Haiti Overview: Land and People
The country is mostly mountainous, but about one third of the land is arable. Once covered by forest, the country has been heavily logged for wood and fuel and to clear land for farming, and is now largely deforested. The deforestation has contributed to often deadly and sometimes devastating flooding during hurricanes. In addition to the capital, other important cities include Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves . Haiti is the most densely populated country in Latin America and has historically had the lowest per capita income, with about two thirds of the people unemployed and three quarters living in poverty. (Economic troubles in the mid-2010s in Venezuela, however, led to even worse levels of poverty there by 2016.) Prolonged economic inequality, political instability and repression, and a near total lack of medical care continue to be serious problems. The economic and political situation have caused numerous Haitians to seek work in the neighboring Dominican Republic, and others to emigrate, especially to the United States and the Bahamas.
About 95% of the inhabitants are descendants of African slaves who still follow West African cultural patterns. Since the mid-19th cent., however, Haiti has been dominated by the mulatto minority, which clings to the French cultural tradition. French and Haitian Creole, a French dialect, are the official languages of Haiti. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, but African nature gods are still worshiped, and vodun (voodoo) rites are widely practiced and are an officially recognized religion.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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