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On this date in 1804, Haiti emerged as the first independent Black-led republic in the modern world.
The Haitian Revolution was one of the most successful slave rebellions in history. Having shed the burden of slavery and French colonial rule, the revolutionaries of Haiti (formerly Saint-Domingue) inspired people of African descent around the world, particularly those who remained in slavery.
The rebellion was initiated 13 years earlier, in 1791, in a ceremony presided over by Boukman, a houngan and Edaise, a mambo (two priests), of Haiti’s African-derived Voodoo religion. Many white-Haitians fled to the United States.
According to Haitian legend, during the ceremony, Boukman spoke of the will to be free. “Hidden god in a cloud is there, watching us. He sees all the Whites do--[and] our god that is so good orders vengeance; he will assist us. Throw away the thoughts of the white god who thirsts for our tears; listen to the freedom that speaks from our hearts.”
The continuing conflict between the indigenous forces led by Toussaint- Louverture and later by Jean-Jacques Dessalines--and an expeditionary force dispatched to Hispaniola by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802, prevented the French from establishing firm control. Upon defeating the French, Dessalines and his followers established the independent nation of Haiti in January 1804.
Western historians have shortchanged Haiti and its importance to the history of the Americas because of the way it came into existence. The Haitian Revolution is seldom remembered or taught at United States universities and colleges.
Haitian historians, on the other hand, often suppressed elements that were not in accord with the country’s pro-Western privileged in their attempt to achieve respectability in Europe and North America. Both positions have had a lasting impact in how Haiti is viewed in modern times.
The World Book Encyclopedia.
Copyright 1996, World Book, Inc.