Independence Day of Haiti

January 1 - Haiti celebrates its Independence Day

The long road to freedom
When the world ushers in the New Year, Haitians have an added, and even more special, reason to celebrate: New Year’s Day is also the day when this country of 10 million occupying the western, smaller part of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, celebrates
its Independence Day. On January 1, 1804, Haiti became the first Black country to free itself of colonial rule.

The island of Hispaniola (meaning ‘Little Spain’), which also consists of Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, was given its name by the explorer Christopher Columbus who "discovered" the island in 1492.

Under the Spanish occupation that followed, natives worked in gold mines and plantations. Meanwhile French settlers occupied the western part of the island where they grew crops such as tobacco. Eventually France and Spain divided Hispaniola(originally called "Ayiti" by its indigenous Taíno people) between them — of course, no one asked the native people what they wanted!

Consequently, France got the western third of the island which it named Saint-Domingue. Then came the slave trade and the French brought tens of thousands of slaves from Africa to work on plantations, sugar cane being the major crop. After decades of servitude, the slaves, who had grown in numbers, rebelled in the last decade of the 18th century, and France sent troops to quell the revolution. French authorities also sought to abolish slavery but it was too little, too late.

One of the heroes of Haiti, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, declared an independent Constitution for Haiti. French forces tried to retake the island but failed. However, they imprisoned Louverture who died of a disease in a prison in France in 1803. But later in the same year, Jean-Jacques Dessalines led Black and allied forces to a famous victory against French troops at the Battle of Vertières, paving the way for a French withdrawal from Saint-Domingue. The free country was renamed Haiti as it was originally called before colonization. The first day of 1804 was officially celebrated as Independence Day.

The taste of freedom
To celebrate the hard-won freedom and victory, Jean-Jacques Dessalines is said to have invited the former slaves to have soup — a luxury denied to them by their erstwhile French masters. Ever since having traditional soup, often with pumpkin as its main ingredient (called Soup Joumou), is customary while celebrating Independence Day. So if you’re in Haiti on New Year’s Day or celebrating Independence Day with Haitian friends, expect to have some delicious Soup Joumou!

The song of freedom
Haiti’s national anthem is called “La Dessalinienne” in honour of Jean Jacques Dessalines. It was chosen as the anthem in 1904 after a national competition during the 100-year celebrations of Haiti’s independence from French rule. The team of songwriter Justin L’Herisson and composer Nicolas Geffrard won the contest. The opening of the national anthem, translated into English, is:

"For our country, For our forefathers, United let us march. Let there be no traitors in our ranks! Let us be masters of our soil. United let us march For our country, For our forefathers."
Challenges Haiti faces
The country has witnessed political instability and frequent coups. Haiti continues to have relatively high illiteracy and crime rates among countries in the region. Large-scale environmental degradation that started in the colonial era continued unabated. The devastating 2010 earthquake was a severe setback to the nation and it is trying to get its act together with the help of foreign aid.

Last Updated on: August 18th, 2018