Background

Hispaniola

Columbus visited the north coast of Hispaniola, modern Haiti, on his first visit to the West Indies, leaving a few men there to make a settlement before he moved on to Cuba. He traded with the native Taínos for trinkets, which were to seal the Indians' fate when shown to the Spanish monarchs. A second voyage was ordered immediately. Columbus tried again to establish settlements, his first having been wiped out. His undisciplined men were soon at war with the native Taínos, who were hunted, taxed and enslaved. Hundreds were shipped to Spain, where they died. When Columbus had to return to Spain he left his brother, Bartolomé, in charge of the fever-ridden, starving colony. The latter sensibly moved the settlement to the healthier south coast and founded Santo Domingo, which became the capital of the Spanish Indies. The native inhabitants were gradually eliminated by European diseases, murder, suicide and slavery, while their crops were destroyed by newly introduced herds of cattle and pigs. Development was hindered by the labour shortage and the island became merely a base from which to provision further exploration, being a source of bacon, dried beef and cassava. Even the alluvial gold dwindled and could not compete with discoveries on the mainland. The population of some 400,000 Taínos in 1492 fell to about 60,000 by 1508. In 1512 the Indians were declared free subjects of Spain, and missionary zeal ensured their conversion to Christianity. A further 40,000 were brought from the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Venezuela, but by 1525 the Indian population had practically disappeared. Sugar was introduced at the beginning of the 16th century and the need for labour soon brought African slaves.

Birth of a colony

In the 17th century the French invaded from their base on Tortuga and colonized what became known as Saint Domingue, its borders later being determined by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. The area was occupied by cattle-hunting buccaneers and pirates, but Governor de Cussy, appointed in 1684, introduced legal trading and planting. By the 18th century it was regarded as the most valuable tropical colony of its size in the world and was the largest sugar producer in the West Indies. However, that wealth was based on slavery and the planters feared rebellion. After the French Revolution, slavery came under attack in France and the planters called for more freedom to run their colony as they wished. In 1791 France decreed that persons of colour born of free parents should be entitled to vote; the white inhabitants of Saint Domingue refused to implement the decree and mulattos were up in arms demanding their rights. However, while the whites and mulattos were absorbed in their dispute, slave unrest erupted in the north in 1791. Thousands of white inhabitants were slaughtered. Soon whites, mulattos and negroes were all fighting, with shifting alliances and mutual hatred.

Toussaint Louverture

Out of the chaos rose a new leader, an ex-slave called François-Dominique Toussaint, who created his own roaming army after the 1791 uprising. When France and Spain went to war, he joined the Spanish forces as a mercenary and built up a troop of 4,000 negroes. However, when the English captured Port-au-Prince in 1794 he defected with his men to join the French against the English. After four years the English withdrew, by which time Toussaint was a leader among the black population. He then turned against the mulattos of the west and south, forcing their armies to surrender. Ordered to purge the mulatto troops, Toussaint's cruel lieutenant,
Jean-Jacques Dessalines
, an African-born ex-slave, slew at least 350. Mulatto historians later claimed that 10,000 were massacred. The same year, torrential rain broke the irrigation dams upon which the prosperity of the area depended. They were never repaired and the soil was gradually eroded, creating a wilderness. By 1800 Toussaint was politically supreme. In 1801 he drew up a new constitution and proclaimed himself Governor General for life. However, Napoleon had other plans, which included an alliance with Spain, complicated by Toussaint's successful invasion of Santo Domingo, and the reintroduction of the colonial system based on slavery. In 1802 a French army sent to Saint Domingue defeated Toussaint and shipped him to France, where he died in prison. The news that slavery had been reintroduced in Guadeloupe provoked another popular uprising which drove out the French.

