Culture

Haiti Has One Of The Most Expansive And Influential Histories In The World

Located on the western side of Hispaniola, Haiti is a nation rocked by revolutions and steeped in culture. We take a look at 21 highlights of the country’s history ranging from courageous slave revolts, rum-soaked pirates, murderous despots, and change-making visionaries.

The Indigenous Haitians

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Ancestors of the Taíno people, an Arawak-speaking population, were the first to inhabit Haiti. They are rumored to have arrived as early as 4000-5000 BC and researchers of this indigenous group debate whether they originated from the Amazon Basin, the Yucatán Peninsula or even as far as the Colombian Andes. Despite a wave of smallpox and slavery in the 16th century driving the Taíno to extinction, their language is immortalized in Haiti’s name, which is a transliteration of Ayti, meaning Mountainous Land.

The Arrival of Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti on Dec. 5, 1492, whilst sailing around the Caribbean Islands during his iconic expedition funded by the Spanish Empire. In an act of imperial uncouthness, he swiftly renamed it La Isla Española and established La Navidad, the first European colony in the Americas, which was located near to present-day Cap-Haïtien on the north coast. 

Bartolomé de las Casas

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Bartolomé de las Casas was ordained as the first priest in the Americas in 1510. He was one of the first to propose the use of African slaves as a method for offsetting the decline of the Taíno, who were rapidly dying from enslavement and foreign disease. It’s estimated that there were up to 8 million Taíno, before the arrival of Europeans, and by 1548 less than 500 were left. Las Casas later denounced all forms of slavery, but historians and abolitionists have since indelibly labeled him as one of the founders of the transatlantic slave trade.

Queen Anacaona

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Queen Anacaona, born in Léogâne, Haiti, was the last Taíno chief. After being captured by the Spanish and refusing to become a concubine she was executed. Her bravery has been praised in modern Haitian music, such as by Ansy and Yole Dérose.

Bottoms Up

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In the 17th century the swashbuckling Welshman, Henry Morgan, was contracted by the British to invade the colonial Spanish settlements scattered throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Failing to succeed he turned his attention to plundering wealthy Caribbean ports for gold and used Isla Vaca on Haiti’s south coast as a base of operations. After years of government-sponsored marauding, including accidentally blowing up his most prized battleship after a night of hard drinking, he fled to Jamaica with his bounty and bought 5,000 acres of land for cultivating sugar cane for the British. In 1944 his notoriety was spread even further around the world with the founding of the Captain Morgan rum brand.

An Island of Outcasts

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Tortuga Island on Haiti’s north coast was an epicenter for piracy. Previously fortified by the Spanish, a small number of French and English buccaneers began their first attempts to settle here in 1625. Over four decades the nations battled for ownership of the island, with Spain gaining and losing control four times. In 1684, the European superpowers signed the Treaty of Ratisbon, which effectively outlawed piracy and led to many of Tortuga’s settlers to seek out more legitimate work in the navy or cutting and trading wood.

Kings of Coffee

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When Spain ceded Haiti to the French in 1697 it was renamed Saint-Domingue and in less than a century became an agricultural powerhouse producing 60 percent of all coffee and 40 percent of sugar for Europe. So productive was this new French colony that it became referred to as The Pearl of the Antilles.

The Slave Rebellion

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The Haitian Revolution starting in 1791 was the most successful slave rebellion in world history. The three-year rebellion led to the abolishment of slavery across all of France’s territories, the country’s independence and kick-started slave revolts in the United States and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Gunpowder and Guano

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Since 1857 there has been a territorial dispute between Haiti and the U.S. over uninhabited Navassa Island. The US maintains its control under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which was passed as federal law, to allow U.S. citizens to claim unoccupied islands for collecting guano deposits which were readily used in the production of gunpowder and agricultural fertilizer.

Dezafi

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The first book to be written entirely in Haitian Creole, Dezafi by Frankétienne, was published in 1975 and described daily life during the Duvalier regime. It wasn’t until 1987 that Haitian Creole was recognized, alongside French, as the official language of the country.


