Thursday 21st December 2006

 
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The builder king of Haiti

King Henri 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.

Haiti proclaimed its independence on January 1, 1804. Two years later, the country was divided into two States: in the West, Alexandre Pétion set up a republic, while in the North, Henri Christophe converted the republic into a monarchy, in 1811.

King Henri 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 cent 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 it 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.

Henri I declared that he wanted to build a civilization in the Caribbean which would have no cause to envy any 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 work 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 m.”

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.

In 1982, the Citadelle was declared a World Heritage site for humanity by Unesco. Many consider it to be the eighth 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 Henri 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.

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 in a social integration manner.

n Dr Watson Denis is the political adviser 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 [email protected]

 

 

 

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