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#219: Temwayaj Kout Kouto, 1937: Eyewitnesses to the Genocide (fwd)

From: Declama <Declama@email.msn.com>

    In addition to Prof. Trouillot's article, Prof. Lauren Derby was
gracious enough to let me publish part of her unpublished manuscript on that
same topic (Ayiti/DR 1937).  These are actual testimonies from survivors of
this holocaust.  The english text can be viewed by pointing your browser to
http://www.ahad-kreyol.org/Newsletter/Number18/koutkouto.htm, the kreyol
version can also be seen at
    Happy reading.

AHAD/Creole Connection

Temwayaj Kout Kouto, 1937: Eyewitnesses to the Genocide
by Lauren Derby

The 1937 Haitian massacre today remains enveloped in myth. The sheer scale
of the event, with estimates ranging from 10,000-20,000 Haitian peasants
slaughtered by machete, is indicative of how monstrous this state-sponsored
genocide was, but we still know very little about the pre-massacre border
communities themselves, or even how the slaughter was actually carried out.
Did the Trujillo regime succeed in forcing individuals with Haitian partners
and families to kill their loved ones with machetes? How did people resist
the state’s orders? How did Haitians and Dominicans understand the rationale
behind the slaying? Effectively shifting this event from the realm of myth
into that of history requires listening carefully to the voices of those who
survived it and can give testimony to what actually occurred in the border
communities. Richard Turits (Princeton University), Edouard Jean Baptiste
(of the Centro Pastoral Haitiana, Archbishopric, Santo Domingo) and I
collected forty hours of oral narratives from Haitian survivors of the 1937
Haitian massacre in 1987 as part of a larger effort to determine both what
happened and what it meant to Haitian victims and Dominican witnesses and
assassins, as well as how the genocide has been woven into the nationalist
imagination of both nations. In order to document the Haitian version of
events, we visited the communities in the Haitian frontier established by th
e regime of Stenio Vincent after the massacre to house the "escapains" or
returnees, virtually all of whom had been born and raised on Dominican
terrain (which technically, by the Dominican constitution, should have
actually made them Dominicans, not Haitians at all). Thus the Haitian
population resident in the Dominican border provinces was not one of
migrants at the time of the massacre, as the Dominican government alleged,
but rather one of old, well-integrated and relatively affluent families
dating from the nineteenth century. Nor were the Haitian residents of the
Dominican border a minority.

In Restauración province, for example, the 1920 census records that the
number of foreign (read Haitian) and Dominican denizens was nearly equal. We
interviewed dozens of survivors in Mont Organize, Ouanaminthe, Dosmond,
Grand Bassin, and Terrier Rouge in the north, and Thiotte and Savanne Zombi
in the south. The interviews were aimed at both documenting how Haitians
were inserted in the Dominican border provincial economies, thus the ethnic
division of labor as it related to economic, trade and religious networks,
as well as the meaning of the genocide for survivors.

Contrary to popular belief and most scholarly accounts, we discovered that
the Haitian migrant community was prosperous, growing coffee and frequently
owning cattle or land on Dominican terrain, and tending to monopolize
skilled urban trades such as tailoring, baking, shoemaking and iron
smelting, prestigious occupations in the impoverished rural Dominican border
communities of the 1930s. Dominican sharecroppers were impressed by the
success of the colony of Haitian coffee farmers in the mountains of the
central border. Indeed, the predominant image of Haiti in the Dominican
popular imagination was one of economic superiority, and that the country
was chic and cosmopolitan, especially compared to 1930s Dominican Republic
which was far less urbanized and capitalized; the Dominican borderlands, for
example, relied on the Haitian Gourde and the U.S. dollar until the first
national currency was minted in 1940. Nor did we discover any evidence of
popular animosity between the two groups; indeed, Haitian-Dominican unions
were commonplace, Spanish/Kreyol bilingualism was the rule, and Haitian and
Dominican families typically included people of both nations. Regional
markets, patron-saint festivals, and networks of religious pilgrimage were
transnational. Many Haitians residing in Dajabón during the 1930s even sent
their children to the Ecole des Freres primary school in Ouanaminthe, which
was considered superior to the local alternative, and for which they crossed
the border twice daily. In this context, the massacre was a calamitous
nightmare for both Haitians and Dominicans. When Richard Turits and I
visited the small Haitian border town of Ouanaminthe, we found this tragic
entry in their log for October, 1937: "the number of students with parents
disappeared is now 176 [of 267 students]. The poor creatures are all in
tears. In the evening one hears nothing but cries and wails from the houses
of the whole town. The Dominicans, without doubt awaiting an immediate
riposte, have evacuated the civilian population in Dajabon for eight
days...Father Gallego of Dajabón has lost two-thirds of his population, at
least 20,000. In certain parishes, in Loma and Gourabe, 90 percent of the
population has disappeared; instead of 150 to 160 baptisms a month, there is
not even one. Some schools which had fifty students before now have no more
than two or three. It’s grievous and heartbreaking what has happened."

