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About Haiti

Poverty stricken country faces yet another disaster

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From Grolier Online
The New Book of Knowledge

Haiti is a small, densely populated nation in the West Indies. It occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola. It shares the island with the Dominican Republic, a country very different in culture and heritage.
Haiti is the second oldest independent country in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States. It proclaimed its independence from France in 1804. It is the only modern nation created by a slave revolt.

The People

Ancestry, Language, and Religion

More than 90 percent of Haitians are descended from black Africans. They were originally brought to the island as slaves. The rest of the population consists mainly of mulattoes, or persons of mixed black and European (mainly French) ancestry.

French and Creole are the official languages. Creole, the common language of nearly all the people, is a French dialect. It is mixed with African expressions and some Spanish, Indian, and English words. Most Haitians are Roman Catholics. Voodoo, a folk religion from Africa, is also widely practiced.

Way of Life

The African influence is very strong in the rural areas, where about 70 percent of the country's inhabitants live. Much of the music, art, folk dances, and customs are African in origin. Well-to-do Haitians, however, chiefly mulattoes, cling to the Catholic-French tradition dating from colonial times.

Haiti is a poor country, perhaps the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The majority of the people earn a meager livelihood cultivating small plots of land and gardens.

Education, outside the cities, is hampered by a lack of funds. Only about one-quarter of Haitian children attend primary and secondary school.

The Land


Haiti is an Indian name meaning "mountainous land." About two-thirds of the country is mountainous or hilly. The mountains, separated by valleys and plains, extend along the two peninsulas enclosing the Gulf of Gonâve. They reach their highest elevation at Pic La Selle, in the southeast. Pic La Selle rises to 8,793 feet (2,680 meters).

The rugged terrain limits the available good farmland and makes transportation difficult. Port-au-Prince, situated on the gulf, is the capital, largest city, and chief port. On the northeast is Cap-Haïtien. It is the second largest city and former colonial capital.

Climate and Natural Resources

The climate is tropical, with an average annual temperature of 80°F (27°C). While places close to sea level are quite hot, the higher elevations are much cooler.

Rainfall varies from about 20 inches (510 millimeters) along the coast to about 100 inches (2,540 millimeters) in the mountains. The region is subject to violent hurricanes in the fall of the year.

Some stands of trees remain, but most of the dense tropical rain forests that once covered the mountain areas have been destroyed. They were cut down to provide timber and fuel and to clear the land for farming. This has led to serious erosion, or washing away of topsoil, on the treeless slopes.

Bauxite (aluminum ore) is Haiti's most important mineral resource. It also has deposits of copper, limestone, and marble.

The Economy


Haiti's economy is based largely on agriculture. But the large plantations typical of much of Latin America are the exception in Haiti. There, crops for export as well as basic food crops are usually grown on small farms.

Coffee is cultivated on the cool mountain slopes. Sugarcane is produced in irrigated lowland areas. They are the main commercial crops.

Cacao (cocoa beans) and sisal, used in making twine, are also exported. The chief food crops are corn, rice, sorghum, and beans.


Haiti has little industry. Because labor costs were low there, a number of companies set up plants to assemble products for export to the United States, including baseballs, toys, and electronic products. These plants shut down when international sanctions were imposed on Haiti from 1991 to 1994 in an effort to force political change. Only a few have reopened. Tourism, traditionally an important source of income, has declined dramatically due to political turmoil.


Haiti's government is based on a 1987 constitution. The head of state is the president, who is elected for five years. The president appoints and shares power with the prime minister, who heads the majority political party in the legislature. The legislature, or National Assembly, consists of two houses, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

John F. Lounsbury
Arizona State University

How to cite this article:

MLA (Modern Language Association) style:
Lounsbury, John F. "Haiti." The New Book of Knowledge®. 2010. Grolier Online. 15 Jan. 2010 .

Chicago Manual of Style:
Lounsbury, John F. "Haiti." The New Book of Knowledge®. Grolier Online (accessed January 15, 2010).

APA (American Psychological Association) style:
Lounsbury, J. F. (2010). Haiti. The New Book of Knowledge®. Retrieved January 15, 2010, from Grolier Online


Check out the Kid Reporters' special report Crisis in Haiti for more information on the country and how to help.


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