1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Haiti
HAITI [Haïti, Hayti, San Domingo, or Hispaniola], an island in the West Indies. It lies almost in the centre of the chain and, with the exception of Cuba, is the largest of the group. Its greatest length between Cape Engano on the east and Cape des Irois on the west is 407 m., and its greatest breadth between Cape Beata on the south and Cape Isabella on the north 160 m. The area is 28,000 sq. m., being rather less than that of Ireland. From Cuba, 70 m. W.N.W., and from Jamaica, 130 m. W.S.W., it is separated by the Windward Passage; and from Porto Rico, 60 m. E., by the Mona Passage. It lies between 17° 37′ and 20° 0' N. and 68° 20′ and 74° 28′ W. From the west coast project two peninsulas. The south-western, of which Cape Tiburon forms the extremity, is the larger. It is 150 m. long and its width varies from 20 to 40 m. Columbus landed at Mole St Nicholas at the point of the north-western peninsula, which is 50 m. long, with an average breadth of 40 m. Between these lies the Gulf of Gonaive, a triangular bay, at the apex of which stands the city of Port-au-Prince. The island of Gonaive, opposite the city at a distance of 27 m., divides the entrance to Port-au-Prince into two fine channels, and forms an excellent harbour, 200 sq. m. in extent, the coral reefs along the coast being its only defect. On the north-east coast is the magnificent Bay of Samana, formed by the peninsula of that name, a mountain range projecting into the sea; its mouth is protected by a coral reef stretching 8½ m. from the south coast. There is however, a good passage for ships, and within lies a safe and beautiful expanse of water 300 sq. m. in extent. Beyond Samana, with the exception of the poor harbour of Santo Domingo, there are no inlets on the east and south coasts until the Bays of Ocoa and Neyba are reached. The south coast of the Tiburon peninsula has good harbours at Jacmel, Bainet, Aquin and Les Cayes or Aux Cayes. The only inlets of any importance between Aux Cayes and Port-au-Prince are Jeremie and the Bay of Baraderes. The coast line is estimated at 1250 m.
Haiti is essentially a mountainous island. Steep escarpments, leading to the rugged uplands of the interior, reach almost everywhere down to the shores, leaving only here and there a few strips of beach. There are three fairly distinct mountain ranges, the northern, central and southern, with parallel axes from E. to W.; while extensive and fertile plains lie between them. The northern range usually called the Sierra de Monti Cristi, extends from Cape Samana on the east to Cape Fragata on the west. It has a mean elevation of 3000 ft., culminating in the Loma Diego Campo (3855 ft.), near the centre of the range. The central range runs from Cape Engano to Cape St Nicholas, some 400 m. in an oblique direction from E. to W. Towards the centre of the island it broadens and forms two distinct chains; the northern, the Sierra del Cibao, constituting the backbone of Haiti; the southern curving first S.W., then N.W., and reaching the sea near St Marc. In addition to these there are a number of secondary crests, difficult to trace to the backbone of the system, since the loftiest peaks are usually on some lateral ridge. Such for instance is Loma Tina (10,300 ft.) the highest elevation on the island, which rises as a spur N.W. of the city of Santo Domingo. In the Sierra del Cibao, the highest summit is the Pico del Yaqui (9700 ft.). The southern range runs from the Bay of Neyba due W. to Cape Tiburon. Its highest points are La Selle (8900 ft.) and La Hotte (7400 ft.). The plain of Seybo or Los Llanos is the largest of the Haitian plains. It stretches eastwards from the river Ozama for 95 m. and has an average width of 16 m. It is perfectly level, abundantly watered, and admirably adapted for the rearing of cattle. But perhaps the grandest is the Vega Real, or Royal Plain, as it was called by Columbus, which lies between the Cibao and Monti Cristi ranges. It stretches from Samana Bay to Manzanillo Bay, a distance of 140 m., but is interrupted in the centre by a range of hills in which rise the rivers which drain it. The northern part of this plain, however, is usually known as the Valley of Santiago. Most of the large valleys are in a state of nature, in part savanna, in part wooded, and all very fertile.
