Celebrating the spirit of the Haitian People

Posted on 05/27/10

On May 18, 1803, the newly independent Republic of Haiti officially adopted one of today’s most recognizable symbols of Haitian freedom—the Haitian flag.  Since then, Haitians have recognized May 18 as Haitian Flag Day.

Last week, on a typically hot morning at Zanmi Lasante's (ZL) socio-medical complex in Cange, thousands of people from across the Central Plateau came to proudly celebrate the Haitian flag.

Cange's Flag Day celebration embodied the spirit of the Haitian people: asserting that they will overcome, they will build back better.


This year’s festivities focused on the importance of standing together with pride as Haiti begins to rebuild. Hope permeated the air as students from 29 ZL-supported schools recited poems, sang songs, and performed dances and plays, all to honor the history and optimism that Haiti’s flag represents.

The history of Haiti’s flag

The story of Haiti’s flag begins during the Haitian Revolution—more specifically with the battle of Cul-du-Sac, which took place outside Port-au-Prince on December 1, 1802. On that day, Haitian General Alexandre Pétion led his men into battle against the French army; not only did the Haitian forces lose, but they lost their tricolor flag during their retreat. That flag was quickly seized by the French and heralded as a symbol of their victory. European newspapers ridiculed the Haitian army not only for losing this battle, but also for carrying the French flag in a battle against the French. This was seen as a sign of the rebels’ chaotic disorganization.

A teacher from Cange, dressed as Jean Jaques Dessalines—the father of Haitian independence—initiating this year’s flag day activities.


The French press interpreted the use of the French flag to mean that Haiti’s people were not fighting for succession, rather they were merely making a proclamation. The spin: the Haitian army’s use of the French flag during battle was proof that the insurgents were not fighting for their independence, but were simply expressing their desire for greater liberties under French rule.

After hearing these stories, Haiti’s revolutionary leaders knew they needed their own flag. 

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leading figure in Haiti’s struggle for independence, was so enraged upon reading these stories that he grabbed the tricolor French flag, and with a sharp jerk, ripped the white stripe to pieces. He turned the flag on its side and rejoined the blue and red strips of fabric—symbolic of the union of mulattoes and blacks against the French. In doing so, he also made Haiti’s flag. 

Haitian soldiers went on to win their independence against the French under the new bicolor flag.

The country’s coat of arms, which is placed in the flag’s center, depicts a trophy of weapons ready to defend the people’s freedom, and a royal palm, a symbolic representation of Haiti’s political independence. On top of the palm is a Phrygian cap—often call the liberty cap—which has been used to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty since the time of the Romans. A banner underneath the palm tree reads, "L'Union Fait La Force"—Through Unity there is Strength.



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