The fact of this total interpenetration made the massacre even more shocking
to residents, since families were mixed, Haitians were propertied, and there
were no signs that a catastrophe of this magnitude was coming. In this
sense, the 1937 Haitian massacre differs qualitatively from recent
ethnicidal events in Rwanda or Kosovo, where there was a history of enmity;
only ardent nationalists in the capital cities of Port-au-Prince and Santo
Domingo portrayed the zone as an effective borderlands — to local residents
it was an open and permeable frontier, and the official borderline itself
was largely irrelevant to daily life.

The following excerpts provide a glimpse of some of the personal experiences
of those who witnessed and survived the massacre. They provide a fragmentary
window to a world that came to an abrupt halt on October 3, 1937. They are
especially valuable since at that time of the interviewing, some fifty years
had passed, and many of the respondents still had strong memories and were
frequently deeply moved to have the opportunity to put their version of this
monumental cataclysm on record. Indeed, the cold printed word does not do
justice to the outpouring of emotion generated by these conversations, as
interviewees often recounted having watched their entire nuclear families
cut down by machete blade before their very eyes. A particularly chilling
account by a woman we spoke with recounted how she survived by playing dead
under a heaping, bleeding pile of the slaughtered corpses of her brothers,
sisters and parents; the deep scars on her neck and shoulders confirmation
of machete swipes that thankfully just missed their mark (see Irelia Pierre’
s testimony). We also collected narratives in the Dominican border
communities and sugar plantations, where we recorded numerous stories of
courageous resistance by Dominicans who were shocked and scandalized by "el
corte" and who hid Haitian loved ones in their homes, transported them
across the border, or emigrated with them to Haiti. Some informants gave us
permission to use their names, and others did not. All interviews were
conducted in Kreyol and Spanish (all of these bicultural informants were
bilingual and many lapsed into Spanish when recounting their lives in
"Panyol" or "Dominicani").

Following are two literal and unedited testimonies from the 1937 Haitian
Massacre, translated by the author from her unpublished manuscript.  Click
Temwayaj an kreyòl to see the Créole version.

Anonymous man in Ouanaminthe

At the time of the massacre, I was a child, so I wasn’t at risk. When the
massacre started, I was at school; I went to a religious school. The fathers
had a choir for all the children who sang; and they had a group of kids who
knew how to sing, and I was always singing with the Fathers. When the
massacre started, the children were in school, and I was at choir. And
October 7th, the day of the patron saint festival at Dajabon, the Fathers
took us over there, since the frontier was free to cross, and no one was
afraid to cross the border at that time. So the Fathers took us to go to
mass there, so that we could sing in the choir at mass there. And while we
were in the church, I saw a band of Dominican military who were milling
about outside while we were in church. Since we were children, we didn’t
understand anything. What happened then was that the military wanted to kill
people that very day — they actually wanted to take people from the church
and kill them! What happened was that the Fathers, who were foreign (they
were French), I think the Fathers weren’t pleased at all with this? (pa
rapo), they didn’t want it to happen, and yet when it became night, around
six PM, around that time, they started killing people anyway. They started
killing people around six o’clock, while people started crying out for help,
people started running, they came wounded, they crossed the massacre river,
they all came wounded, they killed alot of people. Alot of people who were
saved came here. And so, this is how I came to Dosmond colony. Whe people
started arriving, the Vincent government rounded up people in the Dominican
Republic; the war began with a lot of people dead, alot of Haitians were
taken when war came to the frontier. They finished killing people after one
week, a week later. The Vincent government sent for the rest of the
Haitians. Then Trujillo sent his men to gather and haul out the rest of the
Haitians left behind; they brought war to the border. In Ouanaminthe, when
you looked at the river, it was completely a sea of people and donkeys – it
was completely full! – Because many of the people — in fact most of the
Haitians on the Dominican side – were afraid to live in the Dominican
Republic any more. They were forced to leave although they didn’t have a
place to go to in Haiti since they had never lived there. When they arrived
in Haiti, they were homeless refugees. So the government had to make
colonies for them because Dosmond was a big savanna, a place where I knew
everyone by name. My father has a beautiful garden in the savanna. It really
was a savanna – there weren’t any houses at all, nothing like it. The place
was a desert. Before the massacre, in the frontier, although there were two
sides, the
people were one, united. All the tradesmen in Dajabon – all the cobblers and
tailors – they were all Haitian. And even today there are Haitians all over
Ouanaminthe, even though they still die today, there are still Haitian
children there today, crossing the border daily. Haitian children, even if
they were born in Dajabon, they still went to school in Haiti, every morning
they would cross the border to go to school, every afternoon they would
return; their parents lived in Dajabon, but they came to school here.
Haitians have always lived the French system of education, and the Catholic
schools. Even the Dominicans love the French language, and the French
language helps them to speak Kreyol alot.

