Puslapio vaizdai

Chapter I.


If, starting from the port of New York, we follow a straight line running almost directly south for a little less than 1,400 miles, we should come to the city of Port au Prince, which is the capital of the Republic of Haiti; and if starting from the port of Boston we proceed on a straight line running just the fraction of a point to the east of south for about the same distance, we should find ourselves in the city of Santo Domingo, which is the capital of the Republic of that name. These two Republics together cover the island which is itself sometimes designated by the name of the one and sometimes by the name of the other of them. But, to speak more accurately, Haiti constitutes about one-third of the island and covers the western part of it, while Santo Domingo occupies the remaining two-thirds, covering the eastern part of it. Though forming parts of the same island, the two Republics are just as distinct and dissimilar in language, in traditions, and in social ideas as are France and Spain; they are two entirely separate and distinct nations-a person may know much about one of them, and yet be quite uninformed as to the other.

For several reasons, the island, materially and geographically, as well as historically, is one of the most remarkable places in this hemisphere. It is, as just indicated, situated somewhat less than 1,400 miles directly south of the central New England coast, and it is only a little more than that distance east from the City of Mexico. Cuba is some 50 miles to the northwest and Puerto Rico the same distance to the east, while Jamaica lies about 100


miles to the southwest of it; so that it is placed, as it were, right in the center of the four great Antilles, of which it is one and the next in size after Cuba. It is, besides, within 600 miles of the northern coast of South America, and to the north of it, not far away, are Inagua, Turk's, and other smaller islands. It lies between 17° 37' and 20° north latitude and between 68° 20' and 74° 30' longitude west from Greenwich, so that it is to be noted that the whole island is well within the tropics, and that its topographical position is such as to command the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico from the southeast and to give it importance on the great ocean highway leading from Europe and the United States to the isthmus which joins the two Americas and which must, in the opinion of many, open some day a convenient passage between the great oceans.

The island under consideration is very large, so large indeed that a person on any central part of it would find it difficult to conceive that he is not on the mainland of a continent rather than a mere island. Its greatest length from east to west is a little more than 400 miles, while its breadth from north to south varies from about 160 miles, measured from near Point Isabella to Cape Béate, to about 17 miles across the narrowest part of the extreme western peninsula, and it is estimated that its perimeter, not including its very numerous bays and inlets, would measure not far from 900 miles. Compared with European countries as to square miles. of surface, it is nearly three times as large as Belgium, onefifth larger than the Kingdom of Greece, more than twice the size of Denmark, and is only a little smaller than Portugal or Ireland. Compared in this respect with the States of the American Union, it is one-fourth larger than the whole area covered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut together; it is more than six times as large as Connecticut, or a little larger than South Carolina; that is, it contains about 31,000 square miles of surface. These figures are confined to the main


But there are in addition thereto, several considerable islets whose adjacency to it is such as to preclude all question as to their falling under its sovereignty. There is Gonaïve, which stretches for 40 miles from just below and to the right of the Môle St. Nicolas in sailing down the great bay which ends at Port au Prince; there is the famous Ile de la Tortue, which lies on the northern coast about midway between the Môle and the City of Cape Haitien, and which has 22 miles of length and 4 to 5 of breadth; there are La Saona to the east, nearly the size of La Tortue; Alta Vela, covering a number of square miles off the southern coast, looking like a huge pile standing straight up out of the sea, and from which guano has been exported, and several other islets of lesser size, although they add more than 500 square miles to the territory. At whatever point the island be approached from the sea, it looks, when seen from afar, like a huge mass of mountains running in all directions and all jumbled up in hopeless confusion, so that credence can easily be given to the story, told in some of the books, that an English Admiral, when asked by George III for a description of the island, crumpled up a sheet of paper in his hand, threw it on the table before His Majesty, and said, "Sire, Haiti looks like that."

