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#218: Peoples of the Jumbled Lands: The Republics of Hispaniola (fwd)
From: Declama <Declama@email.msn.com>
The latest issue of the "Creole Connection" just published this
excellent article by Michel-Rolph Trouillot and I would like to share it
with this list. It was written originally in French by Prof. Trouillot
which deserves reading equally. Those interested can point their browser
at http://www.ahad-kreyol.org/Newsletter/Number18/terresmelees.htm for the
french version, titled "Peuples des Terres Mêlées: Les Républiques d’
The english version can also be viewed online at
articles include a photo of Prof. Trouillot and some others. Happy reading.
Peoples of the Jumbled Lands: The Republics of Hispaniola
To the memory of René Philoctète1
Two republics on a bit of an isle, with too much history to love each other.
Too much blood, too much mud. Too much loathing… Two republics on a bit of
an isle with too little space to hate. Too few trees, too few birds. Neither
textbooks nor dogmas have been able to find the words that signpost this
memory of mishaps and makeshifts. Even the dates are misleading.
September 1697. Ryswick, a little village in Holland. The French and Spanish
crowns sign a treaty ending a war that lasted nine years. No mention of
Hispaniola, this far-away Caribbean island that their subjects share. Only
much later would textbooks make of this date the beginning of a partition.
One wonders how Ryswick became a historical event so far from Europe. Who
invented this partition much simpler and clearer than the realities before
and after it? No matter. Isn’t history also made of false truths, silences,
and memory lapses?
In the reality of the times, Ryswick gave the colonists on both sides a
chance to renew commercial exchanges interrupted by the war (Moya Pons
1995).1 The few French men who sneaked in the western part of Hispaniola
from the smaller island of Tortuga, were growing tobacco and buying cattle
from the Spaniards. The two colonies grew without clear boundaries until
1777. Then, the treaty of Aranjuez explicitly recognized the French dominion
over the western part of Hispaniola and set definitively—so it was hoped—the
only land boundary in the Antilles, with the exception of the island of
Between Ryswick and Aranjuez, there grew a gulf. With the rise of the sugar
plantations, the colony of Saint-Domingue became the strong link among the
Caribbean possessions of an upwardly colonialist France. After 1763—another
war, another treaty—Saint-Domingue held world production records for sugar
and coffee. Thousands of imported slaves paid the price of that wealth.
Their death rate was one of the highest of the Americas. Santo Domingo, on
the contrary, struggled along with very few slaves, neglected by an
increasingly weak Spain (Moreau 1976). It had a high ratio of free blacks
who mixed with whites, to the extent that this was possible. Between Ryswick
and Aranjuez, the island of Hispaniola developed two models of colonial
societies: in western Saint-Domingue, the hell of plantation slavery; in
eastern Santo Domingo a landscape shared by big Spanish cattlemen and petty
farmers of mixed ancestry. It took the Haitian Revolution to remind the ones
and the others that they were sharing an island.
Two republics on a bit of an isle with too much black in the white and too
much red in the black. Too many challenges to take on. Too many words thrown
in the night between the mountains and the sea. Two republics on a bit of an
isle with the burden of oaths taken.
A few skirmishes aside, the Haitian Revolution entered Santo Domingo with
the army of Toussaint Louverture in 1801. The first abolition of slavery
there followed. Within the logic of Toussaint Louverture’s assent, slavery
was the only inadmissible compromise (Dorsinvil 1965; Trouillot 1977). But
the competing logics that faced one another during this first invasion were
not only of a political nature. Between the two societies, the gap was also
social, ideological—cultural in the strongest sense of the word, since
carried through daily life.
Between Ryswick and Aranjuez, Santo Domingo, a society with one of the world
’s highest ratios of individuals of mixed ancestry, became also a
negrophobic society. Its brown majority notwithstanding—better, because of
the very ambiguities inherent in the collective identity of that brown
majority, led as it was by a racist elite—Santo Domingo claimed shamelessly
the purity of an imagined whiteness (Moya Pons 1986). Dominican critic
Silvio Torres-Saillant (1997:33) summarizes the dilemma: "The tragedy of the
construction of creoleness in the Dominican Republic is that the process
implied a refusal of social blackness that could provide no defense against
the intellectual negrophobia the Dominican elite would subsequently
promulgate to control the lower classes." In short, whether from the elites
or from the masses, to be Dominican also meant not to be black.
