|Haiti- the Pearl of the Antilles (Short History of Haiti)|
|Written by Dominick Brioche|
The Neg Mawon statue is in tribute to the brown men in hiding (slaves) who ran away into the mountains and became the slave armies. They were lead by Boukman for 13 years against the colonists and later, Napoleon's army. These slave armies were commanded by Toussaint L’Ouverture, and later by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, to ultimate victory over the French at the Battle of Vertitieres on 18 November 1803.
He holds a Queen Conch shell in his left hand signifying its use for communication. The Mawon statue originally had a machete in his right hand and a shackle and chain on his left angle. To Haitian it is our Statue of Liberty. It is located across from the National Palace in Port-au-Prince.
On January 12, 2010 the Island of Haiti experienced the devastation of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Haiti hasn’t been hit by such a disaster in 200 years. The outpour of support, contributions and assistances has been monumental. The United States led by its first black president- Barack Obama, who was inaugurated on Jan 20, 2009, has been a great international support for the people of Haiti. Ironically, on the same day of his presidential inauguration, 251 years ago in Haiti- January 20, 1758, Francois Macandal was brutally tortured, and burned at the stake. The French hoped such inhumane event would terminate the uprising of the Haitian slave revolt but instead the seed of the Haitian revolution was planted.
The Haitian Revolution is definitely the greatest revolution in history, and the most mystified and unknown. Francois Macandal was brought to Haiti from the Congo, as a slave and a doctor; he had a vast knowledge of herbs. At the age of 18, he escaped from the plantation, and marooned in the mountains of Haiti. Armed as an herbalist, Macandal was able to organize the poisoning of many slave owners throughout Haiti for over 12 years. As Haiti’s first marooned black resistance, he predicted that the blacks would fight and defeat the French to become free and independent. The eye witness to Francois Macandal’s burning was the young Francois “Toussaint” Dominique; his name translated in Creole to mean awakenings of all saints or all soul rising. He was the military mind of the Haitian war for independence.
The seed of the Haitian Revolution sprouted on the evening of August 21, 1791, at an historic prophetic religious ceremony led by a priest named Dutty Boukman in the northern part of Saint Domingue called Bois Caiman. At the start of this successful movement by black slaves, the United States was a young free country from Great Britain (1776) and the French Revolution had just started in 1789. Unlike the American and French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution was controlled by men and women who were enslaved and have endured savage brutality.
At the start of Haiti’s war of Independence, the French and the slave fought brutally, burning numerous plantations. By 1792, the Haitian slaves controlled a third of the island. Meanwhile, France declared war with Great Britain, Spain, which controlled the rest of the island, joined Great Britain against France. During the course of the war, the Haitian slaves would have to navigate around three European forces: The French, the Spanish and the English; all wanting the “Pearl of the Antilles”, Haiti, the richest colony in the West Indies and probably the richest colony in the history of the world.
In 1798, the black resistance led by Toussaint and his military prowess in guerilla warfare, defeated Great Britain. In 1801, Touissaint and the black
resistance led the invasion and freeing of the slaves in neighboring Santo Domingo (the other part of the island)- thus defeating Spain and earning the name “L’Ouverture” which means the opener in French, due to his capacity to create tactical openings. With the island joined as one; Toussaint L’Ouverture created a constitution that made him governor for life. As a result, Napoleon Bonaparte sent an army to Haiti to restore French rule. Thus the battle for Independence continues. In 1802, Toussaint L’Ouverture was kidnapped and shipped to France. Toussaint warned his captors by saying “In overthrowing me you have cut down the trunk of the tree of liberty in Saint Domingue. However, it will spring up again from the roots, for they are
many and they are deep.” That tree and leader was Jean Jacques Dessalines.
After 13 years of war, Jean Jacques Dessalines and the slaves declared their independence on January 1, 1804, from the city of Gonaives, Dessalines
officially renamed Saint Domingue “Haiti” after the indigenous Arawak/Taino name. At this celebratory event, Dessalines took the French flag, composed of blue, white and red, tore it, removed the white, and gave it to his goddaughter Catherine Flon, who sewed it together, to create the new Haitian Flag. The removal of the white is said to be a reminder, that this first black republic, fought one of the strongest super powers of its time and won. In remembrance, Catherine Flon is on Haiti’s ten Gourdes banknote. “Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion.” The Haitian Revolution stands alone as a towering victory against incalculable odds.
The price of freedom came high for the new black republic. Haiti had to pay French slaveholders reparations in the amount of 150 million francs, in exchange for recognition of its independence and to gain freedom from French aggression. This payment bankrupted the Haitian economy before it started. Haiti was still paying this reparation in 1940. Even with this agreement, France did not formally recognized Haiti as an independent nation until 1834, thirty years later. The United States, which also fought against European forces waited until the civil war in 1862 to acknowledge Haitian’s independence, 48 years later.
The United States soon benefited from this Haiti’s liberation from France. With the economic loss of Haiti, Napoleon loss interest in the West, thus selling Louisiana to the United Stated. This acquisition, known as the “Louisiana Purchase”, doubled the size of U.S. One must wonder how the United States would be different if Haiti had lost the war.
The Haitian Revolution had other affect on the United States. The leaders of the largest slave revolts in the U.S., Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser were inspired by the revolution. Great orators like W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass spoke publicly of Haiti. And writers from the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes (Emperor of Haiti) and Zora Neale Hurston (Tell My Horse) use Haiti as the backdrop of their stories and plays.
When Simon Bolivar, the great Latin American, was denied support and protection from Jamaica, he came to Haiti to create an alliance. In 1817, with Haitian soldiers, arms and finances, Bolivar landed in Venezuela and started the fight that led to the independence of present day Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Haiti’s only condition for that support was for Bolivar to free any slaves he encountered.
Haiti’s emergence into the Western world was challenging, and its victory against all the odds is historical. Let’s not forget, with all these obstacles and accomplishments. Haiti was devastated in 1842 by a severe earthquake, similar to the one January 12, 2010. Recovery was difficult and in some cases impossible. The Haitian palace erected in 1812, was devastated and so was the nearby city of Cap Haitien. Though it was never rebuilt, in 1982, UNESCO designated the palace and the Citadelle, a World Heritage Site.
With constant weather disaster occurring often, Haiti is constantly rebuilding. With each occurrence, history is loss. Help us to preserve a historical country in the western hemisphere that can never be duplicated. And maybe, a few years from now, Haiti can rise from these ashes as a phoenix and remind everyone of its spectacular history. To my fellow Haitians, remember, our roots are strong and we will rise again, pa dekouraje!
To Help Haiti, please visit our information page:
Haiti Earthquake and Suggestions on How to Help from Haitians (with video)