Haiti is in the western one-third of the island of Hispaniola between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. This small, tropical country is west of the Dominican Republic and is south of the island of Cuba.
The land is mountainous. Hayti is the Indian name for the country and means "land of the mountains." The mountain peaks reach over 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). The country lies in the path of many hurricanes and in 2008 faced destruction from four tropical storms. In 2010, thousands of people were killed and the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in a 7.0 earthquake.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
The population is approximately 95% black and 5% white. Haitian parents are strict, but are very affectionate. The extended family often lives with the family in tight quarters.
Haitians attend folk dances and voodoo ceremonies. Half the population practices voodoo, which is a mixture of African slave traditions and Catholic beliefs. Carnival and New Year's Day are the biggest holidays for most Haitians.
The Haitian diet is made up of the local vegetables and fruits, along with some spicy meat dishes.
The tropical climate and trade winds produce warm temperatures for most of the year. The country is mountainous, but the coastline is flat and rich in sea life and coconut trees. Royal palm trees are prevalent here and can reach 60 feet (18.3 meters) tall.
As Haiti has grown, the forests have been cut down to make way for farmland and to provide firewood for the population.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
The president is elected every five years. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living in poverty. About two-thirds of the population live off subsistence farming and are vulnerable to the frequent storms, which destroy their crops and erode the land.
Many countries and non-profit groups send aid to Haiti. The government relies on aid from international groups. Most of the population works in the farming sector.
Haiti produces coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum, and wood.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492 and Haiti became a Spanish colony. The Spanish killed off most all the native peoples and imported African slaves to work in the colony.
The French took over the colony in the 1600s and increased production in many crops such as coffee, cotton, and sugarcane. Slaves revolted against French rule and gained independence from France in January 1804.
Dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier ruled the country in 1957 and the deep poverty was hidden behind strong government controls. The government killed many people who didn't agree with Duvalier's government. Many Haitians left the country and moved to safety in other countries. Duvalier's government was ousted in 1986.