Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Historic Haiti: The Citadelle-Part II

King Henri Christophe was quite the ruler. He accomplished great things, but like most kings was despotic, or as our guide Eddie put it, "a megalomaniac."

This king had his unlikely start as a slave, probably in Grenada. Before becoming a military leader in the Haitian Revolution, Henri may have fought in the American Revolution in Savannah, Georgia. During the political infighting that occurred after Haiti won its independence from the French in 1804, Henri declared himself king of the northern region of the country. Nice work, if you can get it. He set about constructing large and impressive buildings to both protect Haiti from foreigners and to impress them with Haitian know-how.

While we know who designed the Citadelle--a Haitian architect named Jean Etienne Barre--we have no idea how it was constructed. Even the Haitians don't know. What we do know is that it took thousands of tons of stone and brick to build the fortress. Huge stones were plunged into the mountainside to provide the foundation and likely kept the Citadelle from being destroyed in the earthquake of 1842.

We also know that it took tens of thousands of men--forced labor--to build the Citadelle, and not a few of them died during its construction. King Henri was not known for his kind and gentle ways.

During our tour, we took a restroom break. After we finished, John told me he wanted to show me something in the men's restroom. I reluctantly followed him in, and he pointed to a sliding glass door. The door was unlocked and led to part of the Citadelle that probably isn't open to the public--high ten-foot wide walls with no railings. Of course, we couldn't help ourselves and Eddie indulged us.

The views were magnificent and reminded me a little of Ireland.

We were very careful not too get too close to the edge.

Eddie was careful, too.

Though we did let our camera peek over.

It was vertiginous experience.

But worth it.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Historic Haiti: The Citadelle

We began our journey into Haitian history in the town of Milot, where we bought tickets to see the Citadelle and Sans Souci. The Citadelle is a huge fortress the Haitians built after they overthrew the French in 1804. Under the leadership of King Henri Christophe, the Citadelle or Citadel Henri as it's also called, was constructed from 1806 until 1820. The Haitians were afraid the French would try to retake Haiti and they built this mountaintop fortress for protection. Sans Souci, which means "No Worries," was a royal palace, also built by King Henri.

But first, the Citadelle. We drove part way up the mountain, Grand Boucan, located in the Bonnet-a-l'Eveque mountain chain with our guide and a three Haitian friends. Probably about a mile or two before the actual Citadelle, we parked and walked the rest of the way on foot (there is the opportunity to rent a horse). 

The road is paved with cobble stones and reminded me of the yellow brick road, as it neatly wound its way to the Citadelle. Only in Haiti would the Yellow Brick Road lead to a fortress resembling the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West and not Oz. 

The road was occasionally steep as it switchbacked up the top of the mountain. I felt guilty and sorry for one of our friends who was carrying a cooler on his head, filled with drinks for us. 

So many of the images I was seeing with my own eyes were familiar to me as I have searched the internet extensively for pictures of the Citadelle. The view of the prow as we headed up the mountain; 

the courtyard; 

some of the outside walls.

The place is about as confusing when you are at it as it is trying to figure it out from the internet. It twists around on itself with stairways, hallways, batiments, rooms, etc. A couple parts are closed off. But as you will see, our lenient guide didn't constrain us.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy Birthday, Haiti.

John is a fan of Khan Academy, the online teaching tool, for supplementing our son Luke's math education. The Academy has more than math tutorials; there are also two on the Haitian Revolution.

In honor of Haitian Independence, I just watched the videos. Below some highlights and lowlights.

In the late 1700's, Saint Domingue (Haiti) was the most profitable slave colony in the world (thanks to humanity's budding addiction to sugar).

In 1790, the population of Saint Domingue was as follows: 40,000 white colonists, 28,000 people of mixed race, and 500,000 African slaves. If you do the math, the revolution seems inevitable, if not necessarily successful.

Some of Toussaint L'overture's generals, including Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defected from Toussaint to the French general, Charles Leclerc, whose false promises of freedom they believed.

In 1802, yellow fever struck Leclerc's forces. Out of 40,000 troops, 24,000, including Leclerc died, and  8,000 were hospitalized. 

France was broke and fighting wars all over the place. Napoleon needed cash and sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803 for the bargain price of $60 million francs or $15 million dollars. 

After Haiti established its independence on January 1, 1804, France initially refused to recognize the new nation. They imposed a debt of $90 million francs on Haiti (one and a half times what they charged for the Louisiana Purchase) for lost property, including land and slaves. Haiti did not finish paying off this debt until 1947.

After Toussaint was tricked by the dishonorable Leclerc who said he wanted to negotiate with the Haitian leader, but instead captured him, Toussaint said,

"In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint Domingue only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will spring up again from the roots for they are many and they are deep."