HISTORY - The Republic of Haiti, with a population of over 9 million people, is located on the western part of the island of Hispaniola, sharing a 224-mile border with the Dominican Republic. The country is slightly smaller than the US State of Maryland. The terrain includes rugged mountains, rain forests, palm tree lined beaches, and small coastal plains and river valleys. There are several islands, including the famous island of Tortugas (Ile de la Torture) located off the coast of northern Haiti.
Once a prosperous French colony, the nation declared its independence in 1804 as the first independent black-led republic. Originally "discovered" by Christopher Columbus, the native inhabitants, the Taíno-Arawak peoples, fought against the Spanish until conquered and incorporated into the imported African slave population. French settlement of Hispaniola began in 1625 and was formally claimed in 1664. The fertile island became the richest colony in the Western Hemisphere, exporting sugar and coffee. In 1790, free blacks and slaves revolted together to form the only successful slave revolt in world history that led to claiming independence in 1804. The free black nation chose to keep the original Taíno-Arawak name "Ayiti" meaning "mountainous land".
Now, considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has
struggled with political instability for most of its history. The United States, concerned about foreign powers attempting to influence the island, invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. In 1957, Dr. Francois Duvalier "Papa Doc" came to power and ruled as dictator from 1964 until his death in 1971. His son Jean-Claude, "Baby Doc", then succeeded him to the dictatorship. The Duvalier governments were internationally criticized for corruption and massive human rights violations.
ARTS - Haitian art is distinctive, particularly painting and sculpture. Brilliant colors, naive perspective and sly humor characterize Haitian art. Frequent subjects in Haitian art include big, delectable foods, lush landscapes, market activities, jungle animals, rituals, dances, and gods. Artists frequently paint in fables. People are disguised as animals and animals are transformed into people. As a result of a deep history and strong African ties, symbols take on great meaning within Haitian society. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colors of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party. Many artists cluster in 'schools' of painting, such as the Cap-Haïtien school, which features depictions of daily life in the city, the Jacmel School, which reflects the steep mountains and bays of that coastal town, or the Saint-Soleil School, which is characterized by abstracted human forms and is heavily influenced by vodou symbolism.
CUISINE - Haitian cuisine originates from several culinary styles from the various historical ethnic groups that populated the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. Haitian cuisine is similar to the rest of the Latin-Caribbean (the French and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Antilles), however it differs in several ways from its regional counterparts. While the cuisine is unpretentious and simple, the flavors are bold and spicy that demonstrate a primary influence of African culinary aesthetic, paired with a very French sophistication with no
table derivatives coming from native Taíno and Spanish techniques. Though similar to other cooking styles in the region, it carries a uniqueness native to the country and an appeal to many visitors to the island. Haitians often use peppers and other strong flavorings.
Dishes tend to be seasoned liberally and consequently Haitian cuisine is often moderately spicy. In the country, however, several foreign cuisines have been introduced. These include Levantine from Arab migration to Haiti. Rice and beans in several differing ways are eaten throughout the country regardless of location, becoming a sort of national dish. They form the staple diet, which consists of a lot of starch and is high in carbohydrates. Rural areas, with better access to agricultural products, have a larger variety of choices.
One such dish is mais moulu (mayi moulen), which is comparable to cornmeal that can be eaten with sauce pois (sòs pwa), a bean sauce made from one of many types of beans such as kidney, pinto, chickpeas, or pigeon peas (known in some countries as gandules). Mais moulin can be eaten with fish (often red snapper), or alone depending on personal preference. Some of the many plants used in Haitian dishes include tomato, oregano, cabbage, avocado, bell peppers. A popular food is banane pesée (ban-nan'n peze), flattened plantain slices fried in cooking oil (known as tostones in the Spanish speaking Latin American countries). It is eaten both as a snack and as part of a meal is, often eaten with tassot or griot, which are deep-fried goat and pork respectively.
Traditionally, the food that Haitians eat on the independence day (1 January) is Soup Joumou. Haiti is also known internationally for its rum. Rhum Barbancourt is one of the nation's exports and is regarded highly by international standards.