Preserve Haitian History
It’d be hard these days to find patrimonial or natural riches in countries with vibrant histories that haven’t been exploited to the brink of destruction by over tourism, reviewed on Trip Advisor, or listed in Lonely Planet. At most tourism sights, capturing the past to a point so vivid you feel like you’re actually there in history uninterrupted by expensive entrance fees, trinket vendors, t-shirt shops, fat foreigners, and a cacophony of cameras shuttering, is difficult. So if ever there was a positive side to the chronic economic, insecurity and political turmoil of Haiti, then this may be it.
A kind of neglect or ignorance among certain sectors of development, some may say all sectors, but mainly an emphasis and lack of resources for tourism, has left Haiti a place to be discovered, or rediscovered. And those of us fortunate enough to live here, with the will and interest to learn and search out all that Haiti has to offer, have the privilege of enjoying many of these finds completely alone without the distractions brought by a tourist attraction.
Two sights that have recently received a bit of attention and remind everyone who visits them how rich Haiti once was are the ruins of the Dion Plantation (18° 52.465'N 72° 22.779'W) and the still mostly intact Fort Drouet (18° 53.868'N 72° 24.414'W). Both are in the West Department of Haiti only a 2 hour drive or so outside of Port-au-Prince. They occupy mountaintops whose location indicate clearly Haiti was truly a much different place in 1791, in more ways than one can imagine. At the pre-revolutionary Plantation Dion from the remains of the main house’s gallery you can see miles of the snaking Artibonite River and the entire valley almost a mile below all the way east to the Gulf of La Gonave and then west to Mirebalais. The air is cool and fresh and clouds blow easily in and out from the mountaintop. Among the brush that still represents some type of ecology you find budding flowers and rare orchids. This is prime real-estate and you find yourself growing envious of the plantation owners of the day right up until the point you turn around and gaze out at the 21 slave quarters still upright in the courtyard behind the main house. Haiti’s (ISPAN) Patrimonial Society make the claim that this is significant in that no other find in Haiti has such evidence of slavery still standing.
Only a five-minute drive east of the plantation atop a hill on the same mountain range sits Fort Drouet. The leaders of the republic built 20 or so of these forts around the country to protect them against an anticipated return of the French after the successful revolution. Here between to jugged mountaintops you peer directly onto the island of La Gonave to the east. In every other direction, mountain range after rolling mountain range, deye mon gen mon, is all you see. The fort’s thick walls are as sound as they must have been in the 1800s and the gunner windows pointing in every possible direction display defensive strategies. From Google Earth, or an international flight north, the fort looks like an outline of a giant turtle. Inside there is a powder house completely untouched with vibrant red moss painting the exterior and a permanent dampness trapped inside. A bit lower than Fort Drouet on an opposing mound are the extensive ruins of what appear to be some sort of industrial activity, milling, livestock, roasting or all of the above may have been tended to here.
In between Dion and Fort Drouet are a few ruins with corner stones embossed with dates and names, 1791, F.P.T. LaSaline pictured here for example. This just off the newly graded government road which, questions what was here before the road and perhaps a sign that the neglect and ignorance for such important historic riches continues. But not only here, you can look out in a few directions on the mountain range and with a keen eye spot remnants of walls, structures, circles, jutting out among the now barren mountains but overgrown with the brush and green that thrive.
Though these are only ruins, their surroundings are barren and while arriving to the sights isn’t necessarily convenient, you truly get a sense of how grandiose, rich and prominent a role Haiti once was in the world. And how impossible life must have been for those whose unfortunate fate it was that brought them here to make it so powerful a place.
To view more photos of Fort Drouet or Plantation click here.