The Republic of Haiti is the oldest republic in the western Hemisphere following the United States. It sits on the western one-third portion of the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies archipelago. The Dominican Republic shares boarders with Haiti on the east. Roughly two-thirds of the country is covered with mountains and the remaining is made up of plateaus, valleys and small plains. Five mountain ranges cross the country, while its shoreline is asymmetrical offering many natural harbours. There are a large number short and un-navigable rivers crisscrossing Haiti.
The original inhabitants of Haiti were Arawak and Carib Indians, until Columbus discovered it in 1492. The island was strategically important and was commonly used by the Spanish and French in the 17thcentury. Spain surrendered the western third of the island to France, where French voyagers started to settle. They renamed it Saint-Domingue and established coffee and sugar plantations. By the 1780s almost 40% of all sugar imported by Britain and France in addition to 60% of the world’s supply of coffee was produced on this tiny colony, making it one of the richest places of the time. The indigenous population dwindled due to warfare and disease brought by the colonists, and African slave labour was brought in to run the booming sugar and coffee plantations. By the end of the 1700s slaves were outnumbering the free population by four to one. In 1804 the African slaves revolted and claimed the land from France and renamed Haiti.
About 95% of the people of Haiti today have descended from African ancestors. The remaining five per cent are made up of mulatto and other races. Education is not available to most of the citizens which has led to low literacy rate in the country. The island’s culture is a mix of French, African and West Indian components. Where once the Creole language segregated the people, it is now being used to define a national culture. It is the language of drama, music, literature and some government functions.
The economy of Haiti is mainly dependent on agriculture and it provides employment for nearly 70% of the labour force. Tourism, manufacturing and services are the other major contributors. About half of the labour force is unemployed which adds to Haiti being the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
Government: Unitary state, Semi-presidential system, Republic
Total area: 10,714 sq. mi (27,750 sq. km)
Currency: Haitian gourde
Official languages: Haitian Creole, French
Ethnic Groups: Black, mulatto and white
Religion: Christianity and Voodoo