Our Haiti country profile offers facts about Haiti, officially known as the Republic of Haiti. A land of beauty in the Caribbean, this little island country has endured much hardship and adversity over it's long history.
Here are some interesting facts about Haiti:
The above outline Map of Haiti, on the Island of Hispaniola, shows Haiti in red. Found on the western part of Hispaniola, Haiti is the third largest country in the Caribbean. It shares a 224 mile border with the Dominican Republic and has a total area of 10,714 square miles.
Ayiti, meaning land of high mountains in Haitian Creole, was named for the mountains on the islands western side.
The Spanish changed the name from Haiti to Santo Domingo. In 1697 the island was formally divided into Santo Domingo and Saint-Domingue. On January 1, 1804, Saint-Domingo no longer existed and the modern Haiti was born, returning to it's original pre-Spanish name.
The flag of Haiti was adopted on February 25, 1987. It is divided into two equal-sized rectangles, the top one blue and the bottom one red in color. The coat of arms of Haiti appears on a white panel in the center of the Haiti flag.
Haitian students are taught the historical story of their country's flag as being created by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, on May 18, 1803, in the township of Arcahaie, near Port-au-Prince.
It is recounted that Dessalines ripped apart a French blue, white, and red flag, threw away the white and asked a young local girl, Catherine Flon, to sew the remaining parts together.
Her handiwork was mounted horizontally on a staff and became Haiti's new national symbol that publicly designated the country free from its French territorial oppression.
The blue represented the population of 450,000 ancient slaves and the red represented the mixed races known as mulattoes. The white appropriately disappeared, emphasizing Dessalines wanting nothing to do with the white man.
May 18th has been observed as the Haitian Flag Day, since the flag was originally created in 1803. It is one of the national symbols of Haiti that proudly represents individual freedom, unity, and pride. Flag Day is a major holiday widely celebrated throughout the country.
The Coat of Arms depicts a display of weapons indicating the country is ready to defend its freedom. The Royal Palm tree stands for independence. On the very top of the palm is the Cap of Liberty.
The National Motto, "L'Union Fait La Force," is shown on a white scroll. In English, it means "Unity Makes Strength."
The motto of Haiti is found on the ribbon of the Haiti Coat of Arms: L'Union Fait La Force — French for "Union Makes Strength." This oldest of national symbols of Haiti dates from 1807, and remained in use until 1849.
Then, President General Faustin Soulouque dubbed himself as Emperor and adopted the new Imperial arms. It shows two cannons and a French imperial eagle.
Emperor Soulouque was forced to leave Haiti in 1859, and afterwards the old symbol was restored. The composition has remained the same with variations to the colors and items.
"La Dessalinieene" — The Dessalines Song
The title of the national anthem honors the founder of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. The anthem was selected because of a competition in 1903, the winning selection was adopted on Haiti's Centennial, January 1, 1904.
Pour le Pays, Pour la Patrie,
Pour les Aïeux, pour la Patrie
Pour le Pays et pour nos Pères
Pour les Aïeux, pourla Patrie
Pour le Drapeau, pour la Patrie
For our country,
For our forebears,
For our country
For our forebears,
For the flag,
The national bird of Haiti is the Hispaniolan Trogon. It's found in tropical and subtropical forests that are dangerously threatened by heavy deforestation.
The Trogon has been sighted in Haiti's mountain ranges in the upper altitudes of the forests, confined to protected areas.
Haiti never adopted an official flower, but unofficially it would be thought to be the Hibiscus that grow readily throughout the countryside.
It is thought that the palm tree would be the tree to best represent Haiti, maybe because the Royal Palm is found on the Coat of Arms.
Haitian People Selling Their Wares On The Street
Haitian people are warm and friendly, and know how to survive in the face of adversity and daily challenges. Haiti's population is mostly concentrated in the urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys.
Haitians have a varied European descendance and a significant amount of Jewish ancestry and a small percent of Asian descent.
Approximately 95 percent of Haiti people are of African descent, with the remaining 5% being mulatto — black and white parentage or ancestry — and other races. The majority is Roman Catholic and Voodoo is also widely practiced, often in conjunction with the Roman Catholic traditions.
Haiti has two official languages, French and the recently standardized Haitian Creole. French is the principal language written and spoken in schools and authorized, being spoken by most educated Haitians and used in the business sector.
Haitian Creole is spoken by almost the entire population of Haiti. It has a significant African influence, with some influence from Spanish and Taino as well. Conversational Spanish has been learned by residents near the border of the Dominican Republic. Ties with the United States business sector have seen English also become an important tool of commerce.
Haitian culture is a mix of French, African and native Taino elements, with some lesser influence from the colonial Spanish and Portuguese.
The customs are a blend of cultural beliefs derived from these various ethnic groups that have inhabited the island of Hispaniola.
There is a marked level of different social status in Haiti's society, measured by French phrases and words, by western influenced dress, and by the straightening of the hair.