19th-century revolution

The new revolt was led by Dessalines, who had risen to power in Toussaint's entourage and was his natural successor. In 1804 he proclaimed himself Emperor of an independent Haiti, naming the country after the Taíno word for 'high land'. Dessalines was assassinated in 1806 and the country divided between his rival successors: the negro
Christophe
in the north, and the mulatto
Pétion
in the south. The former's rule was based on forced labour and he managed to keep the estates running until his death in 1820. He called himself
Roi Henri Christophe
and built the Citadelle and Sans Souci near Milot. Pétion divided the land into peasant plots, which became the pattern all over Haiti and led to economic ruin with no sugar production and little coffee. Revolution succeeded revolution as hatred between the blacks and mulattos intensified. Constitutional government rarely existed in the 19th century.

US intervention

In 1915, the USA intervened for geopolitical and strategic reasons, provoked by the murder and mutilation of a President. Occupation brought order, the reorganization of public finances, health services, water supply, sewerage and education, but there was still opposition to it, erupting in an uprising in 1918-1920 which left 2,000 Haitians dead. By the 1930s the strategic need for occupation had receded and the expense was unpopular in the USA. In 1934 the USA withdrew, leaving Haiti poor and overpopulated with few natural resources. Migrants commonly sought work on the sugar estates of the neighbouring Dominican Republic, although there was hatred between the two nations. In 1937 about 10,000 Haitian immigrants were rounded up and massacred in the Dominican Republic.

Duvalier Dynasty

In 1957
François (Papa Doc) Duvalier
, a black nationalist, was elected President and succeeded in holding on to power. He managed to break the mulattos' grip on political power, even if not on the economy. In 1964 he became President-for-Life, a title inherited by his 19-year-old son,
Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier
, in 1971. The Duvaliers' power rested on the use of an armed militia, the
Tontons Macoutes
, to dominate the people. Tens of thousands of Haitians were murdered and thousands more fled the country. Repression eased under Jean-Claude, but dissidence rose, encouraged partly by US policies on human rights. Internecine rivalry continued and the mulatto elite began to regain power, highlighted by the President's 1980 marriage to Michèle Bennett, the daughter of a mulatto businessman. Discontent erupted with the May 1984 riots in Gonaïves and Cap-Haïtien, and resurfaced after the holding of a constitutional referendum on 22 July 1985 giving the Government 99.98% of the vote. Several months of unrest and rioting gradually built up into a tide of popular insistence on the removal of Duvalier, during the course of which several hundred people were killed by his henchmen. The dictatorship of the Duvaliers (father and son) was brought to a swift and unexpected end when the President-for-Life fled to France on 7 February 1986.

Democracy and the army

The removal of the Duvaliers left Haitians hungry for radical change. The leader of the interim military-civilian Government,
General Henri
Namphy
, promised presidential elections for November 1987, but they were called off after Duvalierists massacred at least 34 voters early on polling day with apparent military connivance. New, rigged elections were held in January 1988, and
Professor Leslie Manigat
was handed the presidency only to be ousted in June when he tried to remove Namphy as army commander. Namphy took over as military President, but four months later he himself was ousted in a coup that brought
General Prosper Avril
to power. Dissatisfaction within the army resurfaced in April 1989, when several coup attempts were staged in quick succession and lawlessness increased as armed gangs, including disaffected soldiers, terrorized the population. Nevertheless, the USA renewed aid, for the first time since 1987, on the grounds that Haiti was moving towards democratic elections, promised for 1990, and was making efforts to combat drug smuggling. Under General Namphy, cocaine worth US$700 million passed through Haiti each month, with a 10% cut for senior army officers. However, Avril's position was insecure; he moved closer to hardline Duvalierists, and arrests, beatings and murders of opposition activists increased. Foreign aid was cut off in January 1990 when Avril imposed a state of siege and the holding of elections looked unlikely. In March, Avril fled the country. Following his resignation, Haiti was governed by an interim President, Supreme Court judge
Ertha Pascal-Trouillot
.

