It was 208 years ago today, May 18, 1803, that Haitians united under their symbol of pride, unity and individual liberty. That period embodied great pride and patriotism as Haiti’s first Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines ripped the white part from the French Flag to form the bicolor, blue and red, sewed together horizontally in Arcahaie, a little town outside of Port-au-Prince. Haitians have since observed May 18 as their Flag Day, a national Holiday celebrated wherever they are around the world.
Although Haitian history has become cliché, a failed state plagued by inherent corruption and chronic poverty, the creation of is flag marked the union of revolutionary mulattoes and black slaves that ultimately won the battle for independence against Napoleon’s army. Consequently, Haiti proclaimed its independence on January 1, 1804, seven months after adopting the flag to end its liberation movement that started on August 21, 1791.
The dawn of a new era in the history of African slaves brought to the Island of Hispaniola to replace the indigenous Indian population exterminated by Spanish imperialists emerged. That act of genocide, not often talked about, begin more than 500 years of inhumane and arbitrary treatments of a people deemed inferior, ignorant and unfit, except for physical labor.
While there are little accounts of the brutal, unforgiving nature of slavery under both French and Spanish rule in history books, their residual effects carve every Haitian life as it did their ancestors whose courage was without precedent. The selfless and fatal sacrifices of slaves, though underreported, inspired liberation movements throughout the world leading not only to the eventual abolishment of slavery, but also the slow death of Imperialism.
Indeed, Haiti’s independence is a great source of pride deeply rooted in its bicolored flag, a symbol of freedom and great aspirations for self-determination. The first successful slave rebellion originated under leadership of national heroes such as Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines, Petion, Capois, Boukman, Christophe and a plurality of loyal minions, the Haitian supermen as some called them. The 13-year rebellion against the iron fists of Imperial superpowers produced Haitian sovereignty, even as the laughing-stock of the world.
Fighting under the newly created Haitian Flag signaled a rupture with the past and a vehement rejection of servitude, but most importantly, it paved the way for more than eight generations of men and women born free within the borders of an autonomous state. While the world might never forgive Haitians for the cruelty of their liberation movement, it forgave the Ottoman Empire, Nazi Germany, America’s atomic bombs and the perpetrators of the Great Wars. Nevertheless, many scholars even argued there was absolutely no reason Haitians should seek forgiveness from those who committed grave crimes against humanity in the name of expansionism and profitability.
Doing so, they say, would undermine their flags as well as the great initiatives of their Founding Fathers whose self-sacrifices freed them from the merciless teeth of slavery. Surely, if the blood of their forebears runs through their veins, the solutions to their seemingly insurmountable challenges lie dormant within each of them. Should Haitians aspire greatness, they would not have to search too far because any movement for self-determination usually begins with an assessment of the self and its aspirations for a better future.