While this absolute refusal of blackness grew on the eastern side of the
island, the Haitian Revolution—as Aimé Césaire reminds us—made of Haiti the
country where "Négritude stood up for the first time." A négritude explicit
in the uncompromising refusal of slavery by Toussaint Louverture’s party. A
négritude implicit in language and in customs. At the time Louverture
entered Santo Domingo, the word nèg already meant "person" in the Haitian
language, an indication—if needed—that the humanity of the black is an
undisputed ontological fact.2
The Haitian invasions of the eastern side have often been held as the
starting point of Dominican negrophobia.3 However, Torres-Saillant’s
penetrating analysis suggests an internal genesis that precedes Toussaint
Louverture’s entry in Santo Domingo. The gulf that grew between Ryswick and
Aranjuez had propelled the two societies onto different paths. Although the
revolution turned upside down the particulars of the Haitian political
situation, it did not decrease the demographic and cultural weight of the
former slaves. Quite the contrary. The anti-slavery struggle turned Haiti
into a black country that claimed its blackness. From Toussaint Louverture
to Faustin Soulouque, the military campaigns thus only aggravated
social-cultural differences that preceded them, reinforcing among each
people the idea it had of the other. The devastation Dessalines and
Christophe caused during their military campaigns of 1805 in the east did
not help the situation. However, the more severe wounds were to the soul.
The more Haiti claimed to be black, the more Dominican negrophobia boiled
down to anti-Haitian racism. From one invasion to another—until the massacre
of Haitians around the border by the troops of Trujillo in 1937, at the very
time that Haiti, pressured by the "Indigenous Movement," was renewing its
négritude—the ideological confrontation repeated itself with each military
encounter between the two societies, way beyond the political issues of the
day. That was even more so since the Haitian elites, proud of their
independence and anxious to maintain a political legitimacy that relied on
their négritude, push their negrophile discourse to the extreme. Haiti was
and remains for them the country whose history forever rehabilitates the
black race (Price 1900).
We shall skip the ambiguities of that assertion—in light of the depth of
color prejudice among those very same elites. Yet we will insist on these
elites’ capacity never to waver on the historical and ontological value of
the revolution in spite of this prejudice (Nicholls 1979; Trouillot
1986;1990). Thus, President Jean-Pierre Boyer, a prototypical Haitian
mulâtriste, was not at home among the mulattos of Santo Domingo in 1822. Nor
did they recognize him as one of theirs. Instead, loyal to the logic of
Louverture’s party, and to its republican pretensions, Boyer repeated
Louverture’s very own gesture, abolishing slavery in the eastern part of the
island for the second time, and definitively. That gesture was indeed
unique, the only case in the Americas where slaves were freed by an army of
The fact that the Haitian elites could not herald a whiteness to which the
Dominicans laid claims no matter the odds, reduced the chances of a class
alliance across the border throughout the nineteenth century. Early in the
twentieth, while both countries were occupied by the U.S. marines, Haitian
elites came to terms with the occupiers just as they had opened themselves
to German immigrants. Still, they continued to view with great embarrassment
the Dominicans’ loud racism. That these elites might themselves be both
racist and pro-black at the same time is possible. However, Haiti was and
remains for them, or at least within their discourse, a black country that
said no to the whites.
Inasmuch as the masses on both sides shared and still verify the discourse
of their respective elites, there is — we can understand — a major
misunderstanding. On one side, we see a country where pro- black sentiments,
forever "politically correct," are inherently part of national identity;
where proof of color prejudice acts as a damning condemnation. On the other
side, we see a country where the "blancos de la tierra," whites of the land
but black skinned, upheld in turn both slavery and white immigration,
wishing to whiten themselves at all costs; where the darkest inhabitants
choose to call themselves "indians" to avoid the inevitable disgrace of a
black descent. Indio chocolate. Blanco de la tierra. Negro, pero negro
blanco. White Negroes, chocolate indians!4
Two republics on a bit of an isle caught between history and geography,
between a past of conflicts and a geographical present of local and
immediate exigencies. Two republics stuck between time and space.
