Surprising Haiti Facts
Surprising Haiti Facts

80 Little Known Haiti Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published June 29, 2017
  • Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Amerindians called Taíno, “the good people.” The Taíno named their land “Ayiti,” meaning “Land of Mountains”—a term that evolved into “Haiti.”[1]
  • Eighty percent of Haitians live under the poverty line and 54% live in abject poverty. The average per capita income in Haiti is $480 a year, compared to $33,550 in the United States.[2]
  • Because of both violence and AIDS, Haiti has the highest percentage of orphans of any country in the Western Hemisphere. Before the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations estimated there were 430,000 orphans.[5]
  • A typical worker in Haiti makes only $2.75 a day. Because jobs are so scarce (approximately 70% do not have regular jobs), those who do have jobs are afraid to speak out against unfair labor practices.[5]
  • Eighty percent of Haitians are Roman Catholic, 16% are Protestant, and 4% are other. Voodoo is often practiced alongside Christianity.[8]
  • Only 53% of Haitians can read and write.[2]
  • Fun Haiti Fact
    Haiti’s national sport is soccer
  • Haiti’s national sport is soccer. Haiti first competed in the World Cup in 1974.[4]
  • Gourds were so important to the Haitian people that in 1807, President Henri Christophe (1761-1820) made them the base of national currency and declared all gourds the property of the state. Today, the Haitian currency is called “gourdes.”[8]
  • In the eighteenth century, St. Dominique (Haiti) was the richest colony in the French Empire and was known as the “Pearl of the Antilles.” It grew rich mainly through the importation of slaves and through devastating environmental degradation. Haiti is currently one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.[2]
  • In 1803, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), Haiti’s first ruler, created the nation’s flag by ripping out the white stripe in the French red, white, and blue flag, claiming he would rip white people from the nation. The remaining blue and red stripes represented blacks and mulattos of Haiti. Haiti’s coat of arms sits in the center.[2]
  • Haiti is the third largest country in the Caribbean, after the Dominican Republic and Cuba, which is the largest.[2]
  • When Columbus first saw Haiti (and the entire Hispaniola island), he thought he had found India or Asia.[8]
  • After the death of revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1802, his principal lieutenant, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, proclaimed himself Jean-Jacques the First, Emperor of Haiti. He ordered the killing of most of the whites in Haiti.[8]
  • Descendants of African slaves make up 95% of Haiti’s population. The other 5% are mulattos, descendants of French planters and African slaves, and whites. Haiti also has a small population of Middle Easterners, descendants of Syrian and Lebanese people who came to Haiti in the nineteenth century.[4]
  • The future of Haiti must be linked to the respect of the rights of every single citizen.

    - Jean-Bertrand Aristide

  • In the eighteenth century, Haitians developed elaborate tables of genetic descent, dividing mulattos into over a hundred shades of black and white. These ranged from the Sacatra which were seven-eighths black, to the several varieties of Sangmeles, which are only one-sixteenth black. Technically, a mulatto is someone who is half black and half white.[8]
  • Only about 10% of all Haitian children enrolled in elementary school go on to a high school.[2]
  • Haitians love to gamble. Its popularity is a result of the Haitian belief that so much depends on the fancy of the gods. During voodoo ceremonies, Haitians implore the gods to reveal winning lottery numbers.[8]
  • Cock fighting is a traditional sport in Haiti. The roosters are fed raw meet and hot peppers soaked in rum to make them aggressive and tough. The winner might bring home $67, which is more than a person would earn in an entire month.[5]
  • Haiti is the most mountainous nation in the Caribbean.[8]
  • Haiti is one of the few countries in the world where the destruction of the original woodland is almost complete A muddy brown ring surrounds the country’s coastline where topsoil has washed into the sea.[5]
  • The United States did not recognize Haiti as an independent nation until 1862 even though it was freed in 1804.[8]
  • Interesting Citadel Facts
    The Citadel is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Haiti
  • The Citadel is a large mountaintop fortress located in northern Haiti. It is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere.[8]
  • Author, statesmen, and ex-slave Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895) was an ambassador to Haiti.[8]
  • Haiti’s highest peak is the Pic la Selle at 8,793 feet (2,680 meters).[5]
  • One of Haiti’s islands, Tortuga Island (Île de la Tortue in French), was a pirate stronghold in the seventeenth century.e[5]
  • Île a Vache (Cow Island) lies off Haiti’s southern coast and is so named because it was once overrun by wild cows descended from animals abandoned by the Spanish.[5]
  • Christopher Columbus initially called the island La Isla Espanola, meaning “The Spanish Isle” when he landed there in 1492. Over time, the name became Hispaniola and includes both Haiti, which covers the western third of the island, and the Dominican Republic (or Santo Domingo), which covers the eastern two thirds.[8]
  • Haiti and Canada are the only two independent nations in the Americas that have French as an official language. Though approximately 90% of Haitians use Creole as their primary language, Creole wasn’t made an official language alongside French until 1987.[2]
  • Most of Haiti’s current citizens are descendants of Africans shipped to the Caribbean to work as slave laborers in earlier centuries.[2]
  • With an area of 10,714 square miles (27,750 square kilometers), Haiti is only slightly larger than Vermont. The United States is 3,794,100 square miles (9,826,675 sq. km.).[9]
  • Haiti is one of the least developed yet most densely populated countries in the Western Hemisphere. Its population density is 747 people per square mile (295 per sq. km.). Comparable in size to Haiti, Vermont’s population density is 65.8 people per square mile (25.9 The United States’ is 79.55 people per square miles (30.71 sq. km.).[3]
  • Interesting Haiti Population Fact
    Haiti is one of the least developed yet most densely populated countries in the Western Hemisphere