There are four large rivers. The Yaqui, rising in the Pico del Yaqui, falls, after a tortuous north-westerly course through the valley of Santiago, into Manzanillo Bay; its mouth is obstructed by shallows, and it is navigable only for canoes. The Neyba, or South Yaqui, also rises in the Pico del Yaqui and flows S. into the Bay of Neyba. In the mountains within a few miles from the sources of these rivers, rise the Yuna and the Artibonite. The Yuna drains the Vega Real, flows into Samana Bay, and is navigable by light-draught vessels for some distance from its mouth. The Artibonite flows through the valley of its name into the Gulf of Gonaïve. Of the smaller rivers the Ozama, on which the city of Santo Domingo stands, is the most important. The greatest lake is that of Enriquillo or Xaragua, at a height of 300 ft. above sea-level. It is 27 m. long by 8 m. broad and very deep. Though 25 m. from the sea its waters are salt, and the Haitian negroes call it Etang Salé. After heavy rains it occasionally forms a continuous sheet of water with another lake called Azuey, or Etang Saumatre, which is 16 m. long by 4 m. broad; on these occasions the united lake has a total length of 60 m. and is larger than the Lake of Geneva. Farther S. is the Icoten de Limon, 5 m. long by 2 m. broad, a fresh-water lake with no visible outlet. Smaller lakes are Rincon and Miragoane. There are no active volcanoes, but earthquakes are not infrequent.
Geology.—The geology of Haiti is still very imperfectly known, and large tracts of the island have never been examined by a geologist. It is possible that the schists that have been observed in some parts of the island may be of Pre-cretaceous age, but the oldest rocks in which fossils have yet been found belong to the Cretaceous System, and the geological sequence is very similar to that of Jamaica. Excluding the schists of doubtful age, the series begins with sandstones and conglomerates, containing pebbles of syenite, granite, diorite, &c.; and these are overlaid by marls, clays and limestones containing Hippurites. Then follows a series of sandstones, clays and limestones with occasional seams of lignite, evidently of shallow-water origin. These are referred by R. T. Hill to the Eocene, and they are succeeded by chalky beds which were laid down in a deeper sea and which probably correspond with the Montpelier beds of Jamaica (Oligocene) . Finally, there are limestones and marls composed largely of corals and molluscs, which are probably of very late Tertiary or Post-tertiary age. Until, however, the island has been more thoroughly examined, the correlation of the various Tertiary and Post-tertiary deposits must remain doubtful. Some of the beds which Hill has placed in the Eocene have been referred by earlier writers to the Miocene. Tippenhauer describes extensive eruptions of basalt of Post-pliocene age.
Fauna and Flora.—The fauna is not extensive. The agouti is the largest wild mammal. Birds are few, excepting water-fowl and pigeons. Snakes abound, though few are venomous. Lizards are numerous, and insects swarm in the low parts, with tarantulas, scorpions and centipedes. Caymans are found in the lakes and rivers, and the waters teem with fish and other sea food. Wild cattle, hogs and dogs, descendants of those brought from Europe, roam at large on the plains and in the forests. The wild hogs furnish much sport to the natives, who hunt them with dogs trained for the purpose.
In richness and variety of vegetable products Haiti is not excelled by any other country in the world. All tropical plants and trees grow in perfection, and nearly all the vegetables and fruits of temperate climates may be successfully cultivated in the highlands. Among indigenous products are cotton, rice, maize, tobacco, cocoa, ginger, native indigo (indigo marron or sauvage), arrowroot, manioc or cassava, pimento, banana, plantain, pine-apple, artichoke, yam and sweet potato. Among the important plants and fruits are sugarcane, coffee, indigo (called indigo franc, to distinguish it from the native), melons, cabbage, lucerne, guinea grass and the breadfruit, mango, caimite, orange, almond, apple, grape, mulberry and fig. Most of the imported fruits have degenerated from want of care, but the mango, now spread over nearly the whole island, has become almost a necessary article of food; the bread-fruit has likewise become common, but is not so much esteemed. Haiti is also rich in woods, especially in cabinet and dye woods; among the former are mahogany, mancnineel, satinwood, rosewood, cinnamon wood (Canella alba), yellow acoma (Sideroxylon mastichodendron) and gri-gri; and among the latter are Brazil wood, logwood, fustic and sassafras On the mountains are extensive forests of pine and a species of oak; and in various parts occur the locust, ironwood, cypress or Bermuda cedar, palmetto and many kinds of palms.
