Challenging the official narrative of the 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic
Thesis DT 3.5 2007 G855
vii, 84 leaves; 29 cm
In the fall of 1937, the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo y Molina, gave the order to kill any and all Haitians living in the northern Dominican border with Haiti. Dominican soldiers along with prisoners and ordinary Dominican civilians, who were forced to join, rounded up Haitian men, women and children and murdered them mostly using machetes and knives. To this day the number of victims is uncertain, ranging from 1,000 through 35,000.
In the international political arena, however, Trujillo denied having ordered or sanctioned the massacre. In fact, he claimed that neither he nor his army ever played any role in the murders because his army carried guns, not machetes and knives like the wounds of the victims indicated. Trujillo insisted that the deaths were a result of disputes arising between Dominican peasants and Haitian migrants over Haitians allegedly stealing land and cattle from Dominicans. This falsified version of the massacre penetrated the Dominicans media which Trujillo controlled along with history books, which Trujillo’s hired cronies created. These texts, although never admitting that Trujillo ordered the massacre, in a sense rewrote history expressing the benefits that arose as a result of the deaths, for example the white-ification of the Dominican of the Dominican borderlands. This hegemonic narrative has managed to silence the experience of the victims and has disguised itself as fact, deceitfully enough to remain largely unchallenged for many years thereafter.
In my thesis entitled: Challenging the Official Narrative of the 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic, I examine two books that artistically challenge this hegemonic narrative. The texts I examine are Freddy Prestol Castillo’s El Massacre Se Pasa a Pie and Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. These works are not traditional mediums typically used to challenge hegemonic narratives and because of this I employ Ngugi wa Thiongo’s essay “Art War with the State” as a conceptual framework to strengthen the notion of art functional to serve in the interests of the masses particularly when they are confronted with repressive regimes.
The first chapter consists of the introduction where the thesis’ main objective is stated. The second chapter examines Dominican-Haitian history in relation to the 1937 Haitian massacre. In the third chapter entitled “Interrogating Freddy Prestol Castillo’s El Massacre…” I argue that although many critics claim that Castillo’s work is an apologetic discourse due to his participation in the massacre, his work still challenges Trujillo’s official narrative since his text discloses how the massacre evolved. The way in which the massacre is represented in the text demonstrates that in fact the killings were not a result of Haitian cattle and land thieves but of Dominican soldiers carrying out Trujillo’s orders
In the fourth chapter entitled “Interpreting Edwidge Danticat’s “The Farming of Bones” I argue that Danticat’s portrayal of the black Haitian body, the auditory and visual aspects (for example: physical scars, mental trauma, voice, language and vision) challenge Trujillo’s narrative. Both authors’ works complement each other because Danticat’s novel takes us where Castillo’s does not---across the Massacre River (Dominican-Haitian Border) on foot. Danticat’s novel written from a Haitian perspective discloses Trujillo having sanctioned the massacre, while Castillo similarly supports the view, but from a Dominican perspective.
The fifth chapter, the conclusion, begins with an analytical comparison of both texts, evaluating how the texts serve to challenge the official narrative. I also discuss how the Haitians still remain associated with sugar cane work in the Dominican Republic and how antihaitianismo continues to manifest itself in contemporary Dominican politics.