50 Fascinating Facts about Haiti

Sitting the tropical Caribbean Sea, the Republic of Haiti is part of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antilles chain of islands which includes Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. More than any other country in the Caribbean, Haiti is associated with slavery, the legacy of which is evident in everything from the people to the land itself. Unique in many ways, Haiti is the only country in the world to grow out of a successful revolution by an enslaved population. Its natural beauty and diversity is unique and world famous, despite the privations of centuries of exploitation. Its people are proud and friendly, providing one of the most distinctive diaspora in many countries around the region, especially the Southeastern USA.

Haiti Facts

1
Christopher Columbus discovered Haiti in 1492 and found it to be already inhabited by a native tribe now known as Taino. He originally called Haiti ‘La Isla Espanola’ which means ‘The Spanish Isle’.
2
The Island was originally called Hispaniola which included both Haiti and the Dominican Republic and was only changed to Haiti after Spain surrendered the western third of the island to the French in 1697.
3
Only 53% of Haiti’s population can read and write.
4
At the beginning of 2010 and estimated to be the worst in over 200 years, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti just 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s Capital. The death toll was estimated at over 300,000 people with 1.5 million left homeless. There were a further 52 aftershocks after the initial earthquake.
5
It is compulsory to be educated at Primary school in Haiti, however families are responsible for paying school fees. As a result of this many do not go on to be educated at secondary level due to the financial pressure on their families.
6
The Haiti constitution of 1987 authorized freedom of religion meaning that missionaries and churches that are registered are exempt from the custom duties associated with bringing goods into the country.
7
Christmas is celebrated in Haiti on 25th December. Families will attend church services both during the day and for ‘midnight supper’ and to mark the occasion tree trunks are whitewashed and houses are painted.
8
Approximately 80% of the population of Haiti live in extreme poverty.
9
There are no natural gas, oil or coal reserves in Haiti, so all fossil fuels and petroleum products must be imported.
10
The famous saying or motto of the Haitians is ‘Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite’ which means Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood.
11
Haiti is full of bright colours, particularly on their buses which they acquired second hand from the USA. These buses are known as Tap Tap Buses.
12
There were 280,000 people (approx) in 2004 living with Aids or HIV in Haiti, that is 5.6 out of every 100 adults suffering. There were 24,000 deaths relating to AIDS in the same year.
13
7,400,000 Haitians are totally without electricity.
14
Only 5 out of every 1,000 Haitians own a car. People often use communal taxis or the ‘Taptap’ buses as a method of transport as there are also no railroads in Haiti.
15
Of the 14 airports in Haiti only 4 have actual paved runways.
16
Sadly, due to extreme poverty and very poor health and hygiene over 10% of children in Haiti die before they are five years old.
17
The Western Hemisphere’s largest fortress is situated in northern Haiti on a large mountain top. The fortress is called ‘The Citadelle’ and is very popular with Haiti tourists.
18
Haiti led the Western Hemisphere as being its first country to abolish slavery. It wasn’t until 65 years later that the United States of America followed suit.
19
Vodou (more commonly known as Voodoo) is recognized as an official religion in Haiti. No other country in the world recognizes Voodoo in this way.
20
A very important food source to Haitians is the ‘gourd’. The gourd is a member of the same plant family as melons, cucumber and squash. In addition to being a food source it can be used as a vessel for drinking, once dehydrated and dried. The Haitian official currency was even named after this food source ‘Haitian Gourde’ due to the foods extreme importance to the island residents. This is quite fitting as prior to 1807 the gourd itself was the currency.
21
Haiti claims French as its official language along with only one other country in the Americas which is Canada. Interestingly, 90% of Haitian natives speak Creole as their first language with only the few having enough understanding of French for it to be their second language. Creole however, was not sanctioned as an official language of Haiti until 1987.
22
Cock fighting is still considered a popular sport in Haiti and the human winner can receive up to $70 dollars as a reward which is more than 80% of the population in Haiti earn in a month.
23
Haiti was occupied by the USA between 1915 and 1934.
24
The word Haiti comes from the Taino people's description of their island, “Ayiti.” This translates as “Land of Mountains.”
25
Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's second oldest independent nation
26
Port au Prince gets its name from Le Prince; the name of the ship which sailed into the port in 1706.
27
Haiti's national sport is Association Football (soccer). Its national football team qualified for the 1974 World Cup, making it only the second country from the Caribbean to do so. Cuba was first, in 1938.
28
The most popular musical tradition in Haiti is “Compa.” This is not one particular style of music, but performance of many different styles taken from the island's rich cultural history; Taino, African, French and Spanish cultures are all represented.