1990 elections and coup

Despite poor relations between Mme Pascal-Trouillot and the 19-member Council of State appointed to assist her, successful elections were held on 16 December 1990. The presidential winner, with a landslide 67% of the vote, was
Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide
, who was sworn in on 7 February 1991. His denunciations of corruption within the government, church and army over the previous decade had won him a vast following. One of his immediate steps on taking office was to start investigations into the conduct of many officials, to seek the resignation of six generals, to propose the separation of the army and police and to garner urgently needed financial assistance from abroad. Aristide's refusal to share power with other politicians, his attacks on the interests of the armed forces and the business elite, and the actions of some of his militant supporters provoked his overthrow by the army on 30 September 1991. Aristide fled into exile. Harsh repression was imposed; at least 2,000 people were said to have died in the first six months, almost 600 during the coup itself. People began fleeing in small boats to the US Guantánamo naval base on Cuba in an exodus that had reached 38,000 by May 1992. The USA brought it to an end by immediately repatriating everyone without even screening claims for political asylum.

International pressure

International condemnation of the coup was swift, with the Organization of American States, led by the USA, imposing an embargo. The EU and other nations suspended aid and froze Haitian government assets. The sanctions hurt, but not sufficiently to promote a formula for Aristide's return; this was partly because of Washington's misgivings about his radical populism. The election of Bill Clinton to the US Presidency in 1992, with the prospect of more
decisive US action on restoring Aristide to power, prompted UN involvement. With Washington making it clear it was ready to step up sanctions, the UN envoy persuaded the army commander,
General Raoul Cedras
, to agree in February 1993 to the deployment of 250 civilian UN/OAS human-rights monitors throughout Haiti. Further UN pressure was applied in June 1993 with the imposition of an oil embargo and a freeze on financial assets. As a result, an accord was reached in July whereby Aristide would return to office by 30 October, Cedras would retire and Aristide would appoint a new army chief and a Prime Minister.

As the 30 October deadline approached, it became clear that Aristide would not be allowed to return. In mid-October, the Haitian rulers humiliated the USA by refusing to allow a ship to dock carrying a 1,300-strong UN non-combat mission. Aristide supporters continued to be killed and harassed. Aristide's appointed cabinet resigned in mid-December as the regime showed no signs of weakening. As smuggled fuel from the Dominican Republic flowed in, Cedras and his collaborators set their sights on staying in power until the end of Aristide's term of office, February 1996.

Aristide's return

Despite the lack of wholehearted support in the USA, an occupation of Haiti by 20,000 US troops began on 19 September 1994. Aristide returned to the presidency on 15 October to serve the remainder of his term, aided first by a 6,000-strong US force, then by 6,000 UN troops who replaced the Americans in March 1995. General Cedras and his chief-of-staff, General Philippe Biamby, were talked into exile in Panama, while the third leader of the regime, police chief Michel François, fled to the Dominican Republic. Aristide set about reducing the influence of the army and police and the USA began to train recruits for a new police force, but by April 1995, the absence of a fully trained police force and of an adequate justice system had contributed to a general breakdown of law and order. Many people suspected of robbery or murder were brutally punished by ordinary Haitians taking the law into their own hands. 'Zenglendo' thugs, often thought to be demobilized soldiers, were involved in the killing of political figures and others.

The fear of violence disrupted preparations for legislative and local elections, held over two rounds in 1995. These gave overwhelming support to Aristide's Lavalas movement in the Senate (all but one of the seats up for election) and the Lower House (71 of the 83 seats), but the turn-out was very low and the results were bitterly contested. Of the 27 competing parties, 23 denounced the election because of irregularities reported by international observers.

Economic reform under Aristide was slow and there was dissent within the cabinet. Progress on judicial reform progressed but investigations into killings stalled. The US Senate consequently blocked disbursement of aid. Mob violence and extra-judicial killings continued, with the new police force unable to cope.