There is a wide gap between the wealthy elite and the masses. The wealthier tend to have lighter skin, thought to be from intermarriages of the elite with white merchants. It is noted that darker skinned people have succeeded well in the military and many have been presidents.
Men tend to monopolize the job market in Haiti culture. Jobs such as jewelers, construction workers, general laborers, mechanics, chauffeurs, most doctors, teachers, pastors, and politicians are held only by men.
Men also dominate in areas of spiritual healing and herbal medicine. On a domestic level, men provide the care of livestock and the gardens.
Women look after cooking, housecleaning, and hand washing of clothes. Rural women and children would also bring in water and firewood and help at harvesting and planting times.
Women are thought of as the owners of the harvest and being the dominate marketers, they often have control of their husband's wages.
Women have some opportunities in nursing and teaching and have made some inroads into the medical field.
Greetings are very important to Haitian culture. When people meet on a path in rural areas, they will exchange "hellos" several times before striking up conversation.
Men shake hands, both when they meet and depart; men and women exchange a kiss on the cheek, and women kiss each other on the cheek, and in rural areas women kiss female friends on the lips as an expression of friendship.
In public, a display of friendship is commonly expressed by holding hands by both women with women and men with men. There is no sexual intent to public hand holding.
When money is readily available and the price of something is already known and decided, Haitian people will still haggle. The higher class people are expected to treat the lower class people with impatience and contempt, and arguments are heated, loud, and common.
Except for festive occasions, young women do not smoke or drink alcohol. Men partake, not excessively, at festivities, funerals, and cockfights.
Older women who are active in marketing begin to drink rum (kleren) and use snuff and tobacco in a pipe or cigar. It is less common for men to use snuff, but they do smoke tobacco, more in the form of cigarettes.
The music of Haitian culture is varied. Styles such as Rara, Voodoo drum, Racine (Roots/Rock), Kompa, Rap (Hip/Hop Kreyol), Twoubadou, Contre-danse, Cadence rampa, Kata and Meringue are all enjoyed.
Haitian Schoolchildren In Their Classroom
Importance as well as prestige is associated with Haiti education. Instruction in private schools in taught in French, while Creole and French are used in the public schools.
Just below half of Haiti's 8.7 million inhabitants are illiterate. Parents living in the poorer, rural areas, will at least try to send their children to primary school.
Of the 15,200 primary schools, 90% are private and managed by the communities, religious organizations, and NGOs (Non Government Organizations).
Haitian schooling usually begins with students at the age of six. They are normally expected to finish their primary grades in six years.
The enrollment rate for primary school is 67% and less than 30% of these reach the 6th grade. Children are needed at home for manual labor, so only a child who excels at school is considered for continued education in Haiti; this is then available to only those parents who can afford the costs.
Secondary schools enroll only 20% of eligible-age children. This next level of education also takes six years to complete our high school equivalent. This is then followed by another year of study.
The educational system is based on the French system. Universities and other public and private institutions for higher education are under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.
Haitian Gourde And Paper Currency
The Haitian economy is dependent on national donors. Severe natural disasters, lack of investment, inflation, and severe trade deficit have all taken a toll on Haiti's economy in recent years.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. About 80% of its population lives in poverty. Tropical storms and the massive earthquake of January 2010 have further impoverished this third-world nation with profound losses to agricultural productivity.
Haiti's industries include sugar refining, flour milling, textiles, cement, tourism, and light assembly.
Haiti imports food, machinery, transport equipment, and fuels; and exports coffee, mangoes, and oils.
Haiti's biggest trading partners are the U.S. and the E.U.
The Rugged Mountains Of Haiti
The geography of Haiti has rugged mountains, like Pic la Selle, small coastal plains and river valleys.
The northern area consists of both the Massif du Nord (Northern Massif), which is an extension of the Cordillera Central in the Dominican Republic, as well as the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain).
The Massif du Nord begins at the eastern border, follows north of the Guayamouc River, and extends to the northwest through the northern peninsula.
The Plaine du Nord lowlands are along the northern border between the Massif du Nord and the North Atlantic Ocean.
The central region consists of two plains and two sets of mountain ranges. The Plateau Central (Central Plateau) extends along both sides of the Guayamouc River, to the south of the Massif du Nord, and runs from the southeast to the northwest.
To the southwest of the Plateau Central are the Montagnes Noires, whose northwestern part merges with the Massif du Nord.
The southern region is made up of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac, being the southeast, and the mountainous southern peninsula called the Tiburon Peninsula.
Our description of the geography of Haiti would not be complete without mention of the famous salt lakes that are found in the natural depression of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. Included in these salt lakes would be both Trou Caiman and Haiti's largest lake Lac Azuei.
An extension of Sierra de Baoruco of the Dominican Republic is the Chaine de la Selle mountain range. It extends from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. It is in this mountain range that we find Pic la Selle, the highest point in the country.
