Published On: Thu, Jun 15th, 2017

His Majesty, Emperor Jacques I, and Her Imperial Highness, Empress Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité of Haiti

dekker_0In 1804, Jean-Jacques ordered the massacre of the white Haitian minority, slaughtering about 5,000 French colonists and their mulattoes. Jean-Jacques declared Haiti an all-black nation and prohibited whites from owning property or land. But an enormous social divide remained: "Nèg rich se milat, milat pov se nèg.  A rich negro is a mulatto; a poor mulatto is a negro."

In September of the same year, Jean-Jacques proclaimed himself Emperor, but most, unfortunately, in 1806, he was assassinated by negro rebels.  King Henri I, with a somewhat more humble title, succeeded him, and a bit later, Emperor Faustin I.

By 1850, the former governor general's residence had become known as the Imperial Palace, since it became the residence of Emperor Faustin I of Haiti and his wife, Empress Adélina.  The court ceremonial was designed to exalt the person of Majesty in the style of Louis XIV.

John Bigelow, an editor at the New York Evening Post, visited the palace in 1850 and described it as "only one story, raised a few feet from the ground, and approached by four or five steps, which extend all around the edifice." He also noted aspects of the interior decoration:

"The floor of one waiting room is white marble, the furniture in black hair-cloth and straw. On a richly carved table appeared a beautiful bronze clock, representing the arms of Haiti—namely, a palm-tree surrounded with fascines of pikes and surmounted with the Phrygian cap.

The walls were decorated with two fine portraits ... One represents the celebrated French conventionist, the Abbé Grégoire, and the other the reigning Emperor of Haiti ... The latter does honor to the talent of a mulatto artist, the Baron Colbert. An adjoining salon, where grand receptions are given, displayed portraits of all the great men of Haiti.”

This Imperial Palace was destroyed on 19 December 1869 during another rebel revolt. The new National Palace, of French Renaissance architecture, by architect Baussan, was built, early 20th century.

“It is more than twice the size of our White House and is shaped like the letter E, with three wings running back from the front. In the main hall, large columns rise to the ceiling and, on each side, a staircase winding up to the second floor," Kuser, a visiting US-dignitary noted diligent in his diary.

“It was set up for grand receptions with a Louis XIV grandeur."

The National Palace features a domed entrance pavilion. Four Ionic columns supported a pedimented portico; at either end of the main façade were matching domed buildings, also groined with grand vaulted ceilings.

On January 12, 2010, the National Palace was severely damaged by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. After the tremor, the collapsed cupola in the center made a deep bow toward Toussaint Louverture-Square, since the entire supporting wall, ceremonial stairs and portico collapsed.  Only the back wall was still standing.

The media reported that “The columned central pavilion, a section, once containing the main hall and royal staircase turned into rubble. The second floor of the building collapsed almost entirely, taking the attic floor with it. “

This entourage was by all accounts an ideal setting for His Imperial Majesty’s Grand Banquet and Ball of Ghosts.  Jack-a-lanterns made out of 5,000 French skulls would lighten the surrounding grounds and make swinging grand candelabras. A circular chain of Zombies around the premises would shuffle, and shuffle without end. Throughout the night, blasts of resin bands and rappers would alternate with formal folklore music, and Louis XIV flute and organ dance music, so much loved by the Emperor and His wife.

Fine linens covered the masonry rubble wall pieces, turning them into banquet tables full of crystal, silver, and gold. Behind each gilded chair would be lackeys outfitted in gold embroidery, embellished with deep red and navy blue livery, catering to each of the celebrity guests whims.

At the height of the Séance Ball, the Emperor, wearing the empire’s golden Coronation Crown, studded with jewels and precious stones, would raise from his tomb. A heavily embroidered long ermine coats with train, golden scepter and orb, set with precious stones, and greet his most favorite guests. The Sun King and his retinue would be the guests of honor and set on display for all to see, under the kneeling cupola.  Individual tables would be set for present monarchs reigning in the Caribbean, Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II of England and His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

Hendrik Van der Decken in his gala Commander’s uniform as The Flying Dutchman, and Anansi, as the ambassador for the migrant population of the Dutch Kingdom, with white tie and tails, would greet His Majesty and Her Imperial Highness with suited respect. They would exchange pleasantries for a while and maybe remember some of the bitter fights of establishing any new regime.

A bike taxi delivered me to Toussaint Louverture Square. The National Palace was gone, even the rubble. Haiti, once a proud empire and the richest of all islands, is now the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

Poof, gone was the Grand Gala of the Emperor.

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