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Haiti - Expo Brussels 1910

Haiti at the Exhibition Expo Brussels 1910

Mr. Vanden Bogaert, Vice-Consul of Haiti, sends us a very interesting extract from the newspaper Le Matin, from Port-au-Prince (Haiti). It is the account by the Minister of Finance of the Republic of Haiti of his trip to Brussels:

"This 11 August 1910.

"I arrived yesterday in Brussels by the 12:40 p.m. express train from Paris. Although I had taken the precaution of writing to reserve a room in advance, I had some difficulty in settling in. I was forced to walk around in the car with my trunks for nearly two hours before finding a place in a hotel. That shows you the great success of the Exhibition!

"I had, however, a very pleasant compensation: this race through the streets made me appreciate, from the outset, the friendly, obliging, helpful character of the people of Brussels. For wherever I went, everyone was quick, after expressing their regret at not having any more rooms, to point out to me, with great affability, the places where I would probably find my business. And later I noticed that everywhere too, in the omnibuses, trams, railways, in the crowd, it was the same politeness and the same desire to be kind to the stranger. If elsewhere these qualities have been somewhat lost, if the foreigner is now only a beast that can be slaughtered at will, it is not yet the same in Brussels.

"You know that this capital has grown considerably in recent years. Its population has risen to nearly 700,000 inhabitants. No city in Europe has better organised services, nor more assured hygiene. One fact suffices to prove this: whereas Paris, with its 3 million inhabitants, occupies an area of only 7,900 hectares, Brussels has more than 7,000. People live there at ease, in the amply distributed air.

"On the other hand, Belgium, which is only the eighteenth part of France, has the densest population on earth: 243 inhabitants per square kilometre. And, from 1831 to 1909, this population increased from 3,785,000 to 7,386,000.

"But I do not intend to give you a geography course, which is easy to do, thanks to the guides, monographs, and vade mecums that have been printed in profusion for the Exhibition and that are stuffed into your pocket, in the stations, on the boulevards, in the theatre, and in your hotel bed, because the genius of advertising is heard as excellently as elsewhere. It goes without saying that Belgians are business people. Otherwise they would not have attained that degree of prosperity which is universally admired.

"However, what we must not tire of studying is the prodigious activity of this people who, without a fleet, almost without a flag on the seas, occupy the fourth place in international trade. What must be admired without reserve is this marvellous network of railways, the tightest in the world, this formidable, genial production of iron, steel and machines that Belgium has managed to impose on the world...

"I don't need to tell you that my first visit to the Exhibition today was to our pavilion. Well, I write it without hesitation, I was absolutely delighted. It is very successful. Coffee, cocoa, cotton, rum, various woods, manufactured goods, confectionery, Blas Vieras liqueurs, embroidery work, Diquini cigars, etc., etc., everything is well presented, very attractive, much to the eye. The pavilion was full. All the tables were filled with consumers, enjoying our coffee. And it was a chorus, without a discordant note, on the unique aroma of our national product. I had a good, real emotion when I heard all these people asking for information about our country, its climate, the riches of its soil, the possibility of establishing regular relations. People grouped together, discussed, and gave various reasons, for or against, which were fascinating, and I saw, in this amazed curiosity, destinies, a new door, as it were, opening up before us.

"The Haiti pavilion covers an area of 344 square metres. This is more than Nicaragua, more than Peru, more than the Dominican Republic, more even than Russia, which has only 175 square metres. It is located not far from the lawn tennis court. Our colours float proudly on top of its little tower.

"I don't like the yellow paint on the building, nor, in general, its exterior. I think it would have been better if there had been a terrace outside and around the building, where it would have been pleasant to enjoy our drinks and coffee. But as it is, it is a success, and we should not ask for more. The interior arrangements, on the other hand, are impeccable.

"It is with the current of the pen that I make this reflection, without having too much time to read it again, and in a room where more than 200 people come in and out, reading aloud, writing letters or dictating dispatches for all parts of the world.