Irelia Pierre, Dosmond/Ounaminthe

I was born in the Dominican Republic. When the massacre broke out, I was
very small. I remember that I had been in school awhile. The day of my
brother’s marriage, after the service was over, a Dominican arrived at the
reception. The reception was the morning that the massacre broke out, and
people started fleeing. That night we hid. The next morning when we woke up,
some of the older people said "Be careful if you go out"; so we stayed at
home. Everyone came to my grandparent’s house. They said they were going to
Haiti because a revolution had broken out, and that they were killing
Haitians. They all slept at my grandparents. During the night, a woman said
to me, "You come with me to my house." I said, "No, I’m going to stay with
my mother – I can’t leave her here." So we went out to the garden where my
mother was working, and she cut some bananas and put them in her bag. I
carried a tree branch. Suddenly, I looked over and saw alot of Guardia
[Dominican military] getting off their horses, and I heard them say, "There’
s one over there in the garden," then they entered the garden and killed the
girl. When I saw that, I ran. It was night. While I was running, I saw an
uncle of mine, who took me into his house to protect me. When I arrived at
his house I was terrified. They didn’t let me sleep; they took me to another
place. That morning at four am they all took their bags and we started to
march towards Haiti. While we were walking, some Dominicans told us to be
careful and not go through Dajabon, but to pass around it, since they were
killing people there. When we arrived at the Dajabon savanna, we saw a
Guardia. When we saw him I said, "Mama, we’re going to die, we’re going to
die!." She told me to be quiet. Then the guardia said "esta preso, esta
preso!" [that one’s arrested!]. After that they had us all stand in the sun
in the savanna. When we said we were thirsty, they said they would give us
water soon. While we watched, we saw one Guardia on a horse who had a rope
to tie up people. When he saw that if he tied up too many people they
started to run, he began to kill them and throw them into a hole. He killed
everyone; I was the only one who was saved. They thought I was dead because
they had given me alot of machete blows. I was awash in blood — all the
blood in my heart. After all these tribulations, it’s thanks to God that I
didn’t die. They killed them all in front of me; they tied them up, and
after they killed them, they threw them down. I was small when I lived
through all of this, but I remember it all too clearly. I remember calling
out after the Guardia had left, "Mama!", but she was dead; "Papa!", but he
was dead; they died one after another. I was left alone in the savanna
without anything to eat or drink...There were alot of small children who
were thrown up in the air and stabbed with a bayonet, and then placed on top
of their mothers. They killed my entire family, my mother, my father. We
were twenty-eight – all were killed. I was the only one to survive that I
knew of. After they finished cutting me up, it was a group of older men who
had come from Haiti who found me on the ground in the sand along the banks
of the Massacre River. They picked me up and returned me to Haiti. They
brought me to Ouanaminthe, but they didn’t take me in — they said they
couldn’t take care of me so they said they would send me to Cap Haitian;
when I arrived there, there would be people there to take care of me. [Most
of the massacre victims were sent to a hospital in Cap Haitian, where they
were attended by the Catholic Church.] I spent a month in bed in the
hospital, after which time they sent me to live in Ouanaminthe. When I
arrived here, I didn’t have any family to receive me, so I went back to Cap
again. I stayed under the auspices of the state. After about a year, they
sent me back to Ouanaminthe again, at which time I lived there with some
other foreigners. God gave me the strength to survive. Now I am married and
have four children, but my entire family died during the massacre. Both my
mother and father were born in the Dominican Republic. We lived in Loma de
Cabrera. My father worked in agriculture, growing manioc, peanuts, rice on
his own land – land that he had bought. He had ten karo [a Haitian peasant
unit of land measurement] of land. He also kept some cattle, pigs, chickens,
and goats. We grew enough food to feed the family (we never bought food at
market) but also to sell. I used to go to market with my mother where we
sold everything – peas, rice, bananas, corn. I only spoke Kreyol since we
lived among Haitians. I hardly spoke Spanish at all. There were some
Dominicans in the area where we lived, but not many; there were mostly
Haitians. There were both marriages between Haitians and Dominicans, as well
as concubinage. There were no problems that I remember between Haitians and
Dominicans — for example, no jealousy for Haitian land. The first problem
was the massacre.

Lauren Derby is Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American history at
the University of Chicago. Her research has focused on popular culture and
the state in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba; and how notions of race
and nation have contributed to state violence.

In 1995 she won the Conference on Latin American History Award (given by the
Latin Americanist division of the American Historical Association) for best
Latin American History article in English for the essay entitled, "Haitians,
Magic and Money: Raza and Society in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands,
1900-1937," Comparative Studies in Society and History 36:3 (April-June):

She has also co-authored with Richard Turits another essay on the Haitian
massacre, "Historias de terror y los terrores de la historia: la masacre
haitiana de 1937 en la República Dominicana." Estudios Sociales (Santo
Domingo, Dominican Republic) XXVI, 92 (April-June 1993): 65-76.