They call you “La perle des Antilles – The Pearl of the Indies.” Like one of the Young Black Travelers Blog authors said, you had the potential to become “THE WAKANDA OF THE WEST” and actually, at one point, some might argue that you were. Haiti, one of the richest and most profitable colony of all the European colonies! As a matter of fact, no colony was as rich as you. You were and still are rich in resources, rich in character, and rich in history. ⠀
You produced fifty percent of France’s revenue. One-half of the world’s most lucrative crop, sugar, was produced by you and two-thirds of the world’s coffee, which was the second most lucrative crop at the time, was also produced on YOUR SOIL. You helped other countries gain their independence while giving them residence in your home. You were and still is a selfless land.
The same is true for your people today. There isn’t a Haitian that won’t open their arms or their doors if one needs help or is hungry. I experienced this, this year when my father and I were stranded on the way to Ouest Department from Port Au Prince. It was a Sunday evening and was about to rain. On Sunday evenings everyone comes out to parade like one big festival is going on and this is yet another way to show how rich in color Haiti is. Due to the sunset and pending forecast, my father and I concluded that it wasn’t safe to head back to Port Au Prince, so we stayed at a friend’s for the night. This friend didn’t have much but found a way to help us. Along with some of his neighbors, we had somewhat of a party. A group that grew to about 15 or more people, and together we danced, roamed the area and simply had a grand time.
WHAT HAPPENED? How can a country with so much riches become this destitute? Haiti was indeed the most lucrative colony on the entire planet. The Haitian revolution, from 1791 to 1804, led by Jean Jacques Dessalines, set a precedence for African slaves everywhere. In the Battle of Vertière in November of 1803, Haiti officially won against the French and on January 1st,1804, Haiti declared its independence.
In addition, Haiti gave many refugee slaves safe passage and citizenship on the island and helped to free other slaves around the world. One would think that with these victories Haiti could begin to build. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth, because in 1806, Haiti was diplomatically isolated. No country recognized Haiti as a free nation. No country recognized Haiti’s independence. Not Spain, Not Great Britain, and CERTAINLY Not France.
According to Greg Dunkel of the International Action Center, “there was substantial trade between the United States and Haiti, even after the Haitian revolution ended slavery. Haiti sold coffee, molasses, sugar, cotton, hides and so on, and bought dried cod, cloth, hardware, and other bulk commodities. But Thomas Jefferson, the slave-owning, slave-selling president, was terrified by the successful slave rebellion and went to the extent of calling Toussaint Louverture’s army “cannibals.”
Louverture was a leader of Haiti’s liberation struggle and its army. The United States didn’t just want to beat Haiti but humiliate its people as well. In July 1825, King Charles X of France sent a fleet to reconquer the island. Haiti’s new president (post-Jean Jacques Dessalines’ assassination) agreed to a treaty by which France formally recognized the independence of the nation in exchange for a payment of 150 million francs.
The amount of the reparations was reduced to 90 million in 1838, but Haiti was unable to finish paying off its debt until 1947, 1947!!!!!! Had this debt remain unpaid, Haiti would have been blockaded by French’s ships and possibly, wouldn’t even be the Haiti we know today. It didn’t end there.
In 1915 the US invaded Haiti and looted their treasury of all the gold and stayed and looted the country for the next 18 years before they left in 1933. Not only was Haiti paying France, but they were also getting pillaged by the U.S. These are two of several events that play a major part in Haiti’s poverty problem. Haiti has been systematical, financially and physically hammered down, but still, we rise.
Though they fought against Haiti in many ways, they failed at destroying the spirit of this great nation. There’s a saying that many Haitians use, “Ayiti ap gen jou li”. When translated it means: “Haiti will have its day.” And it amazes me how hopeful Haitians are. Despite the natural disasters, the water remains blue and the night’s sky so vibrant. The generosity of Haitians boggles me. And I am humored at how sassy, blunt and sarcastic they are as well, even the children. Every remark out of a child’s mouth is a witty come back. If you don’t have tough skin, Haiti is not the country for you. But although they are tough, there is lots of love. Even the most docile, timid person has a quick response, with a smile.
On my visit, I drove from P.O.P to Les Cayes near the mountains and it was one of the most majestic sights to behold. The ridges in the mountains, the height, depth, and trees that made up the terrain looked like a massive throne. All it needed was for God to sit and claim his country. In Les Cayes, my father and I fed the homeless, prayed with neighbors and visited a special orphanage. This orphanage is called HELO HAITI, ran by Elisabeth Kennedy and her daughter Sarah Kennedy.
I met Elisabeth and Sarah in 2014 through another organization and I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were speaking Creole, FLUENTLY! I got a chance to visit HELO for the first time in 2015 and instantly connected with the children. To this day I’m still close to my now little brother Jean Michel.
The reason we visited HELO was to sponsor a child. I wanted to give back to Haiti. I want to be apart of its reform. That’s exactly what my father and I did and are currently doing. With Elisabeth’s approval, we made and handed out sandwiches, treats, and drinks for the children. That’s when I got to meet my new little brother Dimy. He was shy at first but after I took out my cell phone and let him take pictures of us, he opened right up.
Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Haiti. It’s vast. What I can tell you, is that Haiti is growing and it’s developing. Everything about Haiti screams strength, from its land to its people. My trip was a roller coaster of emotions but still a pleasant one, I recommend visiting. There is so much to see: the Citadel where the largest castle in the Caribbean resides; “Ile A Vache”, a romantic remote island which overlooks Cuba; and even “Dragons Breath Ziplines” in Labadee — It’s the longest zip line in the world, over water! This year I’ll be going back to Haiti and I would love to show you all more.
Follow me on Instagram @Zaxai_Official for more photos.