such as Raymond la Faille, one of Haiti’s most accomplished painters.
Another famous Haitian son is Issa El Saieh, the internationally known art dealer, musician and orchestra leader famous for his output of Haitian mambo and meringue music. And if you have a particular penchant for Haitian art, the likes of Joseph Adelson, Ronald Aly and Claude Dambreville are names that should be given time to explore. Visit www.galleryofwestindianart.com for more on Haitian art.
Most of this exquisitely beautiful and inspirational art is found in the capital city, Port-au-Prince. It is also here where most of the French-Creole speaking population of seven million live. But given the topography of the island Hispaniola, it is not surprising that this is the case. The island is rugged and mountainous and has the highest peak in the Caribbean, Pico Duarte at 10,383 feet. It also has small areas and a central valley, while Haiti itself has a few natural resources: coffee and remittance from Haitians working abroad being one of its main sources of income.
Language: French is the official language, but French Creole is widely spoken.
The Caribbean awaits you ~ Book a Dream Rental Property in Haiti and ‘Live Like a Local’…