Whenever Haiti is the topic of discussion, one will always think and associate Haiti as being the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere” and as the country who always seems to be in political turmoil. We are also reminded of the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti 10 years ago and how the US and France, two of the many countries who are responsible for Haiti’s current state, came to aid Haiti as the “poverty-stricken” and “helpless” sibling that media has portrayed Haiti to be since the 80s. As a child of Haitian immigrants, hearing about Haiti’s troubles has always caused me pain, but hearing how everyone else talks about Haiti and her struggles troubles me even more. Ayiti is not the poverty and disease-stricken country that seems to narrate her history. Ayiti has a rich and beautiful history that has been stripped of her resilience, determination, and triumphant victory of the French and replaced as a country constantly plagued by political corruption and poverty.
The history of Ayiti is a history that has similar origins of almost every other country in the world, the extermination of the indigenous population (Tainos in Haiti) and slavery/forced labor. Ayiti first came under Spain’s rule and then came under French rule soon after its discovery and was originally named Saint-Domingue. Saint-Domingue was also referred to as “The Pearl of the Antilles” for the treasures of sugar and sugar cane that fueled the economy. Saint-Domingue produced close to 40% of the sugar and 60% of coffee imported to Europe. France imported almost 800,000 Africans and to the colony to continue its wealth and plantation system. When comparing the numbers today, Ayiti was heavily affected by the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The most beautiful and inspiring aspects of Ayiti’s history is that she is the only one to have ever emerged as the victor as the result of a successful slave rebellion. The Haitian Revolution started on August 22, 1791, after a Voodoo ceremony held by Boukman at Bois Caïman. For 13 years, the rebels fought against the French and destroyed the plantation system. Two prominent figures of the rebellion are Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. At the beginning of the rebellion, Louverture denounced the slave rebels and rebellion but soon changed his mind after seeing exactly what they were fighting for. Louverture once said, “Leave nothing white behind you.” Louverture is most remembered for his military expertise. Louverture never saw the victorious end of the rebellion because he was captured by the French and died in a French prison months later. Dessalines went on to lead the rebels to victory with his famous war cry; koupe tet, boule kay, when translated means cut heads, burn houses. Dessalines had no interest in talking with the French or anyone white for that matter about freedom.
On January 1st, 1804, Dessalines announced the new nation as Haiti (Ayiti) to a world that largely unprepared to accept its independence and France’s defeat. Ayiti was a republic that NO ONE in the world could ever exist. Ayiti defeated one of the strongest military forces in the world. Ayiti’s independence wasn’t accepted by anyone, especially by the US. AmeriKKKa refused to acknowledge Ayiti’s independence for 60 years because they feared that the slaves there would follow Ayiti’s blueprint and start their own revolt. For 60 years, AmeriKKKa referred to Ayiti as Saint-Domingue or as the French Colony and even helped France to push Ayiti into economic turmoil. After Ayiti declared independence, France decided to force Ayiti to pay for lost profits and damages caused by the 13-year revolution by implementing an indemnity; Ayiti did not have much money due to the revolution so the county officials had no other choice but to take out loans from AmeriKKKa, France, and Britain to pay back France for loss profit. Because of this indemnity, the economic hardships that Ayiti has faced and still face today are a result. AmeriKKKa, France and Britain all owe Ayiti money, Billions of dollars, in fact.
Ayiti is a country that everyone should study and honor, her history should be one that should be treated with dignity and respect. Ayiti; the first of her kind to successfully abolish slavery and establish her independence. Ayiti; a country that has been an independent republic for 216 years despite numerous attempts to undermine her worth and to steal back her independence. Ayiti; a country that is still struggling to reclaim her beauty and eloquence in the midst of continuous political strife. My hope is that after you are finished reading this, you will speak of Ayiti as a country full of potential, a country who determined her self worth and independence despite the odds stacked against her, and a country whose revolutionary spirit should be our guide into changing the narrative that surrounds her.