The occupation of both countries by U.S. troops verified their proximity and
launched a massive migration of Haitians towards the cane fields of the
neighboring republic. Ebbs and flows followed in the aftermath. How many
Haitians are there today in the Dominican Republic: 100,000 or a half a
million?5 On both sides, the ambiguous and embarrassed attitude of the
authorities have helped to mask the facts of this migration (Moya Pons et
al.; Martinez 1995). Similarly, in Port au Prince, ambiguity and
embarrassment color the presence of the panyòl6 prostitutes, that other
legacy of the U.S. Marine Corps. Likewise, silence and ambiguity surround
the Haitian torturers who take refuge in the Dominican Republic, escaping
state justice and popular retaliation. Does the same collusion hide the
movement of the petty drug lords? How can all these people cross the border?
Conspiracy of two U.S.-trained armies?
The border is porous and it will remain so as long as there is an island
with two weak states incapable of controlling their own internal space. That
is not necessarily bad. Market women cross it. So do rivers and
tontonmakout, prostitutes and ideas, the fruits and the wind. Yet the
palmchat (Dulus dominicus) does not cross anymore. A species unique to
Hispaniola, it seems to have disappeared from the Haitian side and can be
found only in the Dominican Republic. The caïman is starting to follow, with
the agouti and many parrots, including the Hispaniola parrot, also unique to
the island. The list of endangered species includes the wanga-nègès
(Hispaniolan Trogon or Temnotrogon roseigaster), the Haitian national bird.7
Two republics on a bit of an isle with too little space to hate each other.
Too few trees, too few birds. Peoples stuck between the mountains and the
sea with rivers right in the middle. Two half countries. Peoples of lands
jumbled in the dusty wind.
Peeping through the airplane window, a passenger cannot fail to notice the
extraordinary difference between the Haitian and Dominican landscapes. On
the one hand, the desert. On the other, vegetation. No wonder the palmchat
ran away. But that naked-eye difference is analytically misleading. For in
sharing an island, the two peoples also share an ecosystem.
To be sure, the eastern side has better protection against erosion—the usual
case when a central mountain chain towers over a Caribbean island. To be
sure, the highest peak of that chain is also in the eastern part,
reinforcing its relative advantage. To be sure, the demographic growth of
the peasantry and the excessive poverty of the countryside further
complicate the Haitian case. Yet for the longue durée, neither erosion nor
sea pollution is sparing the Dominican Republic. The Haitian ecological
disaster threatens the entire island of Hispaniola. Is anyone aware of this
on either side?
Since the 1970-80s, a growing number of writers within the sphere of
influence of the Dominican left have begun to take a new look at Hispaniola.
Some call into question the Dominican past as conceived since at least
Trujillo. Others try to rethink their country within the space of the
island. Behind their historical writings or their critical analysis of the
Haitian situation in the Dominican Republic the idea is sneaking in that
neither of the two people will make it for good without at least taking into
consideration the presence of the other.
Admittedly, that proposition is barely exposed in subtle and timid ways
through a discourse that defines itself most of the time as primarily
academic (but see Dore-Cabral 1987). Admittedly, these scholarly
interventions have not modified the racist domination over public discourse
in the country. Thus, in the 1980s, Balaguer’s racist book became a
bestseller. More recently, Mr. Peña Gomez lost the elections to the
presidency of the Dominican Republic because of his Haitian origins.
All this to say that the walls still exist. Be that as it may, the breach
introduced on the eastern side is a sizable one. It is an invitation to
rethink the time and space of Hispaniola. To date, there is no equivalent on
the Haitian side of the border.
University of Chicago
(translated from the French by the author
Copyright Michel-Rolph Trouillot 1999)
Michel-Rolph Trouillot (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Professor of Anthropology at
the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, of which are
Ti difé boulé sou Istoua Ayiti (1977); Les Racines historiques de l’état
duvaliérien (1986); Haiti: State against Nation. The Origins and Legacy of
Duvalierism (1990); and Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of
1 Among the many books of Haitian writer René Philoctète (1932-1996), the
1989 novel, Le Peuple des terres mêlées (The People of the Jumbled Lands),
tells the love story of Adèle Benjamin, a Haitian peasant woman, and
Dominican worker Pedro Brito. The setting is the Haitian-Dominican border
during the massacre of Haitians by Trujillo’s army in 1937. Philoctète
wondered: "Two nations, one island! And why not a single people?" This is a
reply to René, a man of hope, beyond death.