At first glance, these mountains appear to come right down to the water's brink and to be covered all over with shrubbery and stubby trees of a not particularly inviting aspect, and one begins then to wonder where people can live or valuable crops can be grown. A closer examination, however, discloses that these mountains consist, in the main, of two long ranges running from east to west through the whole island, their general character and that of their almost numberless offshoots being such as to divide the rest of the land up into valleys and plains, of which some on the coast are the sites of cities and villages, and others in the interior are of marvelous fertility. From these mountains, too, flow innumerable streams, which, in some instances, become navi

gable rivers, and in other cases, serve to irrigate the fruitful plains and valleys. It seems, indeed, as if it were not possible to go anywhere on the island, not even in the centers of the extensive plains, without being in proximity to mountains all round.

The trees which, when seen from afar, looked like forbidding shrubbery, prove, many of them, to be very large and such as might be useful in commerce. Some of them bear delicious fruits, and some are laden with flowers of enchanting odors, which can often be distinctly perceived for miles at sea. Of the mountains, too, some rise to a considerable height, the highest in the Cibao district attaining 7,672 feet, as also La Salle and La Hotte in the southern and western districts. But none of them reach up to the frost line. Moreau de Saint Méry, who wrote, toward the end of the last century, with an accuracy which makes him still an authority about the island, says:

The number of mountains and their height, notwithstanding the vast extent of the numerous plains, give to the country, when seen at a distance, a mountainous appearance, and this is the reason why the first view is far from giving to us the favorable opinion of the island which it deserves.

Everywhere on the coast, there are bays and inlets, many of which afford safe anchorage and shelter for vessels. There are no less than eleven ports open to foreign commerce in the Haitian part of the island, three or four others where foreign vessels are permitted to take cargoes, but not to clear for the high seas, and there are besides, a large number of smaller ports open only to the coasting trade. In the interior, are mineral springs, where there were once considerable establishments for persons desiring the benefit of the water. There are eight of them which are well known, more than half the number being in the southern part of the Republic.

Of rivers, properly so called, there are three, the largest being the Artibonite, which flows in a northwesterly course through the great plain of that name, emptying into Gonaïve Gulf between St.

Marc and Gonaïves.

Of the other two, one, Trois-Rivières, has its mouth near Port de Paix, and the other, La Grande Anse, flows into the sea near Jérémie. There are forty-three rivulets well known and distinguished by name and locality. Some of them are made to serve the useful purpose of watering the fertile plains in the dry season. In the interior, also, are some quite large lakes, the Etangsale, which is 22 miles long and has 60 miles of shore line, being the largest. A peculiarity of some of them is that their waters are often very deep, and in one of them, the water has a bitter, salt taste, and ebbs and flows with the sea. There are several great plains in Haiti, and they are all remarkable for their fertility and productiveness. They are known as the plains of Cayes, Leogane, Archahaie, Cul-de-Sac, Gonaïves Hinche, and Artbonite, respectively.

The climate is, of course, wholly tropical, and to some temperaments, the blazing sun and the unceasing heat are well-nigh intolerable. Generally, however, it is the unbroken continuation rather than the intensity of the heat in the tropics that renders a residence there so often enervating to northerners. Higher temperatures sometimes visit New York and Philadelphia than ever come to Haiti. But there is a considerable variation of temperature according to locality even there. The heat at Port au Prince is, owing to its situation, probably as great as at any other seaport in the West Indies. From the middle of April to the middle or end of October, the mercury in the Fahrenheit thermometer indicates from 94° to 96° every day; but it never rises higher than 96°, and it seldom falls below 94° or 93° through the middle of the day, during the half of the year when the sky is usually clear, the rains falling, as a rule, late in the afternoons or evenings, a rainy day as it is understood in New England being a rare occurrence there. The nights are, on an average, from 10° to 20° cooler than the days, so that they seem cool and refreshing by comparison. During the rest of the year, which covers the "dry season" from October to

« AnkstesnisTęsti »