The Greater Caribbean this Week: King Henry I of Haiti - a notable builder
Thursday, December 21, 2006
by Watson R. Denis, Ph.D
In this article, I am seeking to make brief historical remarks on the State of Haiti some years after its independence. Special attention is placed on the Monarchy in the north of the country and the Citadelle Laferrière.
Haiti proclaimed its independence on 1st January 1804. Two years later, the country was divided into two States: the Western Republic, led by Alexandre Piéton, who set up a Republic there, while in the north, Henry Christophe converted the first Republic into a monarchy in 1811.
King Henry I built a regime characterised by order, discipline and work which ensured that his kingdom would be prosperous. Agriculture flourished, education developed and industry took root. The King was particularly interested in the conduct of business in every political and military jurisdiction. Each of his administrators was required to submit a detailed report on the financial affairs of his respective district and the status of agricultural activity. Every centime spent had to be justified; failure to abide by established rules was punished. Under such a system, the monarchy in the north grew each year.
If there is anything visibly demonstrative of that prosperity and continued growth, is the number of palaces and castles which were built during the kingdom at that time. Two fundamental reasons led the monarch and his entourage to build these edifices: the notion of an offensive return by the French to reclaim the territory which was declared independent and a desire to build something long-lasting in the new independent State. Henry I declared that he wanted to build a civilisation in the Caribbean which would have no cause to envy any of ancient civilisation in Europe. In so doing, he had churches built, as well as some nine palaces, including the Palais des 365 Portes and the Palais de Sans-Souci, 15 castles and the Citadelle Laferrière. These lavish and imposing edifices earned Henri I the title of the King "Builder".
Next to the Palais de Sans Souci, destroyed in 1842 during a deadly earthquake, there is an architectural works of the Christophe era which is idealised over two centuries of Haitian history - the Citadelle Laferrière. This citadel remains the largest fort in the American hemisphere. Situated at the summit of Bonnet à l'Evêque, at an altitude of 969 metres, it extends over an area of 8,000 m². Its walls are between 5 to 7 m thick and its longitudinal walls stand 940 m. The Citadelle was built with large tanks for water and stores to hold a year's supply of food for some 5,000 soldiers.
In fact, everything was considered so as to make this fortress a strategic stronghold and also an area for social gatherings. Strategically, the Citadelle was fitted with 300 cannon of varying sizes and cannonballs. Large arsenals of cannonballs, shot guns, bombs, shells, gunpowder, lead and pillboxes were hidden inside. Important gold pieces, carved bricks and precious stones were stored in other locations. There were also royal quarters, kitchens, a bakery, a foundry, a theatre house and areas for recreation.
The plan for the Citadelle was designed in 1805 by Henri Barre, a Haitian, who began the early works, but it was a Scottish architect named Laferrière who would complete the structure. Together with engineers and craftsmen, more than 22,000 workers of all ages contributed to its construction.
The Citadelle offers several geographical forms, ranging from round curves to rectangular lines, based on the perspective of the observer. It offers a panoramic view of the entire northern region of the country and overlooks the town of Cap-Haïtien. From the summit of the Citadelle, one has an extensive view of the Caribbean Sea and the eastern side of Cuba can be seen during clement weather.
In 1982, the Citadelle was declared a World Heritage site for humanity by UNESCO. Many consider it to be the 8th Wonder of the World. During the prosperous days of Haitian tourism (1950s to early 1980s), it was considered, together with Bicentenaire in Port-au-Prince, the ruins of the Palais de Sans-Souci, the small church at Milôt, a great tourist attraction. Even today, it remains a place of interest for tourists. For example, it is included in the "package" offered by certain tour operators in the Dominican Republic who immediately cite it in what is referred to as multi-destination tourism.
This Citadelle symbolised the power of Henry I, who wanted to expand it further and to link it to other royal palaces. When the king committed suicide in 1820, works halted and the kingdom was destroyed forever. The North then fell under the Western Republic, which did not experience the same success in material terms or in its political and social structures. Even worse, the wealth accumulated in the North disappeared and was squandered. The country was to suffer, on the one hand, the consequences of these losses and, on the other, the failure of the Western Republic to which the entire community would join ranks. Since then, Haiti has been unable to deal with tremendous challenges. The spurts of a period are far from meeting expectations. It is not that the monarchy itself was superior to the Republican system; the use made of it by one or the other are evident in the outcomes. In the north, there was greater political cohesion, a guiding principle and clear objectives. In the west, however, there was a practising Republic which was casual; a society which was extremely stratified and political freedom was not respected. Surprisingly, in the northern kingdom, where there was a feudal system, which would call to mind even the European domains of the Ancient Regime, daily social interaction was more open than in the Western Republic.
As we approach a new anniversary of Haitian independence, one hopes that the country will experience sustained economic growth so as to be able to construct new citadels; this time, however, for social integration.
Dr Watson Denis is the Political Advisor at the Secretariat of the Association of Caribbean States. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official views of the ACS. You may send your comments to [Vous devez être inscrit et connecté pour voir ce lien]