René Préval

Presidential elections were held on 17 December 1995. René Préval, a close aide of Aristide's, won a landslide victory with 87% of the vote, although only 25% of the electorate turned out and most opposition parties boycotted the event. He was inaugurated on 7 February 1996. Agreement on a structural adjustment programme was reached with the IMF in May but was hampered by a hostile Congress and not approved until October. Haiti was treated as a political football in the US Senate, which was absorbed in its own presidential race. Aid only dribbled in; civil servants and police were unpaid and there was mounting violence in the streets. The UN Peacekeeping Force was asked to stay for longer as the new police force was unready to take over. Some arrests were made as the Government attempted to move against widespread corruption but nothing could be done about the nationwide violence.

Rivalries within the ruling coalition, the Lavalas Political Organization, spilled into the open at the end of 1996 when Aristide launched a new group, the Lavalas Family (Fanmi Lavalas), which became a political party in time for the senatorial and local elections, held in April 1997, at which less than 10% of the electorate voted. The major opposition parties boycotted the poll, claiming that the electoral council was controlled by Aristide, and later called for the results to be annulled. The second round of the senatorial elections was postponed indefinitely. It was feared that if the Lavalas Family gained control of the Senate, the reform package would subsequently be blocked.

In November 1997, about 1,200 UN troops began to withdraw, leaving 300 police instructors in place for another year and 400 US troops, who were engaged in construction and health care. Violence and murders continued. The Organisation Politique Lavalas changed its name to Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (OPL) to distance itself from Fanmi Lavalas (FL), and in February 1998 it dropped its demands to have the April 1997 elections annulled, but other parts of a political deal collapsed within a week. International donors held up millions of dollars of aid with a brake on growth and poverty alleviation.

The new millennium

The much-delayed legislative and municipal elections were held in May 2000 and were won overwhelmingly by the FL. Foreign observers described the elections as flawed but credible, but opposition parties denounced the results. Murder and harassment of candidates and their supporters before and during the vote did not prevent the USA and the UN praising the generally peaceful voting process, but certain results were disputed.

Opposition parties boycotted the presidential elections in November 2000 because of the flawed May elections and for the same reason the USA, Canada and the EU refused to send observers. Six candidates were found to stand against Aristide, but none of them campaigned because of pre-election violence. Aristide himself was rarely seen in the years he was out of office, preferring to stay at his walled compound in Tabarre in the north of Port-au-Prince. Official results gave Aristide 92% of the vote and he was inaugurated in February 2001. His party gained 28 of the 29 Senate seats, over 80% of the seats in the Legislature and nearly all the mayoralties and municipalities. Violence did not stop, however. Despite post-election declarations by Aristide for peace and democracy, his supporters continued to carry out violent anti-opposition protests, while the opposition continued to question the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Crisis followed crisis and political instability was accompanied by violence and gang warfare which eventually became a full insurrection. Parts of the country were taken over by rebels, who gradually edged their way towards Port-au-Prince. The USA, France and the Caribbean backed a power-sharing deal, but neither side trusted each other enough to sign. Eventually, under US pressure, Aristide, the country's first democratically elected president, resigned on 29 February 2004 and was flown out of the country on 1 March. Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was installed as interim President, later replaced by Gerard Latortue, and a Multination Interim Force (MIF) of peace keepers arrived to quell the unrest. The MIF was replaced by a UN Stabilization Force on 1 June and a transitional government was put in place. However, despite the presence of 7000 troops, a year later there were still armed gangs of Aristide supporters who had joined forces with groups of ex-army militia, roaming the streets and terrorizing local people.

