CULTURE Haitian culture is diverse and has many customs and practices.  Haiti  has two official languages, French and Kreyol.  The two most predominant religions in Haiti is Voodou and Catholicism.  Voodou is a unique religion that includes African, Indian and European tranditions.  A majority of Haitian families live in a small home without electricity or running water.  The music of Haiti is called Compas, which is a modern Meringue.  Haitian music is influenced by Cuban styles and American jazz.  Voodou music is also popular and played on drums and wooden flutes.  Haitian food is a combination of French and traditional Spanish.  Some of the most popular dishes include sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, goat, cassava (tastes like a potato) and maize (a.k.a. corn).   HISTORY Haiti is located in the western Caribbean and occupies the western area of the island of Hispaniola (which also includes the Dominican Republic).  Many historians claim that Haiti was discovered and named by Christopher Columbus during his 1492 exploration of the New World, however Haitians do not necessarily agree with this as they believe the Arrawaks and Caraibe Indians.  They first gave the country its name,  Haiti (Ayiti) meaning “Land of mountain”. In 1697, with press from the French influence entering Haiti, the Treaty of Ryswick was signed by Spain and Haiti was officially occupied by France.  It was during this time that Louis XIV ordered many African slaves to be shipped to Haiti to help with the agriculture industry.  Frustrated and angry with how they were being treated, the African slaves began revolting against the French whites, which paved the way for the Haitian Revolution in 1791.  By 1801, slavery was almost non-existent on the entire island.  In 1804, Haiti was officially declared an independent nation. Some of Haiti’s most notable dictators are the infamous father-son duo of “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier who gained control over Haiti from 1957 (with Papa Doc’s death in April 1971) until Baby Doc’s exile in 1986.  Another popular Haitian president, Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was the first elected president under a new Constitution, which was ratified three years previous in 1987. ECONOMY One of the poorest countries in the world, and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, 80 percent of the population lives well below the poverty line.  The largest cash crops have traditionally been coffee and sugarcane, but over the years, the national production of these two crops has been declining.  Due to weather related concerns such as flooding, Haiti has not been able to consistently produce from its largest income generator, which is agriculture.  Over 60% of people working in Haiti receive their income from agriculture.  Haiti depends largely on foreign aid, with the United States being the number one provider.  The funds help a number of programs such as health care, education, food assistance and agriculture development.  Other countries such as Venezuela and Cuba also help Haiti. THE PRESIDENT The current president of Haiti is Michel Martelly, a former Compas singer known as “Sweet Mickey”.  He won the election on April 4, 2011, running a successful campaign against Mirlande Manigat, whose husband is a former Haitian president.  Born in Port-au-prince, Martelly got interested in politics in 1997, and was named a good will Haitian Ambassador for the protection of the environment.
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