Celebrating Flag Day in Haiti
May 25, 2012 - Haiti
On May 18th, Haiti celebrated the 209th birthday of its Flag. The reasons for the celebration were many, but the most important is the freedom earned by the slaves when the Haitians fought for their independence from the French. Across the country, and even around the world where there is any concentration of Haitians, the flag is celebrated as the union of the country against slavery and in favor of freedom. All schools had the day off for reflection on pride, unity, freedom, the beginnings of independence of this great nation and the adoption of its flag as it represents our values. Elementary and Secondary school children all over Haiti celebrated Flag Day in school on May 17th by marching in parades, learning about and reflecting on the meaning of the flag and creating smaller versions of it. They proudly carried home these small flags to the pleasure of their teachers, parents and neighbors. On May 18th, Secondary school students dressed in period costumes, and took to the streets in marching bands and parades. At the Father Wasson Angels of Light "FWAL" Elementary school, the children added their own unique spin on the celebration. Adults wearing period costumes performed re-enactments of the battles for independence while the children recited speeches on the meaning of the colors of the flag, its design and the country's motto while participating in their own scenes of the battles for freedom and independence from colonialism.
In the history of the flag, school children undoubtedly learned that the official adoption of the flag took place on May 18, 1803, during the Congress of Arcahaie, a town North of Port-au-Prince. It was sewn by a woman named Catherine Flon. On the Congress' agenda was the discussion of the flag's origin, its design and meaning. It was in the moment of passion, to represent the solidarity of the revolutionary army against the French, that "Le Père de la Patrie" (Father of the Nation) Jean-Jacques Dessalines, then General-in-chief of the army, ripped the white stripe from the Red, White and Blue of the French flag and joined the blue and red pieces together. This created a symbolic union of the mulatto and the black patriots. Stripping the white from the flag proved their rejection of the white pro-slavery French colonialists.
FWAL students assisting the parade of the Haitian Flag Day.
The flag has gone through several changes over the years. For example, in1805 Dessalines changed the flag to black/red vertical stripes. Following his death, the country was divided into two republics - led by Henri Christophe on the North and Alexandre Petion in the South and West. While Christophe kept the black/red vertical stripes, Petion went back to the 1804 design of red/blue horizontal stripes and added the country's coat of arms, a royal palm signifying "independence" topped by the "cap of liberty," for freedom and decorated with 3 bayonets on either side of the palm to signify the willingness to defend their freedom. He also placed a banner across the bottom bearing the motto "L'Union Fait La Force" meaning "Unity Makes Strength" all enclosed in a white square placed in the center of the flag. This famous motto represents Haitian citizens' sentiments to band together to fight against their oppressors. Long after the island had been divided into the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the flag underwent another change when Papa doc Duvalier in 1964 modified it with the black/red vertical design that was originally adopted by Jean-Jacques Dessalines and added a modified coat of arms. After the fall of the Duvalier regime in 1986, the citizens of Haiti once again changed the flag back to the blue/red horizontal design of Alexandre Petion (blue on top/red underneath) with the original coat of arms and motto.
The celebrations were marvelous as the bands of school children performed in the streets wearing bright colors and proudly carrying the flag all around the capital of Port-au-Prince, in front of the National Palace, and in cities around the country. The eternal hopes of this proud, indestructible nation on the mend from national disasters, was being proclaimed loud and clear for the world to see and hear.
Dieuveck Rosembert and Peggy Parker