Haiti is located southeast of Florida, between the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Haiti makes up the western side of the island if Hispaniola, bordering with the Dominican Republic to the east. Creole is the primarily-spoken language in the country, although French is used in elite circles and enforced in schools, which is a point of strife for many Haitians.
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Scroll through the interactive timeline below to learn about major events in Haiti’s history.
In terms of religion, most Haitians observe Catholicism or Voodoo. While voodoo has long been portrayed as a savage practice in film, media and political propaganda, it’s simply a religion born of a mix of African traditions, carried over by captured slaves, and Christian beliefs brought by colonial powers to the region. Voodoo celebrates and connects Haitians to spirits of ancestors and everything on the earth through song, dance, rituals and healing ceremonies.
Food in Haiti is simple, yet bold in flavor that comes from a range of influences including French, African and Spanish cuisine. Rice and beans are a staple for most meals along with meats such as “kabrit” (roasted goat). Fresh local fish, vegetables, and fruits such as mango and guava are also commonly enjoyed in Haiti.
The most popular sport in Haiti is football, or soccer, as we call in the United States. Basketball is also enjoyed by many.
Haitians have some interesting holidays. For example, in addition to observing the New Year on January 1st, Haiti also celebrates its independence that day, which was declared by slave revolt leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1804. On January 2nd, Haitians celebrate Ancestor’s Day with family and community meals, and processions, honoring those who fought for freedom. In fact, several holidays commemorate history, including Battle of Vertières’ Day honoring the rebels’ defeat against the French in 1803. Many Haitians visit cemeteries with food offerings and flowers, and pray to spirits of the past on Novemer 1st and 2nd, Day of the Dead.
Five years ago, on January 12, 2010, the country of Haiti was wholly unprepared for the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit its capital city of Port-au-Prince. Largely due to poor construction, thousands of buildings crumbled to the ground, and under them, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. Children were orphaned, and the homes and families of 1.5 million people were destroyed, leaving many vulnerable and dwelling in shanties pieced together from debris.
It was a devastation to approximately 10 million people who call Haiti home. In a country already stricken by poverty, with a history of poor leadership and longstanding political and racial tensions, the earthquake brought massive heartbreak and destruction. With little or no access to electricity, plumbing or clean water, the rebuilding period over the past five years has proved challenging. Infection and disease have taken hold, with a cholera epidemic alone killing 8,000 and sickening over half a million people.
Today, there is hope for Haiti. If you’d like to get involved, there are many ways to help, including donating to the World Water Relief, which provides much-needed clean, safe drinking water.