24 interesting facts about Haiti

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The most interesting facts about Haiti, from the world’s first black-led republic to the birth of a unique religion and the origin of zombies.

A Caribbean beach in Haiti
Haiti was the first independent Caribbean state (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Haiti
Capital city: Port-au-Prince
Population: 11,067,777
Area: 27,750 sq km
Major languages: French, Creole
Time zone: UTC-5 (Eastern Time Zone)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Haiti

1. Haiti was first inhabited around 5000BC with farming villages established around 300BC. The Arawak people developed large communities with the Taino eventually becoming the dominant Arawak group.
– Source: Britannica

2. Haiti was the world’s first black-led republic after it threw off French colonial control and slavery in the early 19th century.
– Source: BBC News

3. In doing so it simultaneously became the first independent Caribbean state and the first independent nation in Latin America.
– Source: BBC News, The Guardian

4. In 1801, the former black slave cum guerrilla leader Toussaint Louverture conquered Haiti and abolished slavery.
– Source: Encyclopedia.com

Toussaint Louverture
Toussaint Louverture is responsible for several facts about Haiti (Shutterstock)

5. Christopher Columbus was the first European to explore Haiti in 1492. He landed and named the island La Isla Española (The Spanish Island), which later became Anglicized as Hispaniola.
– Source: Britannica

6. Spain colonised the island shortly afterwards but would cede the western part of Hispaniola to France in 1697. Renamed Saint-Domingue, this would eventually become Haiti.
– Source: Britannica

7. The Saint-Domingue colony would become France’s most prosperous New World territory. Thousands of slaves were transported there from Africa to work on the sugar, coffee, cacao, indigo and cotton plantations.
– Source: Britannica

8. Following a failed attempt to recapture Haiti in 1802 by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, Haiti was declared fully independent in 1804.
– Source: BBC News

9. In 2010, more than 220,000 people were killed in Haiti when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the capital Port-au-Prince.
– Source: UNICEF

Port-au-Prince after the earthquake
Port-au-Prince after the earthquake (Shutterstock)

10. Haiti is the poorest country in the western world when measured by GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP). It is also the poorest country in the Americas.
– Source: World Bank

11. Voodooism – or Haitian Vodou – was developed in Haiti during the 17th and 18th centuries. The official religion is based on ancestral spirits and patron saints. There is a common adage that says Haitians are “70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, and 100% Vodou”.
– Source: Smithsonian, National Geographic

12. Zombie is a Haitian word. Haitian slaves used the word in reference to their belief that dying would release them back to Guinea, or Africa in general, a form of an afterlife where they would be free. Suicide was common among slaves, but it was believed that those who took their own lives would be condemned to walk the plantations for eternity as an undead slave – or soulless zombie.
– Source: The Atlantic

13. One of the most popular sports in Haiti is cockfighting – a sport that is banned in most countries. Roosters are revered animals in Haiti and figure prominently in voodoo ceremonies.
– Source: National Public Radio (NPR)

14. The name Haiti means “mountainous country” in the language of the indigenous Taíno Indians.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Mountains in Haiti
Haiti is a mountainous country (Shutterstock)

15. Haiti is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the USA.
– Source: The Guardian

16. The USA invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 following a period of instability in Haiti. The US President Woodrow Wilson was concerned American commercial and political influence in Haiti was under threat so ordered the invasion.
– Source: New Yorker, US Department of State Archive

17. In 1929, American Marines were responsible for the Cayes massacre when US soldiers opened fire on Haitian civilians killing 12 and wounding 23.
– Source: New Yorker

18. The most common phrase in Haiti is “pa gen pwoblem,” which it translates to “no have problem.” Haitians use it in a range of contexts which include replying to a thank-you, affirming well-being or even to fill an awkward silence.
– Source: Lonely Planet

19. The flag of Haiti is horizontally striped blue and red. Initially, the Haitian flag was inspired by the French Tricolor flag. However, the white stripe was quickly removed with the new blue and red representing the union of blacks and mulattoes (people of mixed white and black heritage).
– Source: Britannica

The flag of Haiti
The flag of Haiti (Shutterstock)

20. When the flag is flown by the government it includes the coat of arms, which consists of a palm tree with a liberty cap on top. It is flanked by flags, rifles, hatchets, cannon, anchors and masts among other symbols. The motto “L’Union fait la force” (“Union makes strength”) is written beneath.
– Source: Britannica

21. Haiti has suffered from mass deforestation. The country was once covered in verdant forests but land clearance for colonial plantations was followed by tree felling for charcoal. This has made the country dangerously exposed to other environmental threats such as floods and mudslides.
– Source: The Guardian

22. Haiti has one UNESCO World Heritage site, the Citadelle and Sans Souci. The monuments date from the beginning of the 19th century when Haiti declared its independence.
– Source: UNESCO

23. The Citadelle is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere.
– Source: Washington Post

The Citadelle in Haiti
The Citadelle (Shutterstock)

24. During the 17th century, the rocky island of Tortuga in Haiti was a pirate stronghold for those that preyed on Spanish treasure ships in the Caribbean.
– Source: History Channel

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Haiti. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.