Elections for a new government took place on 7 February 2006 and were conducted peacefully. It took ten days for the Provisional Electoral Commission publicly to announce the result, giving René Preval victory with 51.15% of the vote, during which time there were outbreaks of violence. President Preval was inaugurated on 14 May 2006. In the year after he took office improvements were made in the areas of political, economic, and social development, although the main challenges continued to be a lack of security, the fight against extreme poverty, maternal deaths and infant mortality, armed gangs, drug trafficking and the vulnerability of Haitian institutions in general. The United Nations stabilisation mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) had its mandate renewed at the beginning of 2007 until October 2007 and pursued a policy of action to disperse the criminal gangs by going into the slums and doing battle if necessary.

Geography and people

Haiti is the Caribbean's most mountainous country. Except for a few small, mainly coastal plains and the central Artibonite River valley, the entire country is a mass of ranges. The highest peak is the 2674-m La Selle, southeast of the capital. Little remains of Haiti's once-luxuriant forest cover, cut down for fuel or to make way for farming. With soil erosion and desertification far advanced, Haiti is an ecological disaster. The main regions still regularly receiving abundant rainfall are the southwest peninsula and the eastern two-thirds of the northern seaboard.

The Haitian culture is a unique mixture of African and French influences. Haiti was a French colony until 1804 when black slaves revolted, massacred the French landowners and proclaimed the world's first black republic. Throughout the 19th century Haitians indulged in a succession of bloody, almost tribal wars. Even today African cults, particularly Vodou, play a large part in everyday life like nowhere else in the Caribbean. The country is desperately poor and the standard of living is the lowest in the Americas. According to UNICEF, only 20% of children reach secondary school and, according to a World Bank report, illiteracy was 46% in 2003. Unemployment is believed to be around 80% of the work force. Per capita income is only US$400 a year, with 76% of the population living in poverty. Infant mortality is 80.3 per 1000 live births (2004) and life expectancy is only 51 years. Progress has been made in some areas. The incidence of HIV was running at 6.3% of pregnant women in 2002. Since then the rate has been reduced to less than 4%. Infant mortality has also decreased, but most indicators remain worse than all others in the Americas. The UN has highlighted the deteriorated state of the infrastructure in urban areas, where the roads are very poor and there is a lack of electricity and potable water, as well as a badly degraded environment. Such problems can be largely attributed to political instability and the resulting scarcity of international aid.

Government

Under the terms of the 1993 UN-brokered agreement to restore democracy, Haiti has two legislative houses, a 29-seat Senate and an 83-seat Chamber of Deputies. The parliament, with the elected President as chief of state, came into effect in October 1994. Senators are elected for a 6-year term; Deputies are elected for a four-year term; and the President is elected for a 5-year term.

Economy

Haiti is the western hemisphere's poorest country and among the 30 poorest in the world; 80% of the people fall below the World Bank's absolute poverty level (1998). It is overpopulated. It lacks communications, cheap power and raw materials for industry. Its mountainous terrain cannot provide a living for its rural population.

Until the embargo, the main economic problem was low agricultural productivity, compounded by low world commodity prices. Just 1% of the population controls 40% of the wealth. The average farm size is less than 1 ha. Only a third of the land is arable, yet most of the people live in the country, using tools to grow maize, rice, sorghum and coffee. Deforestation has played havoc with watersheds and agriculture. Only a fraction of the land is now forested, yet charcoal continues to supply 70% of fuel needs. Agriculture generates 30% of the GDP but employs two thirds of the workforce. Coffee is the main cash crop, providing 8% of exports. Sugar and sisal output has slumped as population pressure has forced farmers to switch to subsistence crops. A land reform programme was begun in 1997 in the Artibonite Valley to give land to families in an area where violent land disputes have been common. Agriculture was badly hit by a drought in the northwest in 1997, causing famine in that area. In September 2004 floods from Tropical Storm Jeanne killed more than 3,000 and left some 200,000 homeless in the Artibonite Valley. The devastation was intensified because of the lack of trees and ground cover, which meant flooding and erosion.

Industry and commerce are limited, and heavily concentrated in Port-au-Prince. Vegetable oils, footwear and metal goods are still produced for domestic consumption. Manufactured goods make up two-thirds of total exports. Tourism has all but disappeared, at first because of AIDS, then because of the political instability.