Climate.—Owing to the great diversity of its relief Haiti presents a wider range of climate than any other part of the Antilles. The yearly rainfall is abundant, averaging about 120 in., but the wet and dry seasons are clearly divided. At Port-au-Prince the rainy season lasts from April to October, but varies in other parts of the island, so that there is never a season when rain is general. The mountain districts are constantly bathed in dense mists and heavy dews, while other districts are almost rainless. Owing to its sheltered position the heat at Port-au-Prince is greater than elsewhere. In summer the temperature there ranges between 80° and 95° F. and in winter between 70° and 80° F. Even in the highlands the mercury never falls below 45° F. Hurricanes are not so frequent as in the Windward Isles, but violent gales often occur. The prevailing winds are from the east.
The Republic of Haiti.—Haiti is divided into two parts, the negro republic of Haiti owning the western third of the island, while the remainder belongs to Santo Domingo (q.v.) or the Dominican Republic. Between these two governments there exists the strongest political antipathy.
Although but a small state, with an area of only 10,204 sq. m., the republic of Haiti is, in many respects, one of the most interesting communities in the world, as it is the earliest and most successful example of a state peopled, and governed on a constitutional model, by negroes. At its head is a president assisted by two chambers, the members of which are elected and hold office under a constitution of 1889. This constitution, thoroughly republican in form, is French in origin, as are also the laws, language, traditions and customs of Haiti. In practice, however, the government resolves itself into a military despotism, the power being concentrated in the hands of the president. The Haitians seem to possess everything that a progressive and civilized nation can desire, but corruption is spread through every portion and branch of the government. Justice is venal, and the police are brutal and inefficient. Since 1869 the Roman Catholic has been the state religion, but all classes of society seem to be permeated with a thinly disguised adherence to the horrid rites of Voodoo (q.v.), although this has been strenuously denied. The country is divided into 5 départements, 23 arrondissements and 67 communes. Each départment and arrondissement is governed by a general in the army. The army numbers about 7000 men, and the navy consists of a few small vessels. Elementary education is free, and there are some 400 primary schools; secondary education is mainly in the hands of the church. The Sisters of Charity and the Christian Brothers have schools at Port-au-Prince, where there is also a lyceum, a medical and a law school. The children of the wealthier classes are usually sent to France for their education. The unit of money is the gourde, the nominal value of which is the same as the American dollar, but it is subject to great fluctuations. The revenue is almost entirely derived from customs, paid both on imports and exports. There being a lack of capital and enterprise, the excessive customs dues produce a very depressed condition of trade. Imports are consequently confined to bare necessaries, the cheapest sorts of dry and fancy goods, matches, flour, salt beef and pork, codfish, lard, butter and similar provisions. The exports are coffee, cocoa, logwood, cotton, gum, honey, tobacco and sugar. The island is one of the most fertile in the world, and if it had an enlightened and stable government, an energetic people, and a little capital, its agricultural possibilities would seem to be endless. Communications are bad; the roads constructed during the French occupation have degenerated into mere bridle tracks. There is a coast service of steamers, maintained since 1863, and 26 ports are regularly visited every ten days. Foreign communication is excellent, more foreign steamships visiting this island than any other in the West Indies. A railway from Port-au-Prince runs through the Plain of Cul de Sac for 28 m. to Manneville on the Etang Saumatre, another runs from Cap Haitien to La Grande Rivière, 15 m. distant.