Good Juju

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There’s a saying in the country that “Haitians are 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant, and 100 percent voodoo.” It’s believed that voodoo’s roots go back 6,000 years to Benin and was brought over to Haiti during the slave era where it was practiced in secret. It’s even said that a single ceremony led by Duty Boukman, a voodoo priest, instigated the Haitian Revolution. As a steadfast part of Haitian culture for centuries, it was formally considered in 2003 by Haiti’s Catholic President at the time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as having equal standing to Catholicism.

Hideouts

Credit: J. Outhwaite & K. Girardet / wilderutopia.com

During the 17th and 18th centuries, large numbers of slaves managed to escape the French to hide away in Haiti’s mountains. They were known as mawon which means “escaped slave” in Haitian Creole. Their clandestine communities, known as maroons, survived through hunting, agriculture, and capturing and returning other slaves who tried to escape. The most well-known maroon leader, François Mackandal, poisoned the drinking water of hundreds of plantation owners throughout the 1750s.

L’Ouverture’s Vision

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Toussaint L’Ouverture was the eldest son of an African prince. L’Ouverture led the revolutionary forces during the Haitian Revolution and after France abolished slavery he allied with them to overthrow the British and Spanish on the island. After his success, he wrote Haiti’s first constitution. A visionary, he ratified that “All men can work at all forms of employment, whatever their color.” and “There can be no slaves on this territory; servitude has been forever abolished. All men are born, live and die there free and French.”

Record Breakers

Credit: Auguste Raffet / Wikipedia

Haiti’s independence from France in 1804 makes it the world’s oldest black republic and after the United States, it is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Genocide

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Between 1804-1915 over 70 dictators ruled Haiti. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was the first ruler of independent Haiti carried out the genocide of 3,000-5,000 white native French and French Creoles. The only people spared were Polish who defected from the French army, medical professionals and a handful of German colonists.


The Citadel Laferrière

Credit: United States Army / Wikipedia

The imposing Citadel Laferrière is the largest fortress in the Americas and was built by slave rebellion leader Henri Christophe after gaining independence from France. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the mountaintop citadel was designed to sustain 5000 men with food and water for up to one year.

Jewel of the Caribbean

Credit: Rémi Kaupp / Wikipedia

The Sans-Souci Palace, 3 miles from Citadel Laferrière, was the royal residence of Henri Christophe. The palace’s ornate stonework and majestic architecture have been compared to the Palace of Versailles in France.


A Mix-Up

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At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, when Liechtenstein and Haiti unveiled their country’s flags they realized they were identical. Soon after Liechtenstein added a crown to their flag to avoid any further confusion.

Duvalier Dynasty

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François Duvalier was elected as president in 1957. After an attempted military coup d’état, Duvalier’s regime exerted a totalitarian rule over Haiti. He consolidated his power by creating an undercover death squad which Haitian’s referred to as the Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) which is named after a local mythological creature that kidnaps children and carries them away in a sack to be eaten. His aim was to spread fear, crush dissent and assassinate his opponents. An estimated 30,000 were killed. Duvalier declared himself President for Life until his 19-year-old son took over in 1971 and ruled until 1986 when he was forced to flee during a revolt.


Military Rule

Credit: U.S. Coast Guard / military.com

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, was elected in December 1990, but in less than a year was overthrown in a coup d’état giving rise to General Raoul Cédras. Under military rule up to 5,000 Haitians were killed and thousands of Haitians tried to flee the country by boat. Between 1991 and 1992 the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted over 41,000 trying to flee the country.

Natural Disaster

Credit: Marco Dormino, The United Nations Development Program / Wikipedia

On Jan. 12, 2010, an estimated 217,000 people were killed by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake which destroys most of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The international community came together to help the country rebuild.

