Haïti was the French name originally given to the whole island of Hispaniola. The name comes from the Taino word meaning "mountainous land." In Haitian Creole the country's name is pronounced Ayiti.

The colony was officially incorporated in the early 1600s, and by 1697, with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick, the French were given the western third of the island, which they named Saint-Domingue (a gallicization of the Spanish name, Santo Domingo.) During this French colonial period, the colony earned the name "La Perle des Antilles" ("The Pearl of the Antilles") due to its economic importance.

With the declaration of Saint-Domingue's independence on January 1, 1804, following the Haitian Revolution, Revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines restored the Taino name as a symbolic gesture of defiance against Spanish and French rule.

In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down all but an estimated 2% of its original forest cover, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification. Erosion has been severe in the mountainous areas. Most Haitian logging is done to produce charcoal, the country's chief source of fuel.

The plight of Haiti's forests has attracted international attention, and has led to numerous reforestation efforts, but these have met with little success to date.

Despite numerous environmental crises, Haiti retains a very high amount of biodiversity in proportion to its small size. The country is home to more than 6,000 plants in which 35% are endemic and 220 species of birds in which 21 species are endemic. The country's high biodiversity is due to its mountainous topography and fluctuating elevations in which each elevation harbors different microclimates and its own endemic fauna and flora.

The country's varied scenery include lush green cloud forests (in some of the mountain ranges and the protected areas), high mountain peaks, cactus-strewn arid desert, mangrove forest, and palm tree-lined beaches.

The January 12, 20120, 7.0 earthquake, which is estimated to have killed over 200,000 people and left over a million homeless, reminded the world that Hispaniola is located in a seismically active area. Haiti's last large earthquake 150 years ago destroyed structures and claimed lives in Cap Haitien, but Haiti has suffered so many calamities, both natural and man-made, in the ensuing century that disaster preparedness has been virtually non-existent. Haiti is still experiencing a high incidence of cholera and is still struggling to re-house the large homeless population.

Haitian Art

Brilliant colors, naive perspective and sly humor characterize Haitian art. Big, delectable foods and lush landscapes are favorite subjects in this land of poverty and hunger. Going to market is the most social activity of country life, and figures prominently into the subject matter. Jungle animals, rituals, dances, and gods evoke the African past.

Many artists cluster in 'schools' of painting, such as the Cap Haitien school, which features depictions of daily life in the city, the Jacmel School, which reflects the steep mountains and bays of that coastal town, or the Saint-Soleil School, which is characterized by abstracted human forms and is heavily influenced by Vodou symbolism.

In a country of political oppression, one tends to speak in fables. Artists paint in fable as well. People are disguised as animals and animals are transformed into people. In an illiterate land, symbols take on great meaning. For example, a rooster often represents Aristide and the red and blue colors of the Haitian flag often represent his Lavalas party.

Carlo Valtrain

Carlo Valtrain

Carlo Valtrain was born on October 26, 1959 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to a baker father and a seamstress mother.

Neither his parents nor any other family member had ever displayed an interest in or talent for the arts. All that was to change with Carlo, who began drawing and painting at age eight. He sold his first painting at age 14, and at 16 he left school to begin work as a full-time artist, with no formal instruction apart from a one-week course in technique at Haiti's Academy of Fine Arts. He was mentored in his early years by another Haitian artist, Yvon Louis.

When he was 19 years old, Carlo did some calligraphy work for the National Theatre of Haiti. Francois Latour, the theatre's creator and director, recognized that Carlo's talents extended far beyond the calligraphy required for the theatre's programs and posters. Latour -- who became a well-known publicist, satirist, and radio personality in addition to his work in theatre and film -- began to commission, buy, market Carlo's paintings. Latour remained Valtrain's principal patron until Latour's untimely kidnap and murder in May 2007.

Valtrain has exhibited in Miami, New York, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador in addition to Haiti. His work can be found in Haiti's renowned Monnin gallery. A versatile artist, Valtrain has worked in different media although he is best known for his paintings. Unlike many Haitian artists who maintain one style in all their works, Valtrain's themes and styles vary. He paints intricate foliage, colorful birds and wildlife, abstracts, landscapes, and social commentary scenes depicting the difficulties of life in Haiti.

A widower with seven children, like all Haitian artists, Valtrain struggles to live by his art and to share his creative vision in a country that has little tourism or economic vitality. Latour's widow, resident in the Washington, DC area, has taken up the promotion of Valtrain's work. Some of his pieces can now be found in galleries in the greater metropolitan area, and other examples of his work are also available here at www.HaitianArtOnline.com

Carol Valtrain
Le Plaza Haiti Hotel

Look for Carlo Valtrain's paintings to be on display soon at downtown Port-au-Prince's
finest hotel Le Plaza Haiti
- Une Oasis Creole au Centre Ville.

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