  • The capital Port-Au-Prince was founded in 1749 and was named for the Prince, a French ship anchored in the bay.[8]
  • When Christopher Columbus landed on what he later named Hispaniola in 1492, the people greeted him with offerings, unaware that he was claiming their lands for Spain. By 1508, the Hispaniola’s native Arawak/Taíno population had fallen from about 400,000 to just 60,000 due to the devastating social, political, ecological, and immunological effects of Spain’s arrival. Ten years later, less than 3,000 Arawak/Taínos remained alive on Hispaniola.[2]
  • Pirate activity off the northern coast of Haiti weakened Spanish control in Hispaniola and, in 1697, Spain gave France the western third of Hispaniola, which is today’s Haiti. That left the remaining part of the island, the Dominican Republic, under Spanish control.[8]
  • Haitian revolutionary leader Francois-Dominique Toussaint earned the nickname Toussaint-L’ Ouverture (the opening), which referred to his ability to find an opening in the enemy lines as well as opening the way for Haiti’s independence.[5]
  • Haiti’s former president, Francois Duvalier (“Papa Doc”), created the National Security Volunteers in 1957. A dreaded security force, it was also called the Tonton Macoutes, after the Haitian folk figure Tonton Macoute (Uncle Knapsack) who carries off small children at night.[4]
  • Interesting Toussaint L’Ouverture Fact
    Toussaint L’Ouverture was the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution
  • In 1801, ex-slave Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803) led nearly one-half million Haitian slaves against Haiti’s French colonialists. Their eventual victory was the first successful slave revolt and helped establish Haiti as the first black republic. After a betrayal from the French, L’Ouverture died in a French prison.[1]
  • Throughout the mid and late twentieth centuries, Haiti experienced a “brain drain” as educated professionals and business people left the nation to escape brutal dictators. This exodus weakened Haiti because it was left with fewer and fewer skilled workers to run businesses, health centers, government offices, and schools.[2]
  • Nearly 79% of Haiti’s people live in rural areas.[4]
  • Haiti is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States.[2]
  • From 1804-1915, more than 70 dictators ruled Haiti.[9]
  • Jean-Bertrand Aristide won Haiti’s first free election in December 1990. He fled the country a year later after being ousted in a military coup. He was president again from 1994-1996 and then from 2001 to 2004, when he was ousted again.[2]
  • In Haiti, there is one hospital bed for every 10,000 inhabitants. There are only about eight doctors and 10 nurses for every 100,000 inhabitants.[2]
  • The life expectancy for Haiti is low: 50 years for men and 53 years for women.[2]
  • Haitians have the lowest caloric intake in the Americas, which has led to chronic and often fatal diseases. An estimated 25-40% of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition.[4][5]
  • Anemia affects 59% of Haitian children between the ages of six months and five years.[2]
  • Interesting Anacaona Death
    Anacaona was rebellious and independent until her violent public death
  • When early Spanish explorers encountered a female Haitian ruler named Anacaona, or “Golden Flower” (1464-1504), in 1503 who resisted them, they killed many of her people, arrested, and hanged her.[5]
  • The first recorded smallpox outbreak in the Americas occurred in Hispaniola in 1507.[2]
  • Families who live in the country spend almost 60% of their income on food. The poorest groups spend more than 70%.[2]
  • Haiti has been ranked as one of the five most corrupt countries.[2]
  • The infant mortality rate in Haiti is high at 74 deaths per 1,000 births. The maternal mortality rate is also high: about 520 deaths per 100,000 births (compared to just 14 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in the United States).[9]
  • Even before the 2010 earthquake, only 54% of Haitians had access to sanitation facilities (toilets, indoor plumbing, sewer systems). Less than half had a regular source of safe drinking water.[9]
  • Most rivers in Haiti are polluted with human and other waste. Diseases such as hookworm and typhoid, which are transmitted by contaminated food and water, are common in Haiti.[5]
  • In the early 1980s, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced a number of the first AIDS cases in the U.S. to Haitian immigrants.[4]
  • Eighty percent of schools in Haiti are private, and religious groups run many of them. The remaining 20% are state-run. Students learn their lessons in both French and Creole.[2]
  • Haiti has only one public university: the University of Haiti in Port-au-Prince founded in 1944. Most wealthy students attend college outside of Haiti.[2]
  • Only about 40% of school-aged children attend school regularly.[2]
  • Women were granted the right to vote in 1957, though many women still suffer from discrimination and mistreatment. The Haitian justice system rarely punishes men for abusing women.[2]
  • The typical Haitian woman will have five children in her lifetime. Because the Roman Catholic Church discourages birth control, birth control is not readily available. Less than 20% of married women use birth control, and abortion is illegal.[2]
  • More than 200,000 Haitians died and millions were left homeless in a devastating earthquake in January 2010. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the region in more than 200 years.[6]
  • Sad Haiti Earthquake Fact
    The 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti

  • Before the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. Labor Department estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 Haitian children were homeless. Many resort to begging or prostitution to survive. Other children are trafficked to foreign countries.[2]
  • During radical ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s second term as president, the government established Voodoo as a state religion along with Catholicism.[5]
  • Haiti’s entire annual budget is $300 million, less than that of many small cities in the United States. Since the 1980s, its economy has shrunk steadily.[2]
  • Thousands of Haitians were ruined when pyramid investment schemes collapsed. While Haitians lost about $200 million investing in these scams, the co-op founders acquired millions on the proceeds.[9]
  • In 2003, the U.S. Coast Guard picked up 2,000 Haitian boat people trying to reach U.S. shores, more than from any other Caribbean nation. Most were returned to Haiti.j[9]
  • Over 40% of the population is under 14 years old, creating a high dependency ratio.[9]
  • More than 10% of Haitian children die before age five.[2]
  • Sad Haiti Fact
    More than 10% of Haitian children die before age five

  • Haiti has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Western Hemisphere. One in 50 people are infected.[5]
  • Half of the children in Haiti are unvaccinated, and just 40% of the population has access to basic health care.[2]
  • Approximately 1% of Haiti’s population owns more than 50% of the nation’s wealth.[2]
  • An estimated 1.5 million Haitians live outside the country, mostly in Miami, New York, Boston, and Montreal. About 300,000 Haitian immigrants live in Florida alone.[2]
  • The United States is Haiti’s biggest trade partner. More than half of Haitian imports come from the United States, and more than 80% of its exports go to the United States.[9]
  • Haiti is a hub for the trafficking of illegal drugs—especially cocaine—between South and Central America, Europe, and the United States. Some Haitians even traffic human laborers, especially children.[2]
  • Haiti has 14 airports, of which only four have paved runways.[9]
  • Haiti has 2,583 miles (4,160 km.) of highways. Only 628 miles (1,011km.) of those roads are paved.[9]
  • Interesting Restavek Fact
    The term "restavek" comes from the French language rester avec, "to stay with"
  • Most human rights experts agree that the worst abuses of Haitian children involve young people called restavek, or poor children who work as house servants for urban families. Their parents hope that host families will feed and educate their children, but some hosts physically and sexually abuse the restavek. Experts estimate that 300,000 Haitian children are living as slaves.[4]
  • In 1963, Hurricane Flora killed approximately 8,000 people in Haiti, the sixth highest death toll from an Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.[9]
  • Very few Haitians own cars: fewer than 5 out of 1,000. There is no railroad in Haiti. In the cities, people often take communal taxis and colorful public buses called “taptaps.”[9]
  • Rape in Haiti has long been a problem and is often used as a political weapon. After the 2010 earthquake, some men handing out coupons for food distribution would demand sexual favors.[10]
  • Experts claim that it will take decades for Haiti to recover from the January 2010 earthquake. Nearly 75% of the capital will need to be rebuilt, not from zero, but from, as officials declare, “below zero.” Recovery plans include completely rebuilding basic sectors such as health, agriculture, governance and security, and infrastructure.[7]

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