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Friday, July 03, 2009

Cap Haitien, Queen of Sainte Domingue

Cap Haitien – currently Haiti's second largest city and was once a capital of the French colony of Sainte Domingue and one of the richest cities in the French empire.  Plantation owners, flushed with the wealth generated from sugar and coffee plantations, built grand mansions and public buildings here. This wealth, however, arose from the cruelties of slave labour. 
 
In 1791, in a plantation not far from Cap Haitien, a slave cum vodou priest, Boukman, presided over a vodou ceremony in which the Europeans and their god were denounced and the flag of rebellion raised.  Within weeks, the plantations of Sainte Domingue were up in flames and one of the greatest slave uprisings in history took place. Although Boukman was soon captured and executed by the French, the rebellion went on for another 13 years, till Napoleon's forces were defeated at the Battle of Vertieres, and Haiti became the first independent black republic in the world.
After the death of Haiti's first emperor, Dessalines, the nation broke into half.  The north was ruled by another hero of the independence war, General Henri Christophe, when declared himself king.  Worried about the possibility of another French invasion, he built a magnificent castle – the Citadelle – on top of a mountain near his grand palace, Sans Souci, not far from Cap Haitien.  The castle, however, never saw any French attack.  In 1920, Henri Christophe suffered a stroke and worried about the possibility of getting overthrown and humiliated, he shot himself instead.
I arrived in Cap Haitien today from Port-Au-Prince on Tortug Air, a domestic Haitien carrier.  Checked out Beau Rivage Hotel but decided I didn't like it.  Went to the best hotel in town, Roi Christophe instead.  Walked around town after a short rest.  Cap is a fairly sleepy place.  Most of the streets were not paved and there were pools of waters and the usual open sewerage everywhere.  Fairly dirty by most standards anywhere else in the world, though significantly cleaner than PAP. 
Had nice cerviche at Lakay Restaurant. I look forward to the visit to the Citadelle tomorrow.

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