2 The earliest treaties recognizing a de facto occupation that Spain
officially judged unacceptable date from the beginning of the seventeenth
century. Today’s Haiti is larger than the French colony of Saint-Domingue.
Even the limits set by Aranjuez would change as the French and then the
Haitians gnawed on the neighboring territory. On the history of the border,
see Moya Pons 1992.
3 Haitian anthropology repeatedly insisted on that point since its birth
(e.g. Firmin 1886).
4 On the Haitian invasions, see insert.
5 The history of the Dominican Republic is punctuated by immigration
policies explicitly targeting the physical settlement of the border areas
and the whitening of the human landscape. In the absence of actual whites,
anyone who did not look like the Haitians would do, from Canary Islanders to
Japanese! On Dominican racial categories and the construction of race, see
Torres-Saillant (1998) and Charles (1992).
6 Lozano (1992b) estimated between 60,900 and 117,900 Haitian workers and
dependent involved in Dominica agriculture outside of sugarcane in 1988. The
numbers are fuzzy, just as those of the sugar bateys, exactly because who is
Haitian is problematic in the Dominican context. Individuals of Haitian
descent born in the Dominica Republic or perfectly legal Haitian immigrants
are treated as foreigners and criminals by local authorities. Dominican
soldiers burn their papers without sanction (Martinez 1995:9-10).
7 In Haitian, the adjective panyòl means "Spanish," but the noun panyòl
means either a Spaniard, a Dominican, or a prostitute, preferably of
8 The Palmchat is not only a species but a whole family unique to
Hispaniola. It is classified with the wanga-nègess and ten other birds
endemic to the island among the world endangered species.
Charles, Carolle. 1992. La raza: una categoría significativa en el proceso
de inserción de los trabajadores haítíanos en República Dominicana. In
Lozano (ed), La cuestion haitiana, 145-168.
Dore-Cabral, Carlos. 1987. "Le Racisme de Balaguer: l’Immigration haïtienne
et la composante raciste de la culture dominicaine." Les Cahiers du Vendredi
Dorsinville, Roger. 1965. Toussaint Louverture ou la vocation de la liberté.
Firmin, Anténor. 1885. De l’Égalité des races humaines.
Lozano, Wilfredo (ed.) 1992. La Cuestion Haitiana en Santo Domingo. Miami,
Santo Domingo: Centro Norte-Sur, University of Miami et Flasco.
Martinez, Samuel. 1995. Peripheral Migrants. Haitians and Dominican Sugar
Plantations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
Moreau de Saint Méry, Médéric Louis-Élie. 1796. Description of the Spanish
Part of Saint-Domingue. Philadelphia.
Moya Pons, Frank. 1986 a (ed.). El pasado dominicano. Santo Domingo:
Fundación J.A. Caro Alvarez.
Moya Pons, Frank. 1986b. (ed.) El Batey. Santo Domingo: Fondo papa el Avance
de la sCiencias Sociales.
Moya Pons, Frank. 1992. "La tres fronteras. Introducción a la frontera
domínico-haítíana." In Lozano 1992: 18-31.
Moya Pons, Franck. 1995. The Dominican Republic. A National History. New
Rochelle: Hispaniola Books.
Nicholls, David. 1979. From Dessalines to Duvalier. Race, Colour and
National Independence in Haiti. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Philoctète, René. 1989. Le Peule des terres mêlées. Port-au-Prince: Editions
Henri Deschamps. Collection Les Cahiers du Vendredi.
Price, Hannibal. 1900. De la Réhabilitation de la race noire par la
République d’Haiti. Port-au-Prince.
Price-Mars, Jean. 1953. La République d’Haïti et la République dominicaine.
Port-au-Prince. Collection du Tri-Cinquantenaire de l’Indépendance de la
Torres-Saillant, Silvio. 1998. "Creoleness or Blackness: A Dominican
Dilemma." In Plantation Society in the Americas, V(1):29-40.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1977. Ti difé boulé sou istoua Ayiti. New York:
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1986. Les Racines historiques de l’état
duvaliérien. Port-au-Prince: Editions Henri Deschamps.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1990. Haiti: State against Nation. The Origins and
Legacy of Duvalierism. New York: Monthly Review Press.