Size and Location — The Republic of Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean. It shares the island with the Dominican Republic. Cuba, 50 miles away, is the nearest island to its west. Miami is 1.5 hours by plane. Haiti is 10,714 square miles — slightly larger than the state of Maryland. Its’ capital is Port-au-Prince. Haiti is densely populated with over 8 million and is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Language — French and Creole are the official languages. Creole is the everyday language, which evolved from the mixture of African dialects and French.
History — Around AD 600, the Taíno Indians, an Arawak culture, arrived on the island, displacing the previous inhabitants. They inhabited Haiti until Columbus arrived in 1492. The Spaniards followed in search of gold. In 1697 Haiti was France’s most prosperous colony because of sugar and coffee. Enormous profits were made through the exploitation of the land and the use of African slaves. In 1791 slaves began a successful struggle to overthrow the French. Their action established Haiti as the first black independent nation in the world in 1804. Even though Haiti has long been plagued by political instability, the Haitian people remain hopeful, recognizing that their destiny is tied to the land of their birth. Roman Catholic Bishop William Higi summarized the situation well when he said the Haitians were “a people who cling to God when hope is minimal, displaying a remarkable ability to smile and celebrate despite the manipulation and injustice which haunts them daily.”