"Do with it what you will. If you think it will be of interest to your readers, make it the first Matin. I would have liked to send you something better. I hardly have the time. I immediately respond to the deep impression I have just had, an impression which is all the more vivid in me, as through the windows of this room where I am writing to you, I see, in the magical illumination outside, a pretty scene of cinematography: It is the silhouette of a lively Haitian woman pouring a whole group of our delicious Haitian coffee, which any lover of an excellent cup of coffee can have served at home, at a good price, by the Caféière de Saint-Marc (Haiti), in Brussels, which, as far as I have been able to ascertain, provides the real Haitian coffee in official packaging. This advertisement attracts a lot of people, who are very friendly and cordial.

"This is my impression, very good, as you can see.

"I wanted, without too many sentences, to translate it for your newspaper, which is so interested in our future and the development of our commercial relations. I cannot forget to mention that the very kind Mr. Delsoin, one of our commissioners, is a great friend of ours. I cannot forget to mention that the very kind Mr. Delsoin, one of our General Commissioners, has told me that a great many awards have been given to our exhibitors.

I recently took part in the deliberations of one of the many juries that operated in the stands and windows of the Exhibition. And since, with regard to the award that was to be given to the operators of certain natural products from the great island of the West Indies, not everyone was in agreement, someone advocated generosity in favour of this argument:

- We must take into account that they come from so far away and that they are, in short, negroes.

The reason seemed very unfair to me and I was not the only one to protest. We felt that it was not at all necessary to show indulgence with regard to the colour of those who were running for our votes; the testimonies sent here by them of their activity and ingenuity are sufficient, apart from any external consideration, to merit our interest and our praise.

The negro republic of Haiti has given us proof that it is capable of showing off its wealth and fruitful labour to many white republics...

When we went, in fact, to visit the pavilion, perhaps not very attractive to the eye and of very rudimentary architecture, but abundantly filled with a thousand things very clearly and even sometimes elegantly presented, that M. Delsoin, Commissioner-General of the Government of Port-au-Prince, has had built on the road to the Plaine des Sports, it was not always clear that this was the fine effort of a country a little smaller than Belgium, situated on the other side of the Atlantic, and populated by less than a million inhabitants.

A few months ago, when I was dealing with the Dominican participation in the Exhibition, I said in this very place the unparalleled beauty of this great Haitian island divided into the two republican governments of Haiti and Santo Domingo, the incredible richness of its soil of mountainous minerals and luxuriant forests, the privileges of its regular climate of alternating rains and hot droughts which allow two harvests and two harvests a year. I will not dwell on this.

But, before quickly counting the samples that industrialists, farmers and planters have sent to Brussels, I will recall the political events that have agitated the large island, have often caused trouble there over the last four centuries and have led to the present relatively calm and prosperous situation.

This mountainous land was the first of those seen by Columbus at the end of his adventurous journey. It is understandable that the Spaniards settled there as masters; it was they who populated the colony in the 16th century.

The Spaniards were the ones who populated the colony in the 16th century with the invading Negroes, whose invasion gradually drove out the decimated race of peaceful Indians.

Later, there was the tragic adventure of Toussaint Louverture, the black hero who died in captivity at the fort of Youx and who had the glory - platonic it is true for him - of inspiring a poignant drama to Lamartine. It was the revenge of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the liberator of the island, who massacred or drove out the French of Rochambeau. It was the discord of the north and south rallying around the negro Christophe or the mulatto Pétion. There were the successive divisions, dismemberments, protectorates and revolutions during half of the last century, sometimes to the benefit of the French, sometimes to the benefit of the Spaniards, sometimes to the benefit of the natives. For a moment, fifty years ago, the brief burlesque epic of this savage despot, a sinister character in an operetta that would turn macabre, of this Soulouque proclaimed emperor under the name of Faustin I.

So many crossroads are obviously not designed to help the material prosperity and intellectual development of a state. Haiti wanted to give us proof, however, of what thirty or forty years of well-organised national existence, of wise reforms, of application to order and work, have been able to produce.