Culture

Although Haiti wiped out slavery in its 18th-century revolution, the country's society still suffers from slavery's legacies of racial, cultural and linguistic divisions. Toussaint's tolerant statesmanship was unable to resist Napoleon's push to reimpose slavery. It took the tyranny and despotism of Dessalines and Christophe. Haitian despots stepped into the shoes of the French despots. The new mulatto ruling class considered its French language and culture superior to the blacks' Créole language and Vodou religion, which it despised. The corruption and despotism of the black political class created by Duvalier suggest that, despite its profession of
noirisme
, it internalized the mulatto contempt for its own race.

Religion

Vodou is a blend of religions from West Africa, above all from Dahomey (present-day Benin) and the Congo River basin. Like Cuba's Santería and Brazil's Candomblé, it uses drumming, singing and dance to induce possession by powerful African spirits with colourful personalities. These spirits, called
loas
in Haiti (pronounced
lwa
), help with life's daily problems. In return, they must be 'served' with ceremonies, offerings of food and drink, and occasional animal sacrifice in temples known as
ounphors
. The essence of Vodou is keeping in harmony with the
loas
, the dead and nature. Magic may be used in self-defence, but those in perfect harmony with the universe should not need it. Magic in the pursuit of personal ambitions is frowned upon. The use of black magic and sorcery, or the use of attack magic against others without just cause, is considered evil. Sorcerers, called
bokors
, exist but they are not seen as part of Vodou. The
loas
punish
oungans
(Vodou priests) or
mambos
(priestesses) who betray their vocation by practising black magic. Many Haitians believe in the existence of
zombis
, the living-dead victims of black magic who are supposedly disinterred by sorcerers and put to work as slaves.

Vodou acquired an overlay of Catholicism in colonial times, when the slaves learned to disguise their
loas
as saints. Nowadays, major ceremonies coincide with Catholic celebrations such as Christmas, Epiphany and the Day of the Dead and lithographs of Catholic saints are used to represent the
loas
.

The role of attack and defence magic in Haiti's religious culture expanded during the slave revolts and the Independence War. Many rebel leaders were
oungans
, including Mackandal, who terrorized the northern plain with his knowledge of poisons from 1748 to 1758, and Boukman, who plotted the 1791 uprising at a clandestine Vodou ceremony. Belief in Vodou's protective spells inspired a fearlessness in battle that amazed the French. As a result, many Haitian rulers saw Vodou as a threat to their own authority and tried to stamp it out. They also thought its survival weakened Haiti's claim to membership of the family of 'civilized' nations. François Duvalier enlisted enough
oungans
to neutralize Vodou as a potential threat. He also co-opted the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He had less success with the Catholic grass roots which, inspired by Liberation Theology, played a key role in his son's 1986 fall and Aristide's election in 1990. After several ruthless campaigns against Vodou, most recently in the early 1940s, the Catholic Church has settled into an attitude of tolerant coexistence. Now the militant hostility to Vodou comes from fundamentalist Protestant sects of American origin, which have exploited their relative wealth and ability to provide jobs in order to win converts. In 2003 President Aristide recognized Vodou as an official religion, thereby allowing
oungans
legally to accept money for the services they provide as well as to counter the Protestant missionary zeal.

Language

Haitian Créole is the product of the transformation of French in Saint Domingue by African slaves who needed a common language, one that the slave-owners were forced to learn in order to speak to their slaves.

