Heroes’ Day / Ancestors’ Day
Observed annually on January 2nd in Haiti, Heroes’ Day (also known as Ancestors’ Day) is a national holiday that commemorates the Haitian forefathers who fought and struggled to gain their independence from France during the early 1800s.
The day that precedes this holiday is celebrated by most people around the world as the beginning of the New Year, but in Haiti, it’s also celebrated as Independence Day — a day that commemorates the declaration of independence from France.
So, it’s quite easy to see that this holiday is not just a one-day affair but is part of a larger holiday block.
The History of Heroes’ Day/Ancestors’ Day in Haiti
Originally known as Hispaniola, Haiti was first owned by Spain, but ownership of one-third of the island was granted to France as per the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick. It was then promptly named Saint-Domingue and became an important French colony.
Under French rule, this colony would become one of the richest colonies in the world, mainly on the backs of slaves who were used as forced labor to grow and process sugar and coffee for export to Europe.
In the mountainous interior, African slaves were used for growing coffee, and in the northern plains, these slaves were used for growing and harvesting sugarcane. The slave system in Saint-Domingue was considered to be one of the harshest in the Americas, and there was a high rate of violence and death associated with it.
From 1791 through 1804, these African slaves and their allies fought a revolution to gain their independence from France. It started in August of 1791 and quickly grew to include more than 100,000 participants. The following year, France sent troops to quell the rebellion.
Soon, Great Britain and Spain joined in the conflict in an attempt to seize land. The former slave Toussaint Louverture fought off these attacks and still managed to liberate enslaved people on the Spanish side of the island. Louverture would declare himself the leader of Saint-Domingue, but French forces ended up capturing him.
In 1802, Napoleon regained control of the colony and attempted to restore slavery. This led to a new slave uprising. In late 1803, the rebellion defeated French forces. On January 1st of the following year, the new leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines announced to the world that Haiti was an independent nation.
Observing Heroes’ Day/Ancestors’ Day in Haiti
As stated earlier, this day is mainly observed with Independence Day, making January 1st and 2nd an important holiday event. There are special commemorative events, celebrations, and military processions during these two days.