Haiti

Haïti was the French name originally given to the whole island of Hispaniola. The name comes from the Taino word meaning "mountainous land." In Haitian Creole the country's name is pronounced Ayiti.

The colony was officially incorporated in the early 1600s, and by 1697, with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick, the French were given the western third of the island, which they named Saint-Domingue (a gallicization of the Spanish name, Santo Domingo.) During this French colonial period, the colony earned the name "La Perle des Antilles" ("The Pearl of the Antilles") due to its economic importance.

With the declaration of Saint-Domingue's independence on January 1, 1804, following the Haitian Revolution, Revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines restored the Taino name as a symbolic gesture of defiance against Spanish and French rule.

In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down all but an estimated 2% of its original forest cover, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification. Erosion has been severe in the mountainous areas. Most Haitian logging is done to produce charcoal, the country's chief source of fuel.

The plight of Haiti's forests has attracted international attention, and has led to numerous reforestation efforts, but these have met with little success to date.

Despite numerous environmental crises, Haiti retains a very high amount of biodiversity in proportion to its small size. The country is home to more than 6,000 plants in which 35% are endemic and 220 species of birds in which 21 species are endemic. The country's high biodiversity is due to its mountainous topography and fluctuating elevations in which each elevation harbors different microclimates and its own endemic fauna and flora.

The country's varied scenery include lush green cloud forests (in some of the mountain ranges and the protected areas), high mountain peaks, cactus-strewn arid desert, mangrove forest, and palm tree-lined beaches.

The January 12, 20120, 7.0 earthquake, which is estimated to have killed over 200,000 people and left over a million homeless, reminded the world that Hispaniola is located in a seismically active area. Haiti's last large earthquake 150 years ago destroyed structures and claimed lives in Cap Haitien, but Haiti has suffered so many calamities, both natural and man-made, in the ensuing century that disaster preparedness has been virtually non-existent. Haiti is still experiencing a high incidence of cholera and is still struggling to re-house the large homeless population.

Haitian Art

Brilliant colors, naive perspective and sly humor characterize Haitian art. Big, delectable foods and lush landscapes are favorite subjects in this land of poverty and hunger. Going to market is the most social activity of country life, and figures prominently into the subject matter. Jungle animals, rituals, dances, and gods evoke the African past.

Many artists cluster in 'schools' of painting, such as the Cap Haitien 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.

In a country of political oppression, one tends to speak in fables. Artists paint in fable as well. People are disguised as animals and animals are transformed into people. In an illiterate land, symbols take on great meaning. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colors of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party.

Haiti and its Art

This web site is currently under construction. Please check back in a few days.

This page will hold some information about Haiti and about its rich artistic heritage.