Gold, pirates, slavery, voodoo, the fight for freedom--Haiti’s story is told from the crossroads of clashing cultures. Boasting a population of nearly 9 million and a rich heritage grown from the soils of many nations, this Creole-speaking country shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with its eastern neighbor, the Dominican Republic. To the west, Haiti is only 45 nautical miles from Cuba.
Dominated by European and African influences, Haiti also honors its natives of the Taíno/Arawak culture, whose migration from the South American continent predated Columbus’s 1492 landing by centuries. Having suffered greatly at the hands of Caribs, the Taínos believed that Europeans like Columbus were sent from Heaven to help them fight against their ruthless enemies. However, while Columbus returned to Spain to organize an even greater expedition to the island he called Hispaniola, the Caribs took over the city of La Navidad, burning the fort and slaughtering most of the native population as well as many Europeans. In the wake of this destruction, Columbus moved on to explore other islands, leaving Spaniards in charge of Hispaniola. The Caribs fell to the same fate as their victims had; the Spaniards spared them no mercy as they looted, killed and enslaved them to feed their greed for gold.
Stripped of its people and resources when the Spaniards left to conquer the gold-rich lands to the west, Hispaniola remained sparsely populated from about 1550 to 1630, at which point French and English pirates (Buccaneers) placed themselves strategically on the northern island of Tortuga to raid Spanish ships leaving the “New World”. The Buccaneers were so successful that Spain eventually ceded the Western third of the island to France in 1697. This land was renamed Saint Dominigue, and later La Republique d’Haiti.
French rule brought both prosperity and slavery to Saint Dominigue. African slaves were imported to grow and produce its exports of sugar, cotton, indigo, ebony, cocoa and coffee. After a series of revolts and revolutions led by slaves and freedom fighters, Haiti became the world's first independent nation led by a person of African descent in 1804.
Since becoming independent, Haiti has endured many struggles, including the recent earthquakes in January 2010. Tourism will play a vital role in jump starting the economy as the nation recovers. While the capital city of Port Au Prince needs much time to rebuild, those interested in experiencing Haiti’s natural and cultural beauty might travel to northern ports such as Labadee. There tourists can enjoy zip line tours, coastal cruises, as well as Haitian cultural excursions. About five miles to the east is Cap-Haïtien, a laid-back town where one can relax and enjoy the old port atmosphere and architecture. Seventeen miles to the south, La Citadelle la Ferrière, built by the slave rebellion leader Henri Christophe, stands tall atop a mountain as a symbol of Haiti’s independent spirit, a spirit which flourishes even through the most turbulent times.
Unique in its beauty and exotic in its culture, Haiti’s compelling story continues to unfold.
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