And this is how nothing should be indifferent to what the valiant little Haitian people offer to our eyes on the 344 square metres of surface area of their rustic wooden palace painted with ochre and indigo.

Like all the other Central American participations - and there are many in the Solbosch - Haiti's participation is designed to demonstrate the richness and variety of the products of the soil. Sugar cane and coffee are the most famous resources. Although sugar is not used as much as it used to be in the production of sugar, rum is used extensively in the production of rum.

And in the pavilion you can taste the three articles which constitute the essential part of the export and on which the planters count most to ensure the prosperity of the future. I mean coffee, rum and cigars. I have drunk the first, savoured the second, smoked the third, and I have not regretted it.

Coffee in parchment, rum in barrels or bottles, tobacco in leaf or shaped take up a large part of the installations. But honey also has its place, and various liqueurs, substitutes for rum, and fruits and vegetables skilfully preserved, and cotton and cocoa, and kola wine and cashew gum, and manioc and sugar.

From the vast forests that rise on the slopes of the Hotte mountains, on the banks of Lake Fondo or in the high basins of the Artibonite River, came the rare woods with their brilliant polish and admirable play of marbled veins.

From the gigantic rocks of the Tiburon peninsula have been extracted specimens of the most fertile ores in gold, silver, platinum, iron, copper and tin, which are only waiting for abundant labour and practical means of transport to enrich opulent exploitations.

Elsewhere, here are samples of the few basic industries of F. F.: some refractory stones, fabrics, bags and baskets made of latanier fibres used to transport coffee on the backs of animals, even artificial flowers and embroidery.

But the organisers were concerned to highlight, and therefore to emphasise, the degree of civilisation and intellectual prosperity, the good administrative order that the Republic has achieved. In recent years, the Republic has successfully applied its national motto - a motto that is not unlike the one we know well. Haiti, which has French as its national language, inscribes these words under its bellicose coat of arms: L'Union fait la force.

Numerous photographs show us, for example, that Port-au-Prince is a capital with very beautiful monuments: cathedrals, banks, railway stations, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies decorate it beautifully. Let us mention, in passing, that the cathedral of Port-au-Prince is the work of Mr. Paul Perraud, a construction engineer in Brussels, and that a stained glass window, exhibited in the pavilion, has just been executed for this distant church, according to the drawings of Mr. Paul Hagemans. In it, the Belgian artist has depicted, in harmonious lines and colours, a touching Sainte-Marie-Magdeleine.

A Haitian cemetery, whose views are presented to the visitor, evokes the memory of the monumental necropolises of Milan and Genoa.

Practical secondary schools have sent delicate painted or embroidered objects. The Saint Rose de Lima boarding school shows the artistic work of its pupils and, among other things, a superb priest's bobbin lace rochet which would not be unworthy of the skillful patience of our famous Flemish lacemakers.
If there are schools in Port-au-Prince, there is also a Séjourné Laboratory, where all varieties of medicinal ampoules are prepared, and the fame of the surgical instruments invented and made by the Haitian doctor Casséus has gone beyond the boundaries of the island.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that our compatriots have excellent reasons not to be indifferent in front of the samples and especially the documents put in front of them, since several important Belgian companies have large interests in the West Indies. The Société des plantations d'Haïti, in Bayeux, which processes rubber, cocoa, sugar cane and rum, is one of them, and it is participating in the present exhibition.

And at the centre of all these testimonies to the productive and commercial activity of a people who were, in short, primitive and rough, stands the bronze bust of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, held there to be the true founder of Haitian independence. The feathered bicorn proudly planted on his frizzy Negro hair with big energetic eyes, the embroidered suit overloaded with epaulets and aiguillettes give him the appearance of a decorative general of the first Empire. But the contrast is eloquent between the collection of pottery and rudimentary utensils exhibited as relics of the ancient Caribbean, the rugged black majesty of this soldier of fortune and the evidence of the current state of prosperity of a country we cannot ignore.

©Exposition Bruxelles 1910