The people are almost entirely pure-blooded negroes, the mulattoes, who form about 10% of the population, being a rapidly diminishing and much-hated class. The negroes are a kindly, hospitable people, but ignorant and lazy. They have a passion for dancing weird African dances to the accompaniment of the tom-tom. Marriage is neither frequent nor legally prescribed, since children of looser unions are regarded by the state as legitimate. In the interior polygamy is frequent. The people generally speak a curious but not unattractive patois of French origin, known as Creole. French is the official language, and by a few of the educated natives it is written and spoken in its purity. On the whole it must be owned that, after a century of independence and self-government, the Haitian people have made no progress, if they have not actually shown signs of retrogression. The chief towns are Port-au-Prince (pop. 75,000), Cap Haitien (29,000), Les Cayes (25,000), Gonaïve (18,000), and Port de Paix (10,000). Jeremie was the birthplace of the elder Dumas. The ruins of the wonderful palace of Sans-Souci and of the fortress of La Ferrière, built by King Henri Christophe (1807-1825), can be seen near Millot, a town 9 m. inland from Cap Haitien. Flaisance (25,000), Gros Morne (22,000) and La Croix des Bouquets (20,000) are the largest towns in the interior. The entire population of the republic is about 1,500,000.
History.—The history of Haiti begins with its discovery by Columbus, who landed from Cuba at Mole St Nicholas on the 6th of December 1492. The natives called the country Haiti (mountainous country) , and Quisquica (vast country) . Columbus named it Espagnola (Little Spain), which was latinized into Hispaniola. At the time of its discovery, the island was inhabited by about 2,000,000 Indians, who are described by the Spaniards as feeble in intellect and physically defective. They were, however, soon exterminated, and their place was supplied (as early as 1512) by slaves imported from Africa, the descendants of whom now possess the land. Six years after its discovery Columbus had explored the interior of the island, founded the present capital, and had established flourishing settlements at Isabella, Santiago, La Vega, Porto Plata and Bonao. Mines had been opened up, and advances made in agriculture. Sugar was introduced in 1506, and in a few years became the staple product. About 1630, a mixed company of French and English, driven by the Spaniards from St Kitts, settled on the island of Tortuga, where they became formidable under the name of Buccaneers. They soon obtained a footing on the mainland of Haiti, and by the treaty of Ryswick, 1697, the part they occupied was ceded to France. This new colony, named Saint Dominique, subsequently attained a high degree of prosperity, and was in a flourishing state when the French Revolution broke out in 1789. The population was then composed of whites, free coloured people (mostly mulattoes) and negro slaves. The mulattoes demanded civil rights, up to that time enjoyed only by the whites; and in 1791 the National Convention conferred on them all the privileges of French citizens. The whites at once adopted the most violent measures, and petitioned the home government to reverse the decree, which was accordingly revoked. In August 1791, the plantation slaves broke out into insurrection, and the mulattoes threw in their lot with them. A period of turmoil followed, lasting for several years, during which both parties were responsible for acts of the most revolting cruelty. Commissioners were sent out from France with full powers to settle the dispute, but although in 1793 they proclaimed the abolition of slavery, they could effect nothing. To add further to the troubles of the colony, it was invaded by a British force, which, in spite of the climate and the opposition of the colonists, succeeded in maintaining itself until driven out in 1798 by Toussaint l'Ouverture. By treaty with Spain, in 1795, France had acquired the title to the entire island.
By 1801, Toussaint l'Ouverture, an accomplished negro of remarkable military genius, had succeeded in restoring order. He then published, subject to the approval of France, a form of constitutional government, under which he was to be governor for life. This step, however, roused the suspicions of Bonaparte, then first consul, who determined to reduce the colony and restore slavery. He sent out his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, with 25,000 troops; but the colonists offered a determined, and often ferocious, resistance. At length, wearied of the struggle, Leclerc proposed terms, and Toussaint, induced by the most solemn guarantees on the part of the French, laid down his arms. He was seized and sent to France, where he died in prison in 1803. The blacks, infuriated by this act of treachery, renewed the struggle, under Jean Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), with a barbarity unequalled in previous contests. The French, further embarrassed by the appearance of a British fleet, were only too glad to evacuate the island in November 1803.