READ: This Tijuana Restaurant Has Become The Hub Of The Haitian Migrant Community Stuck In Mexico

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

Culture

Here Are Nine Fascinating Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Puerto Rico

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Over the last couple of years, Puerto Rico has been in the news probably more than ever. From the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria to the resignation of the island’s governor over a sexist and homophobic scandal, Puerto Rico has seen its share of environmental and political drama. Meanwhile, the island is also home to some of the world’s top artists – Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, Residente – just to name a few.

But unless you or your family are actually Puerto Rican, very few people really know the island. Scratch the surface, though, and you’ll uncover all manner of surprising facts far beyond the white sands and crystal-clear waters. Whether it’s science, geography or politics, here are nine fascinating insights into this unique and beautiful island.

1. Rum, Rum, And Más Rum

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Rum is the libation of choice, the island’s chief export, and the base ingredient in many of Puerto Rico’s best cocktails. Puerto Rico and rum go way back, about 400 years, give or take a decade. Bacardi and Don Q are the largest producers on the island.

Puerto Rico is the only rum producer in the world to maintain a minimum aging law for its rum. You can get three main categories of rum here: light, dark, and añejo, or aged.

2. It’s About The Size Of Connecticut

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Given its population (it’s one of the most densely populated islands in the world), Puerto Rico is a relatively small place. If it were a state, it would be down near the bottom of the list in terms of size, even if you include the network of islands around the mainland.

3. It’s Home To The World’s Largest Radio Telescope

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Not known as a scientific hub, Puerto Rico has a technological marvel nestled in the hills of Arecibo. The dish measures 1,000 feet in diameter, spans about 20 acres, and is the most sensitive radio telescope in the world.

There’s a chance you’ve seen the Arecibo radio telescope, even if you’ve never been to Puerto Rico before. In the climactic last scene in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, the (inevitable) showdown between 007 and the bad guy takes place right here.

4. It’s Mascot Is The Unique Coquí Tree Frog

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Anyone who has been to Puerto Rico is familiar with the incredible coquí, which is native to the island. The inch-long amphibian has a powerful and melodic voice, and its high-pitched, chirrupy song can be heard for miles.

The coquís sing from dusk to dawn, and while the locals find this a lilting lullaby, unsuspecting foreigners aren’t always comforted by their song. But they are cute, and a much-loved symbol of Puerto Rico.

5. It’s One Of The World’s Beauty Queen Capitals

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The Miss Universe beauty pageant is one of the biggest and most famous across the globe. Among the countries whose representatives have won the title more than once is Puerto Rico. Despite the island’s small size and population in comparison with other countries, 5 winners have come from Puerto Rico: Marisol Malaret, Deborah Carthy Deu, Dayanara Torres, Denise Quinones, and Zuleyka Rivera.

6. The Island Was Home To Real Life Pirates

El Pirata Cofresi is Puerto Rico’s most famous, real-life pirate as the legend goes. Born in the seaside town of Cabo Rojo, he was encouraged to dream about exploring the sea from sailors in town.

According to Cofresi Palm Resort, as a pirate Cofresi would attack boats and share his spoils with the poor and as a result, people would help him hide. Compared to Robin hood for his actions, there is a story that says that some of his treasure may still be hidden.

7. It’s Home To Its Own Version Of The Galapagos Islands

Credit: US National Park Service

Off the western shore of mainland Puerto Rico you’ll find Mona Island, a natural reserve unspoiled by man. It has been compared to the Galapagos Islands for its natural beauty and its colony of iguanas. These iguanas, known as the Mona Iguana, are found nowhere else on earth, adding to the uniqueness of this ecosystem.

8. Coconuts Aren’t Native To Puerto Rico – Or The Americas At All

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You might picture yourself on the beach sipping delicious coconut water out of a freshly cut coconut, but did you know that coconuts are not native to the Americas?

The coconut was introduced to Puerto Rico in 1542, after the Spanish imported it from the Far East. Soon after it became part of the colonial Spanish diet and eventually emerged in one of the most popular drinks on the island – the Piña Colada.

