National Geographic : 1908 Mar
HAITI: A DEGENERATING ISLAND* The Story of its Past Grandeur and Present Decay BY REAR ADMIRAL COLBY M. CHESTER, U. S. NAVY EOGRAPHICALLY, the Island of Haiti, including within its limits the two republics of Santo Domingo and Haiti, is in the class of the most favored of nations. Situated on the Western Continent about midway between its two grand divisions of North and South America and abounding in natural resources, it might be an em porium for each, if its inhabitants were of as high an order as the country itself. The general sailing directions for ships bound from New York to almost any part of the Greater Antilles, or to the north coast of South America, require a course to be steered due south on the seventy fourth meridian of longitude, which passes Watlings Island, the San Sal vador of Columbus, close aboard, and leads into the Caribbean Sea between the islands of Cuba and Haiti; thence a slight change of course to the westward takes the ship to the future entrance of the Pacific Ocean-the Panama Canal. Thus, ships from our own metropolis visiting the neighboring ports, in which we are most interested, will pass close to the "Gem of the Antilles." The name Haiti, or "High Island," is significant of the character of its topog raphy. "Sire," once said a British ad miral to his king, George the Third, when asked about the island, "Haiti looks like that," and he crumpled up a piece of paper and placed it upon the table. A brief description though this may be, it well fitted the case. The island is about 400 miles long, 150 miles wide, and is about the size of the State of New York. It is irregular in shape and is intersected by three chains of mountains. Haiti has a climate peculiar to itself. While it is dominated by the usual hot and dry seasons of the tropics, some of its high peaks, which extend nearly up into the snow limits of the atmosphere, seem to draw from the trade winds which sweep across their summits the moisture, which is precipitated almost daily for a short time, and thus the dry season is robbed of its drought-affect ing proclivities. THE ORIGINAL SEAT OF PARADISE Only one opinion seems to exist in the minds of historians concerning the general salubrity of the climate, the productiveness of the soil, and the beauty of the scenery of this remark able island. "In the delightful vales," says Raynal, "all the sweets of spring are enjoyed without winter or summer. There are but two seasons of the year and they are equally fine. The ground, always laden with fruit and covered with flowers, realizes the delights and riches of poetical description. Wher ever we turn our eyes we are enchanted with a variety of objects colored and re flected by the clearest light. The air is temperate in the daytime and the nights are constantly cool." Naturally this ac count refers particularly to places on the island where foreigners are wont to congregate, but it also accords well with my own experience there. The memory of a night spent in the hills above Port-au-Prince, where this description strictly applies, is fre quently in my mind. Here, after a night of rest, the new day began with a swim in a beautiful pool of mountain water which ran through the lower part of our host's house; and this, accompanied by gentle breezes wafting sweet odors and mingling with the song of birds, * An address to the National Geographic Society.