29
Probably the most famous Haitian musician to those outside the island is Wyclef Jean. He is one of the founding members of the Fugees, who had a series of worldwide hits in the 1990s.
30
Haitian cuisine is distinctive in its boldness and simplicity. Although creole in nature, like that of all Caribbean cultures, it is noted for its use of herbs and spices. Probably more heavily African influenced than other cuisines in the region, it has also incorporated Middle Eastern elements since the 19th Century arrival of settlers from Lebanon and Syria.
31
Voodoo, or vodou, is such an important part of Haitian culture that president Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier claimed to be a voodoo priest. He also modeled himself on a Haitian Vodou spirit called Baron Samedi in order to reinforce his cult of personality.
32
The author Graham Greene wrote a derogatory book about the Duvalier era called The Comedians. He was subsequently banned from ever entering the country.
33
Haiti's national flower is the Hibiscus.
34
In the 1970s, Haiti introduced a law offering easy divorces where only one of the married couple had to be present. This was a bid to boost tourism. US rock band Steely Dan released a single called Haitian Divorce in 1976, telling the story of a woman who makes use of this arrangement with unforeseen consequences.
35
The Haitian national anthem is called La Dessalinienne. Commissioned in 1903, it praises the country's first independent ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Known as Jacques I of Haiti, Dessalines lead the successful revolution against French rule in 1803.
36
Less than 2% of Haiti's natural forest is left standing, after being cleared for plantation from the 17th Century onward.
37
Eight thousand people were killed by Hurricane Flora, which hit the country in 1963. This is still one of the world's worst natural disasters.
38
Haiti has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the Caribbean. Along with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, the country has 5,600 species of plants living in nine life zones from sea level to mountain tops.
39
Since October 2017, the country has been under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti. This has replaced military personnel with policing on a smaller scale. It is mandated until April 2018. The previous UN mission was badly harmed by the 2010 earthquake and never regained full strength.
40
Haiti is at the centre of an international aid scandal involving the charity Oxfam. It is alleged that Oxfam officials procured prostitutes with aid money intended to help rebuild the country in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
41
There are surviving cave paintings throughout the country from the Taino culture. These have been adopted as national symbols and provide one of the country's unique tourist attractions
42
Sixty nine percent of Haiti's exported goods are t-shirts, sweatshirts and pullovers. Clothing in general makes up nearly 90% of the country's export trade.
43
Haiti has endangered mammal species including the Haitian solenodon. This is one of only two unique mammal families called Eulipotyphlans, which are related to hedgehogs and moles.
44
The Haitian city of Jacmel became the first place in the Caribbean to have electric power, which was installed in 1925. Jacmel became known as the City of Light.
45
The annual Haitian Carnival is one of the most popular in the Caribbean. It has spread from Port au Prince to other cities in the country, and begins in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. It is becoming a bigger tourist attraction every year, bringing much needed foreign currency to the country. The government has encouraged its growth outside the capital city for this reason.
46
Haiti has its own artistic tradition which is recognized for its bold, colorful and symbolic painting. There are different schools throughout the country, including Saint-Soleil, which is most identified with Vodou traditions.
47
Haitian literature dates mainly back to the French colonial period, but since independence, writers have been encouraging the use of the distinctive Haitian Creole as a means of literary expression.
48
Haiti exports an old and highly valued spirit called Rhum Barbancourt. The rum was made directly from sugar cane juice originally and is recognized as one of the finest in the world.
49
One positive development arising from the 2010 earthquake was the building of the Hopital Universitaire de Mirebalais. This is the world's largest solar powered hospital.
50
The name of native Haitian people the Taino translates as “the good people.”

Haiti has been through a great deal of political and economic turmoil in recent years, made worse by the earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people and caused severe damage to the infrastructure and economy of the country. Since 2004, there has been a UN peacekeeping force in place to help provide stability after a coup d'état forced the resignation of the President, but Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and ranks near the bottom of Human Development Index. Despite this, Haiti has a rich cultural heritage that reflects both its indigenous traditions and colonial history, particularly in art, music, and literature. The country also continues to be a popular tourist destination, with more than a million tourists, mainly from cruise ships, visiting in 2014 and generating $200 million dollars. Haiti has a long way to go before it can achieve peace and stability, but the country still has much to offer for those who can see past its recent troubles.

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