The capital and largest city of Haiti is Port-au-Prince, located on a bay of the Gulf of Gonave. Prior to the earthquake of January 12, 2010, its population was believed to be between 2.5 and 3 million people.
In terms of crops, Haiti's most important valley is the Plaine de l'Artibonite, found south of the Montagnes Noires.
It's here that we find the country's longest river, the Riviere l'Artibonite that runs from west Dominican Republic, through central Haiti, and onward to the Golfe de la Gonave where it empties.
Included as part of Haiti are several offshore islands. Off the northern coast is the historically famous island of Tortuga, which is Spanish for tortoise.
Gonave Island, which is populated by rural villagers, locates Arrondissement — an administrative division — of La Gonave in the Golfe de la Gonave.
Ile a Vache or Island of Cows, is located just off the southwestern tip of Haiti and is beautiful and lush.
The Cayemites and Ile de Anacaona are also part of Haiti.
Palm Trees And Vegetation Of Haiti
Deforestation in Haiti has damaged fertile farmland soils, which have contributed to Haiti's environmental issues such as desertification. Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountain regions in 1925.
Things have changed drastically since then, and since 2006, the population had cut down almost all its original forest, leaving only 2% undestroyed.
Erosion has been the most severe in the mountainous regions where Haitians have been logging to produce charcoal, the country's chief fuel source. Numerous reforestation efforts from nations around the world have had little success to date.
The deforestation has caused not only soil erosion, but also periodic flooding. Tropical storm Jeanne affected the north coast of Haiti in September 2004, causing mudslides and killing over 3,000 people.
Earlier that same year in May, flooding killed over 3,000 people on the southern border shared with the Dominican Republic.
Again, in August and September of 2008, tropical storms raged against the country with heavy winds and rain. With already weak soil conditions, the mountainous terrain, and the devastating effects of four storms in less than four weeks, the valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding.
The storms proved all the more life threatening because of already high food and fuel prices having caused a food crisis and political unrest.
The devastating effects of yet even more environmental damage from the earthquake of January 12, 2010, have left a huge footprint on the country.
The search for solutions to both the energy and environmental problems continues.
Haiti Earthquake Map Showing Epicenter
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a 7.0 magnitude quake that hit approximately 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. The epicenter hit near the town of Leogane at 16:53 local time, on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.
Apparently, at least 52 aftershocks have occurred since the original quake hit. These measured at 4.5 magnitude or greater.
It's estimated that over three million people were affected by the earthquake in Haiti. The Haitian President, Rene Preval, stated on January 27, that nearly 170,000 dead bodies had been counted.
Reports claim as many as 20,000 commercial buildings and over 225,000 residences have collapsed or been severely damaged. Extensive damages occurred at Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and other communities in the area.
Many noted landmark buildings have been lost, including the Presidential Palace, the National Assembly building, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, the United Nations Stabilization Mission headquarters, and the main jail.
Officials and leaders killed included Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Micha Gaillard, the government opposition leader, and Hedi Annabi the Missions Chief of the United Nations Stabilization Mission.
Damage to communication systems, air, land, and sea transport facilities, hospitals, and electrical networks hampered immediate rescue and aid efforts.
The Port-au-Prince morgues were quickly filled, and many thousands of bodies have been buried in mass graves. Sadly, on January 23, the Haitian Government officially called off the search for more survivors.
This came on the heels of the announcement of January 22, by the United Nations, saying that the emergency phase of the relief operation was coming to a close. This is by far the most devastating earthquake Haiti has seen in decades.
The Haiti earthquake happened at the fault that runs right through Haiti, located along the boundary between the Caribbean and North American plates. Plates are described as rocky slabs covering the planet that fit together like giant jigsaw puzzle pieces.
What was felt on January 12th, was a release of pent-up energy from the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system. It has been explained that the Caribbean plate moves eastward past the North American plate by about 0.8 inches per year causing the huge energy buildup, and the resulting Haiti earthquakes.
The high 7.0 magnitude of the quake surprised scientists, as this system of faults hasn't affected any major tremblor in many decades. This is by far the largest ever quake to hit the area. The last time an earthquake this strong struck Haiti was in the 18th century.
The magnitude positively plays an important role in the amount of damage. However, this earthquake was very shallow, which means it was released very close to the surface, being very characteristic of the violent ground shaking that ocurred.
In contrast, when an earthquake is very deep, the energy has a chance to be absorbed through the Earth's crust before it reaches the surface and then possibly causes less shaking.
A positive thing about the Haiti earthquake, if there could be anything positive, is that because it was on land, it did not generate a tsunami.
Unofficial reports are suggesting that the shaking lasted from between 35 seconds up to one full minute, which is considered a long time for the ground to shake that violently.
These factors mixed with the knowledge that this very poor nation has no building codes and a shoddy infrastructure, this was an expected unfortunate result.