More important is the way in which Créole and French are used now. All Haitians understand Créole and speak it at least part of the time. Use of French is limited to the élite. The illiterate majority of the population understand no French at all. There is almost no teaching in Créole and no attempt is made to teach French as a foreign language to the few Créole-only speakers who enter the school system. Since mastery of French is still a condition for self-advancement, language perpetuates Haiti's class divisions. All those pushing for reform in Haiti are trying to change this. Radio stations have begun using Créole in the last 10 years and musicians now increasingly sing in Créole. The 1987 constitution gave Créole equal official status alongside French and even élite politicians have begun using Créole in speeches. Aristide's sway over the people is due in part to his poetic virtuosity in Créole. A phonetic transcription of Créole has evolved over the last 50 years, but little has been published in the language except the Bible, some poetry and a pro-Aristide newspaper,
Libète
. Créole is famed for its proverbs voicing popular philosophy and reflecting Haiti's enormous social divisions.

The arts

Haitian handicraft and naive art is the best in the Caribbean. Even such utilitarian articles as the woven-straw shoulder bags and the tooled-leather scabbards of the peasant machetes have great beauty. The
rada
(Vodou drum) is an object of great aesthetic appeal. Haiti is famed for its wood carvings, but poverty has pushed craftsmen into producing art from such cheap material as papier maché and steel drums, flattened and turned into cut-out wall-hangings or sculpture. Haitian naive art on canvas emerged only in response to the demand of travellers and tourists in the 1930s and 40s, but it had always existed on the walls of Vodou temples, where some of the best representations of the spirit world are to be found. Weddings, cock fights, market scenes or fantasy African jungles are other favoured themes. Good paintings can range from 100 to several thousand dollars. Mass-produced but lively copies of the masters sell for as little as US$10. Negotiating with street vendors and artists can be an animated experience, offering insights into the nation's personality.

Exposure to white racism during the US occupation shook some of the mulatto intellectuals out of their complacent Francophilia. Led by Jean Price Mars and his 1919 pioneering essay
Ainsi parla l'oncle
(Thus Spoke Uncle) they began to seek their identity in Haiti's African roots. Peasant life, Créole expressions and Vodou started to appear together with a Marxist perspective in novels such as Jacques Romain's
Gouverneurs de la rosée
(Masters of the Dew). René Depestre, now resident in Paris after years in Cuba, is viewed as Haiti's greatest living novelist. Vodou, politics and acerbic social comment are blended in the novels of Gary Victor, a deputy minister in the Aristide Government before the coup.

Music and dance

Nigel Gallop writes: The poorest nation in the western hemisphere is among the richest when it comes to music. Its most popular religion worships the deities through singing, drumming and dancing. The prime musical influence is African, and, while European elements are to be found, there are none that are Amerindian. Music and dance can be divided into three main categories: Vodou ritual, rural folk and urban popular. Vodou rituals are collective and profoundly serious, even when the
loa
is humorous or mischievous. The dance is accompanied by call-and-response singing and continuous drumming, the drums themselves (the large
manman
, medium-sized
seconde
and smaller
bula
or
kata
) are regarded as sacred.

During Mardi Gras (Carnival) and Rara , bands of masked dancers and revellers can be found on the roads and in the streets almost anywhere in the country, accompanied by
musicians playing the
vaccines
(bamboo trumpets). Haitians also give free rein to their love of music and dance in the so-called Bambouches, social gatherings where the dancing is
pou' plaisi'
(for pleasure) and largely directed towards the opposite sex. They may be doing the Congo, the Martinique or Juba, the Crabienne or the national dance, the Méringue. The first two are of African provenance, the Crabienne evolved from the European Quadrille, while the Méringue is cousin to the Dominican Merengue. Haitians claim it originated in their country and was taken to the Dominican Republic during the Haitian occupation of 1822 to 1844, but this is a matter of fierce debate between the two nations. In remote villages it is still possible to come across such European dances as the Waltz, Polka, Mazurka and Contredanse.

