Citadelle Laferrière- 2018 Visit

Most of what you hear about Haiti is centered on its poverty, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Most people don’t know about their significant role in the emancipation of slavery in this part of the world. Haiti was the first independent African-Caribbean nation, gained through its revolution in 1804,, from France. This was the flame that ignited the 1811 German Coast slave uprising in South Louisiana,, and augmented what was occurring with the escaped Maroons in Jamaica. In order to defend its newly acquired nation status and defy human bondage, General Henri Christophe commissioned the construction of one of the largest fortresses in the Americas, the Citadelle Laferriere, It was built atop a 3,000-foot summit and took fifteen years and 20,000 workers to complete. Its array of cannons, coupled with its strategic position and structural integrity, created an unparalleled deterrent to any foe.

Traveling north from our community partner host site in Corporant, Haiti in the Central Plateau,, to Cap Haitien,, on National Highway 3,, was difficult. Our group of staff and students on spring break in March of 2018 completed their work in Bois Joli,, and made their way to tour the Citadelle. The majority of the road is unimproved and takes approximately four hours, squeezed into a tight van; a challenge for the inexperienced traveler. There were no complaints.

What you see traversing the landscape from one department to the next, is an obvious transformation to a more developed, greener agro-forestry system. Fifteen miles outside of Cap on our way to the Hotel Christophe,,in the heart of the city, one of the students spotted the Citadelle, towering its way towards the low-lying cloud cover. This created a since of ease that the journey was almost over. Driving up to the hotel was a relief for most, seeing the beauty and refinement of the architecture and cultural ambiance was a surprise.

After an evening at the historic hotel, the group toured the fortress the next day. In one of the pre-meetings for the trip, Sewanee history professor Matthew Mitchell,, addressed the group and talked about the detail complexities of the country’s history,,. Now the students were able to see it, touch it and feel it. But that is history and Haiti struggles with the vulnerability of the future and sighting its path to sustained development.

How important is it to see the contrasts in Haiti of the landscape from one region to the next; to understand the present and the past and to feel the discomfort of sleeping in the rural mountains with community members and experiencing the five star comforts that fuel the much-needed tourism sector ,,of the economy? It is very important in order for people to recite a narrative based on a broad experience and not one skewed towards the pejorative. To bring all of these factors together in a short-term community engagement experience is crucial.


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