Flag of the Week: Haïti

Author name
Rebecca Melaku
Haiti Flag

This week, we are going to the Caribbean and visiting Haïti. Haïti is located on the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic to the west. With a population of about 10 million and an area of 10,714 sq. miles, Haïti is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Less than a third of Haïti’s population is clustered in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, while most of the population resides in rural areas. Over 2 million people make up the Haïtian Diaspora, yet they maintain significant influence over Haïti’s politics and economy despite living overseas.

Haiti Capital City

Haïtian Creole and French are Haïti's two official languages, which are reminiscent of French colonial rule and the linguistic heritage of West African slaves who were forced to fulfill the labor needs of the economy until Haïti won their independence in 1804. In addition to being the first Black-led Republic, Haïti was the first country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Despite gaining sovereignty in 1804, Haïti faced severe political instability for the next hundred years.

In 1915, under the guise of reestablishing peace and order, US President Woodrow Wilson deployed an occupying military force to Haïti as a military strategy to block German access to the Panama Canal. The US maintained occupation of Haïti for almost two decades and seized control over Haïti’s economy and infrastructural development. Although significant progress was made in Haïti’s public works projects, like the paving of roads and the construction of schools and clinics, the US occupation was resisted by popular uprisings, and later by US citizens during the Great Depression. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt withdrew military forces from Haïti in 1934, but the Caribbean nation continued to be fraught with political oppression and violence which stagnated advancements in agriculture, health, education, or commerce.

Haiti Fortress

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, coupled with bouts of natural disaster events, have also rocked Haïti’s modern history. In spite of these obstacles, Haïtians convey a remarkable ability to persevere in the face of challenge. After the 2010 earthquake that resulted in over 300,000 casualties and 1.5 million people left homeless, Haïti constructed Hôpital Universitaire De Mirebalais, the world’s largest solar-powered hospital.

Haïti’s colonial past and West African influence shaped the religious landscape as well, with Catholicism and ​Vodou​ (Voodoo) comprising their two official religions. Unfortunately, Western media misassociates Vodou with sorcery, Satanism, zombies, and curses, but this is far from the reality of actual Vodou practices and rituals. Beyond religion, Vodou also plays an important role in Hatitian perceptions of health, as many Haïtians seek Vodou practitioners before seeking Western biomedicine.

Today, tourism makes up one of the largest industries in Haïti. With the highest levels of biodiversity in the Caribbean, as well as its serene beaches, tree-capped mountains, and striking natural beauty, Haïti is a popular destination for vacationers. Haïti’s rich cultural heritage adds to its appeal. As evidenced by its linguistic and religious customs, Haïti’s artistic, musical, and food culture draws from Caribbean, French, African, and Spanish influences. Popular dishes like Bouillon soup, griot (pork dish), and Lambi (seafood dish) are staples of Haïtian cuisine. As one of Haïti’s most celebrated festivals, Carnival showcases the nation’s rich cultural heritage in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras with lots of parades, music, dancing, food and colorful costumes.

Haiti Carnival