Haitian migrant workers returning from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the region brought musical influences from elsewhere (as well as exporting
its own music to Cuba's Oriente province in the form of the Tumba Francesa). One important external influence was that of the Cuban Son, which gave rise to the so-called 'Troubadour Groups', with their melodious voices and soft guitar accompaniment. Jazz was another intruder, a result of the US Marines' occupation between 1915 and 1934. In the 1950s two equally celebrated composers and band leaders, Nemours Jean-Baptiste and Weber Sicot, introduced a new style of recreational dance music, strongly influenced by the Dominican Merengue and known as Compact Directe (
compas
) or Cadence Rampa. Compas dominated the music scene until the past few years, when it has become a much more open market, with Salsa, Reggae, Soca and Zouk all making big inroads.

A number of Haitian groups have achieved international recognition, notably Tabou Combo and Coupé Cloué, while female singers Martha-Jean Claude and Toto Bissainthe have also made a name for themselves abroad. Also highly recommended is the set of six albums titled
Roots of Haiti
, recorded in the country. Finally, no comment on Haitian music would be complete without reference to the well-known lullaby
Choucounne
which, under the title
Yellow Bird
, is crooned to tourists every night on every English-speaking Antillean island.

Mike Tarr adds: A musical revolution came with 'Vodou beat', a fusion of Vodou drumming and melody with an international rock guitar and keyboard sound. Its lyrics call for political change and a return to peasant values. With albums out on the Island label, and US tours behind them, Boukman Eksperyans is the most successful of these bands. People who have ignored Vodou all their life are seemingly possessed at Boukman concerts. Other 'Vodou beat' bands of note are RAM, Boukan Ginen, Foula, Sanba-Yo and Koudjay, and new bands are springing up all the time RAM remains very popular, as are T-Vice, Sweet Micky, King Posse and Kompa Kreyol.

Flora and fauna

Deforestation and soil erosion have destroyed habitats. Haiti is therefore poor in flora and fauna compared with its eastern neighbour. Lake Saumâtre, 90 minutes east of the capital, is worth visiting. Less brackish than Enriquillo, across the Dominican border, it is the habitat of more than 100 species of waterfowl (including migratory North American ducks), plus flamingos and American crocodiles. The north side of the lake is better, reached via the town of Thomazeau .

Also worthwhile and relatively easy to reach is Parc La Visite, about 5 hours' hike from the hill resort of Kenscoff behind Port-au-Prince. On the high Massif de la Selle, with a mixture of pine forest and montane cloud forest, it has 80 bird species and two endemic mammals, the Hispaniolan hutia (
Plagiodontia aedium
) and the nez longue (
Solenodon paradoxus
). North American warblers winter there. It is also a nesting place for the black-capped petrel (
Pteradoma hasitata
) . Harder to reach is the Macaya National Park, at the tip of the southwest peninsula, site of Haiti's last virgin cloud forest. It has pines 45 m high, 141 species of orchid, 102 species of fern, 99 species of moss and 49 species of liverwort. Its fauna include 11 species of butterfly, 57 species of snail, 28 species of amphibian, 34 species of reptile, 65 species of bird and 19 species of bat. As well as the hutia, nez longue and black-capped petrel, its most exotic animals are the grey-crowned palm tanager (
Phaenicophilus poliocephalus
) and the Hispaniolan trogan (
Temnotrogan roseigaster
). The endangered peregrine falcon (
Falco pergrinus
) winters in the park. From Les Cayes, it takes half a day to get to a University of Florida base on the edge of the park which has basic camping. Allow two days each way for the 2347 m Pic Macaya .

Leaf doctors, Vodou priests and sorcerers have a wealth of knowledge of natural remedies and poisons to be found in Haiti's surviving plant life. They do not share their knowledge readily. In his book
The Serpent and the Rainbow
, Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis gives a racy account of his attempts to discover which natural toxins sorcerers are thought to use to turn their victims into
zombis
. Almost any tree is liable to be chopped down for firewood or charcoal; a few very large species are not because they are believed to be the habitat of
loas
(spirits). Chief among them is the silkcotton tree, called
mapou
in Créole.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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