The following is a glimpse of the history of Haiti, from its landscape, its political struggles, and its culture...

On a reef off the Caribbean island that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, the flagship of Christopher Columbus was lost during his 1492 voyage of exploration. Nevertheless, that journey laid a foundation for the colonizing of a New World for Europe. He found peaceful Amerindians, the Arawaks. From their language came the name Haiti, meaning "Land of Mountains." Since 1492 this "Land of Mountains" has undergone many changes.

Columbus claimed the land in the name of Isabella, queen of Spain, and named it Española (Spanish Island). Spanish conquistadores subjected the Arawaks to harsh slave labor. Soon there were few Arawaks. Then Africans were brought in to replace them.

In the course of time, French adventurers settled on the western part of the island, which France claimed as Saint-Domingue in 1697. The land was fertile, large plantations developed with the help of slave labor, and Saint-Domingue became a prosperous territory.

Some 100 years later, Toussaint Louverture, a man of royal African descent but born a slave, won military and diplomatic victories to free the slaves. He became ruler of Saint-Domingue in 1801. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, also born a slave, later drove out the French and changed the name of the territory back to what the Arawaks had called it, Haiti. Thus the first independent black nation of the Americas came into existence in 1804: the then wealthy country of Haiti.

After the death of Dessalines in 1806, Henry Christophe took control of the northern part of the country. Some of his accomplishments helped to make the nation one that, for a time, ranked among the strongest in the New World. He built the imposing Sans-Souci palace and the fabulous Citadelle Laferrière a fortress on a mountain peak. In time, however, leadership struggles, revolutions, and misuse of public funds impoverished the country.

Nevertheless, Haiti still has a unique character in language, culture, and people. Many speak French, but the language of the people in general is Creole, Haitian Creole, an expressive patois that combines French words with the grammar of West African languages. The population blends African and European traits in a colorful, beautiful people. Picturesque mountains continue to dominate the land. But most have become stark, stripped of trees, and once-fertile plains have grown dry.

This is a land that glories in its past, bemoans the present, and hopes for a better future.