By Jean H Charles:
In my mythical Haiti, I have often compared Haiti to Tahiti. For myself, there are only two paradises on earth, Tahiti in the Pacific and Haiti in the Atlantic. They are both French and original, magical and mysterious.
From time immemorial, Haiti has fascinated its visitors. Christopher Columbus was the first fanatic enthusiast of the island. ‘This is fabulous’ was his cry of excitement when he set foot on the bay of St Nicholas.
The culture, the physical setting, the people all combined to make the country the best place for him and his crew to establish the first European settlement in the Western Hemisphere.
For the next three hundred years, this mystical Haiti was this exciting woman that most European countries were fighting to seduce. Spain yielded to the French buccaneers, who established their outpost on the island of Tortugas. From there the French jumped to the mainland, and the rest is history.
The French invasion, mixed with the Africans brought as slaves from Dahomey and Angola, created an empire so powerful and so successful that the British for three centuries tried to lure the country into their arms.
Fortunes to make, exciting women to enjoy, neither black nor white, but with the malice and the charm of both, were the lot of men with bravura and daring who could settle onto that magical island!
Haiti was also the dreamland for young American men at the birth of their Republic. Rich and bronzed like a Creole was the ultimate goal of the gentlemen from Baltimore, Maryland, to Newport, Rhode Island.
When Toussaint Louverture took command of the island in 1800, he maintained or re-created a mythical Haiti that was set to become the talk of the world in gentleness and hospitality for all, white or black. John Adams was of the party, he was plotting to help Toussaint crown himself King of Haiti. Napoleon Bonaparte put an end to that utopia.
The Haiti that emerged from the Revolution of 1804 did not succeed in building a nation hospitable to all. There was first Dessalines, the Avenger of the Black Race, commandeering in Haiti the murder of all white people with the exception of the priests and the doctors, for inflicting three centuries of cruelty on African descendants.
There was later Alexander Petion, recreating a de facto apartheid Haiti, still in force today. The kingdom of Henry Christophe that relied on the British to create an ethos of self-dependence in Haiti did not last long.
The earthquake of January 12, 2010, put Haiti back on the world stage. No amount of money could buy such a range of advertising for a country. Children and adults all over the world are counting pennies and dimes to send to Haiti, which suffered one of the worst catastrophes in modern times.
The brand Haiti has had exposure all over the world. CNN has shown the squalor of Haiti, but there is also the splendor as soon as you set foot into the country.
The earthquake occurred in the midst of a splendid afternoon, as the sun set itself to go to sleep over the mountain surrounding the city of Port au Prince. The energy and the creativity of the people that has known no other savior but their own to survive every day has been set in motion.
Haiti, through its paintings and its art destroyed in the Cathedral St Trinity or the art gallery, will revive on the art market in St Martin and in Curacao. The paintings will bounce back into Haiti as its Diaspora is ready and willing to rebuild and continue the brand. It is present in the food well-spiced with Indian, African and French ingredients.
As I was passing through the Dominican Republic, stopping at the well known Bani cafeteria and eating the bland goat meat, I told the owner, he should get himself a Haitian cook to suit the setting to the meal and bring diners from Santiago who will not mind the long travel to enjoy good food.
The brand Haiti is also present in the music, muted now to bury the dead, but ready to revive since the joie de vivre is also the essence of being Haitian. It is this nostalgic spell that holds the visitors unto the land and attracts the Diaspora as a siren into this enchantress, magical and mysterious Haiti.
The brand Haiti, like a good coffee, will last in spite of itself. It is unique, it is different, and it is tasty. Years ago, meeting some French tourists on the Dominican side at the Club Med in La Romana, they told me they would prefer to be in Haiti with its gorgeous mountains, its culture, and its hospitality, if “only, you Haitian people could stay put for a while.”
Will Haiti stay put after the earthquake to enjoy its brand name? The reconstruction of Haiti planned in New York, Santo Domingo, Cayenne or Montreal will need the Haitian ingredient. My slogan for the Haitian electorate is: Pose, stay put!
Someone concerned enough to believe in the brand name will bring Haiti back into the Renaissance enjoyed under the short reign of Toussaint Louverture!
February 20, 2010