The opening of the following year saw the declaration of independence, and the restoration of the aboriginal name of Haiti. Dessalines, made governor for life, inaugurated his rule with a bloodthirsty massacre of all the whites. In October 1804, he proclaimed himself emperor and was crowned with great pomp; but in 1806 his subjects, growing tired of his tyranny, assassinated him. His position was now contended for by several chiefs, one of whom, Henri Christophe (1767-1820), established himself in the north, while Alexandre Sabes Pétion (1770-1818) took possession of the southern part. The Spaniards re-established themselves in the eastern part of the island, retaining the French name, modified to Santo Domingo. Civil war now raged between the adherents of Christophe and Pétion, but in 1810 hostilities were suspended. Christophe declared himself king of Haiti under the title of Henry I.; but his cruelty caused an insurrection, and in 1820 he committed suicide. Pétion was succeeded in 1818 by General Jean Pierre Boyer (1776-1850), who, after Christophe's death, made himself master of all the French part of the island. In 1821 the eastern end of the island proclaimed its independence of Spain, and Boyer, taking advantage of dissensions there, invaded it, and in 1822 the dominion of the whole island fell into his hands. Boyer held the presidency of the new government, which was called the republic of Haiti, until 1843, when he was driven from the island by a revolution. In 1844 the people at the eastern end of the island again asserted their independence. The republic of Santo Domingo was established, and from that time the two political divisions have been maintained. Meanwhile in Haiti revolution followed revolution, and president succeeded president, in rapid succession. Order, however, was established in 1849, when Soulouque, who had previously obtained the presidency, proclaimed himself emperor, under the title of Faustin I. After a reign of nine years he was deposed and exiled, the republic being restored under the mulatto president Fabre Geffrard. His firm and enlightened rule rendered him so unpopular that in 1867 he was forced to flee to Jamaica. He was succeeded by Sylvestre Salnave, who, after a presidency of two years, was shot. Nissage-Saget (1870), Dominique (1874), and Boisrond-Canal (1876) followed, each to be driven into exile by revolution. The next president, Salomon, maintained himself in office for ten years, but he too was driven from the country and died in exile. Civil war raged in 1888-1889 between Generals Légitime and Hippolyte, and the latter succeeded in obtaining the vacant presidency. He ruled with the most absolute authority till his death in 1896. General Tiresias Simon Sam followed and ruled till his flight to Paris in 1902. The usual civil war ensued, and after nine months of turmoil, order was restored by the election of Nord Alexis in December 1902.
Alexis' administration was unsuccessful, and was marked by many disturbances, culminating in his expulsion. In 1904 there was an attack by native soldiery on the French and German representatives, and punishment was exacted by these powers. In December 1904 ex-president Sam, his wife and members of his ministry were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for fraudulently issuing bonds. In December 1907 a conspiracy against the government was reported and the ringleaders were sentenced to death. But in January 1908 the revolution spread, and Gonaïve and St Marc and other places were reported to be in the hands of the insurgents. Prompt measures were taken, the rising was checked, and Alexis announced the pardon of the revolutionaries. In March, however, this pacific policy was reversed by a new ministry;, some suspects were summarily executed, and the attitude of the government was only modified when the powers sent war-ships to Port-au-Prince. In September the criminal court at the capital sentenced to death, by default, a large number of persons implicated in the risings earlier in the year, and in November revolution broke out again. General Antoine Simon raised his standard at Aux Cayes. Disaffection was rife among the government troops, who deserted to him in great numbers. On the 2nd of December Port-au-Prince was occupied without bloodshed by the revolutionaries, and Alexis took to flight, escaping violence with some difficulty, and finding refuge on a French ship. General Simon then assumed the presidency. At the end of April 1910 Alexis died in Jamaica, in circumstances of some obscurity; it had just been discovered that a plot was on foot to depose Simon, and further trouble was threatened.