9. San Juan Served As Headquarters During The Spanish Inquisition

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The Catholic Church has played an important role in the history and development of Puerto Rico since the early 1500s. As mentioned before, the oldest church still in use in the Americas was built in Old San Juan in 1522, yet, in 1519 Pope Leo X declared Puerto Rico the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World. 

As a result, Puerto Rico became the epicenter of the Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric and infamous events of Western civilization.

Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

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Coronavirus Sparks History Lesson In Mexico As Citizens Learn About Cocoliztli

latinamericanstudies.org

Mexico is struggling to combat the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. So far, the country has almost 25,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, with the worst still expected to come. With the country confronting one pandemic, it’s been forced to look back into history at another pandemic of epic proportions some 500 years ago.

We all know that the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas brought disease and famine that left millions of Native Americans dead. However, one epidemic in particular has always mystified both modern-day scientists and Indigenous cultures that survive to this day.

During the 16th century, Mexico suffered a demographic catastrophe with few parallels in world’s history. In 1519, the year of the arrival of the Spaniards, the population in Mexico was estimated to be between 15 and 30 million inhabitants. Eighty-one years later, in 1600, only two million remained.

Cocolitzli was a massive epidemic that killed millions of Indigenous Mexicans – particularly the Azteca – shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.

From 1545 to 1550, Aztecs in what is today southern Mexico experienced a deadly outbreak. Anywhere from five to 15 million people died. Locally, it was known as cocoliztli, but the exact cause or causes has been a mystery for the past 500 years.

Based on the death toll, this outbreak is often referred to as the worst disease epidemic in the history of Mexico. Subsequent outbreaks continued to baffle both Spanish and native doctors, with little consensus among modern researchers on the cause.

It’s long been accepted that Europeans brought with them smallpox and other contagious diseases that wiped out Native populations. In fact, before the cocolitzli outbreak, smallpox killed an estimated eight million Indigenous Mexicans in just over a year.

What did this cocolitzli outbreak look like across the country?

The outbreak started in 1545 when disaster struck the Aztec nation. The disease had a very short course, lasting three to five days. It started abruptly with high fever, vertigo, severe headache, insatiable thirst, red eyes and weak pulse. Patients became intensely jaundiced, very anxious, and restless. Subsequently, hard painful nodules appeared behind one or both ears, sometimes so large that they occupied the entire neck and half of the face. 

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.

Scientists have tried to identify the cause of the epidemic and it turns out it might have been from a common type of bacteria.

Credit: Christina Warriner / YUCUNDAA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

According to study author Åshild Vågene from the Max Planck Institute, the strain is a bacterial infection that causes a type of enteric fever nearly identical to typhoid. While that specific strain of salmonella is much rarer today, Vågene says it would have spread similarly. Any food or water contaminated with the strain would have turned deadly once ingested.

Salmonella enterica—subset Paratyphi C to be exact—was present in the DNA of ten different individuals buried at the only known burial site, Teposcolula-Yucundaa, associated with cocoliztli.

Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that a blood-borne illness was responsible for cocoliztliDepictions by both Spanish and indigenous artists show the infected with nose bleeds and coughing up blood.

“This is one of the diseases that doesn’t leave any visible clues on the skeleton,” Vågene told National Geographic, adding that very few diseases do.

The epidemic has many worried about Covid-19’s effects on today’s Indigenous communities.

It’s difficult to say why the cocoliztli was so deadly for the Indigenous community, but they may also have been suffering from malnourishment as a result of a great drought that afflicted the region at the time.

If the bug wasn’t present in the Americas before European arrival, the locals may have lacked a strong natural immune response to the disease and made them more susceptible. Whatever the pathogen, it swept through the region like a storm. At the time, historian Fray Juan de Torquemada wrote, “In the year 1576, a great mortality and pestilence that lasted for more than a year overcame the Indians … the place we know as New Spain was left almost empty.”