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Original Issue

John Groth's Haiti

Haiti today is a fascinating product of a long and bloody history. Discovered by Columbus, it was a frequent port of call for buccaneers. After the Spaniards all but exterminated the Indian population, they brought in African slaves. Descendants of these men from the Congo won their freedom in a fierce struggle with France at the time of Napoleon; and from them, in turn, Haiti's people are descended today—a proud, calm race whose primitive art is fast finding a following in the U.S., whose tongue is soft Creole, a mixture of French, Spanish, English and African, and who still follow many of the customs of bygone years.

Voodoo Rites like these give tourists a show-biz look at a primitive heritage. Frenetic drums, a ragtime band, uninhibited dancing by small boys, a chanting female chorus and a sacrificial goat are part, of the show. The tension ends when the high priest lays aside his knife, kisses the goat between the horns and the tourists file out suitably purged of pity and fear.

Cockfights on Sundays in Port-au-Prince are closely attended by Haitians, some tourists and an occasional sailor from a visiting warship. The natives hold up their hands to signal bets, and although the cockfights are seldom to the death, they generate enough excitement to jam the pits in the Port-au-Prince pavilion downtown with cheering spectators.