Haiti, the world's first Black Republic, the second in the Americas, has been referred to many names such as, "La Perle des Antilles, Quisqueya, Bohio, Hispaniola ect. It would be inconclusive to talk about Haiti without mentioning the Republic of France. After being a Spanish colony, beginning in 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and, as a result of the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697), the eastern part of Hispaniola was traded to France under the treaty of Ryswick in 1697 and renamed Saint-Domingue.
After the annihilation of the native Indians of Ayiti by the Spaniards, it became clear that a new class of laborers be introduced in the Island. As Hispaniola was in a desperate need of alternate means to improve the local economy, Bishop Bartolome de las Casas, a Dominican priest, who later became a champion in defending the rights of the Indians to exist, has suggested the importation of African laborers to work on the plantation and mine fields. It is important to note that Bishop Bartolome, early in his career, have benefited greatly from the encomienda system (a royal granting of land and serfs, Indians), especially after the conquer of Cuba by the Spaniards for his contribution to the war. This suggestion of importing slaves from Africa was a low point in his career; in fact, it was very impolitic for he was so much focused on finding ways to free the enslaved Indians that he failed to notice that righteous cannot come from two wrongs. Nicolás de Ovando, who became the first Governor of Haiti, took the suggestion and first ordered four thousand African slaves, from Europe, to be sent to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica at a thousand per Island. By the year 1518, the very first shipload of enslaved Africans directly from Africa arrived in the West Indies. It should be noticed that prior to 1518, the enslaved Africans were being sent to Europe.
By the late 1690's, the French had total control of Saint-Domingue. For Saint-Domingue to become the richest colony in the world, it was instrumental that the slave trade be at its peak. Dragging from Africa to Saint-Domingue, the slaves were packed like sardines in a can. This inhuman behavior became an uncompromising and profitable trade, a way of earning cash; that was the worst trade of humanity; it was a slave trade, the selling of human beings. This was the horrendous path by which Haitians, formerly Africans, arrived in Haiti. The male slaves were planter, laborers and the females were mostly used as sex objects. Wasn't that cruel? Most of the slaves were beaten to death, raped and forced to work the land from dust till dawn. Gender did not really make a difference. The rebelling slaves suffered the most; they were killed a number of ways. One of them is what I called the "Balding Head Syrup". This practice was done as follow: the master would force the rebelling slave to dig up a hole of his size so that the body can fit into it. The master would then order another slave to shave the head of the rebelling slave. The rebelling slave would then be forced into the hole; with a hairless head, the master would pour hot boiled syrup on it. The entire body would be immerged under ground, leaving the "Balding Head Syrup" for flies, roaches and all kinds of insects to enjoy it. When death occurred, usually one to two days later, the head would then be covered with soil. This was an atrocious way to be killed. Was this type of killings justified? Has slavery ever been justified? These are tough and important questions that we must ask ourselves.
After years of oppression, turmoil and abuses, the slaves have revolted against their French masters. They sought not only the Independence of Saint-Domingue, but complete freedom of the entire Black population. The Revolution of Saint-Domingue started by a gathering led by Voudou priest named Boukman, a slave from Jamaica. This gathering has come to be known as the "Ceremonie du Bois Caiman", named after the village in which the gathering took place. At this ceremony, the slaves prayed their gods for their liberation from the savages.
It was not until August 26, 1789, which marked the date of the Declaration of the Rights of Man in France that the slaves have totally revolted against their masters. If the French could have equal rights to life, liberty and freedom, so could the slaves. That was the focus point behind the revolution. For some people, the revolution of French Saint-Domingue was like a volcano waiting to be erupted. The Declaration of the Rights of Man by the French National Assembly in August 26, 1789 was the green light to the volcano. The slaves fought vigorously and triumphantly for their freedom. Some of the slaves' leaders were Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe et.al.
Led by Toussaint Louverture in 1791, the Revolution of Saint-Domingue briefly reduced the importation of African slaves; however, it was not until Independence Day that the slaves were totally emancipated. Sending troops to Haiti to capture Toussaint was Napoleon's biggest and the most unforgettable mistake. Enslaving Toussaint did not bring success to the French's cause; it rather brought an economic burden, such as the necessary selling of Louisiana to the Americans. On his way to exile, leaving behind his beloved land, Toussaint said the following: "In overthrowing me, you have only cut down in Saint-Domingue the trunk of the tree of liberty of the Blacks; it will spring up again from the roots for the roots are profound and numerous. What did he mean by that? Did the French have any clues as to what he was talking about? By cutting down the head of the palm tree, which is a symbol of freedom for Haitians, the French had no idea as to what the roots would have become. Toussaint knew exactly what he was saying.
Amongst the roots was the marvelous and courageous Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines, the bravest of them all, the executioner, was the one that even the Frenchmen's dog would bark out his name. The other slaves called him the brave. While fighting the enemy, he stood firmly inside a fort and said to his troops "I want to keep with me only the braves. Those of you who want to remain slaves of the Whites (Frenchmen) can exit the fort and those, in the contrary, who want to live as free men come around me. Koupé tèt boulé kay (cut down theirs heads and burn down their houses). Liberty or Death". That was Dessalines at his best.
Under the leadership of Toussaint L'ouverture, Dessalines led many successful battles, such as the Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot. After the capture of Toussaint in 1802, Dessalines became the leader of the revolution. The revolutionary war of Saint-Domingue was, perhaps, the bloodiest of all wars. In fact, people were butchered down, hung and poisoned. After a number of wars, guerillas and conspiracies, Dessalines and his troops have eventually destroyed the French troops, sent by Napoleon under the leadership of General Rochambeau, at the Battle of Vertières in 1803.
After the battle of Vertières, Dessalines has declared Haiti's independence on January 1, 1804. After winning the Independence war, Dessalines met with the heroic leaders and called upon Boirond-Tonnerre to write the Declaration of Independence of the newly Republic, which was then changed from French Saint-Domingue to Haiti. A few lines of Haiti's Declaration of Independence by Boiron Tonnerre follow: "In order to write the Declaration of our Independence, we ought to have the skin of a White man (Frenchman) for parchment, his skull for inkstand, his blood for ink and a bayonet for pen". Dessalines was then chosen by a council of generals (blacks and mulattos) to assume the office of Governor-General. Nine months later, he proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques 1er in September 1804 and ruled Haiti until his assassination on October 17, 1806.
Even after being devastated by wars, yet Haiti was the biggest and richest crop growing country in the world. This country was not always the poorest and the most ignored of the Western Hemisphere. Historian who studied Haiti would proudly argue that it was the fastest economy growing Caribbean Country of the 19th century and a nation full of pride. Today, Haiti is sadly begging to retain its sovereignty.