“Our motherland is Spain; theirs is darkest Africa, you understand? They once came here only to cut sugarcane, but now there are more of them than there will ever be cane to cut, you understand? Our problem is one of dominion. Those of us who love our country are taking measures to keep it our own”.
This statement was memorized by both the Haitian and Dominicans prisoners tortured by the soldiers during the “Parsley massacre”, which was a clear illustration of the xenophobia the Tyrannical leader, General Trujillo had.
Thus, a wave of genocide which decimates the Haitian emigre population is justified (Brice-Finch, 1999). Farming of the Bones, a novel of Danticat, does not only vividly reveal a detailed, fictional narration of what happened to the Haitians before, during, and after the “El Corte” or provide us a glimpse of the author’s life as a Haitian. The novel, considered to be one of the literary records of history of Haitians, was able to captivate the lives of Haitians in a land they partly owned.
The Farming of Bones is a stark reminder of the massacre as well as a tribute to the valor of those Haitians who escaped the terror (Brice-Finch 1999). At that particular time, Haiti was being colonized by the Americans.
This event pushed some of the natives to go to Dominican Republic and find work to be able to help their families left in Haiti. Most of them became cane workers, housemaids, houseboys, etc. as expected, most of them were being oppressed by their employers in different ways. Some of them were overworked but underpaid and some are physically abused. However, amabelle did not suffer the same fate as a personal maid since she was adored, if not loved by her employers. Papi and Donya Valencia, her patroness, never failed to treat her right. However, when the tyrant General Trujillo felt that the number of Haitians is continuing to grow, he felt it was high time to “cleanse” their land. After hearing news of the killings, Amabelle then decided to leave her patrons and go back to Haiti with her lover Sebastien and his sister.
However, when she was about to leave, the cutting in 1937— a part of General Trujillo’s dictatorial regime, Donya Valencia bled—an event that made her stay at the house a little bit longer. Because of the slight delay, Amabelle was not able to meet Sebastien and Mimi by the church—the meeting place for those who will cross the border with Doctor Javier. It was said, nonetheless, that all those who were to meet in church were arrested by the soldiers together with the doctor and the priests.
Amabelle then decided to go and find Mimi and his brother. She journeyed with Yves, a good friend of Sebastien. While they were on their journey, there were several instances of them having themselves almost killed by the Dominicans. Their companions, whim they met on the way, also died one by one and Yves and Amabelle were the only ones to return to their homeland. There, they attempted to have normal lives so they kept themselves busy; however, no matter what they do, it was very clear that the ghosts of the past would haunt them until death.the border region. These instances from the novel clearly mirror the 1937
Parsley massacre and had shown a very precise documentary of the said horrifying event. Such instances are as follows: First, General Trujillo was really the name of the tyrannical leader of Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, who ordered to kill all the Haitians so that, generally, they could have their country only for themselves. In the novel, him despising the Haitians was clearly shown in his actions.
He was the sole mastermind of the “cleansing” of their border and he was also the one to pay very small amount of money to all the victims after the almost one-week bloodbath. Second, the narration of the Parsley Massacre was exactly how the event happened in 1937. The trucks containing the Haitians were real. The “killing spree”, where the peasants are to line by six and jump off a cliff if they were not able to say “perejil” (parsley) correctly, since the color of the
Dominicans and Hatians are almost the same, also happened the same way it was in the novel. A quote from Senyora Valencia illustrates this point: “And in the parsley he said ‘pewegil’ for perejil. The Generalissimo had him in plain sight and could have shot him in the parsley, but he did not because the Generalissimo had a realization. Your people did not trill their r the way we do, or pronounce the jota. ‘You can never hide as long as there is parsley nearby,’ the Generalissi mo is believed to have said. On this island, you walk too far and people speak a different language. Their own words reveal who belongs on what side.”
In this particular event, Dominican troops killed between 10,000 and 15,000 Haitians in approximately 2-6 days, particularly from October 2nd to October 4th 1937 (Upchurch, 1998). Third, the River of Massacre is really the name of the river at the borderline of Haiti and Dominican Republic. The Massacre River was named for a seventeeth century bloodbath, but as Danticat makes clear, it has continued to live up to its name. The river divides the small Caribbean island of Hispaniola into the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Because the countries are so close, their fates have historically been intertwined.
The Farming of Bones begins in the Republic, during the regime of General Rafael Trujillo (Upchurch, 1998). Fourth and last in the significant similarities in events in history and the novel was that even though the Dominican leader taught its people to be cruel and to have no mercy for the Haitians, some of them chose to defy the General and helped hide several peasants during the mass killing. Senyora Valencia was a great example of such Dominicans: “Do you truly understand? During El Corte, though I was bleeding and nearly died, I hid many of your people. I hid a baby who is now a student at the medical school with Rosalinda and her husband. I hid Sylvie and two families in
your old room. I hid some of Donya Sabine’s people before she and her husband escaped to Haiti. I did what I could in my situation.”
In history, however, it is believed that although we must acknowledge that the Haitian-Dominican conflict stemmed from the occupation of the Dominican Republic by Haiti, it would be dangerous, and unfair to the Dominican people, to attribute Trujillo’s acts and ideology entirely to the same origin. Most of the Dominican people did not participate in Trujillo’s massacre of the Haitians. In fact, Many Haitians were saved by good-hearted Dominicans who could not imagine and could not accept the killings of thousands of innocents for petty reasons. The best example of this fact is the Dominican politician, Jose Maria Peza Gomez, who is believed to be of Haitian descent, and who escaped the massacre because a White Dominican family adopted him.
As for the author’s relation to the characters, I found Amabelle most likely to share the life of Edwidge Danticat. There are few similarities in them but if you would compare Danticat’s life to that of other characters, it is most likely that you would find it difficult. For one, Danticat had always wanted to be a writer ever since she was a child. Her parents, on the other hand wanted her to be a doctor. In Amabelle’s case, she had always been veering away from her parents’ love for giving birth and chose to just sew clothes and at the same time serve Senyora Valencia.
Another, I think, is the point in her life when her parents transferred to New York to work there. She was very young then and yet had to live without her parents with her. Amabelle experienced this when her parents drowned while crossing the river at the border. Both of them were forced to live without their parents at a time when they need guidance, love, and care from the person who brought them into this world. Third and last point is when Danticat transferred to Brooklyn to live with her real family. Adjustment to this new
family was difficult, and to make it worse, she also had difficulty adjusting at school, because she spoke only Creole and did not know any English. Other students taunted her as a Haitian, a boat person, or a refugee. This time, it’s not only Amabelle who experienced the same treatment from other people but all the Haitians in the Dominicans part of the land.
As evident in the novel, most of them suffered greatly because of their race, social status, and language. Obviously, it is very apparent that the novel Farming of the Bones was a literary record of what had happened to the 1937 massacre and a bit of the author’s life. In fact, the massacre, Danticat told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, is “not just a part of our history, as Haitians, but it’s also a part of the history of the world. Writing about it is an act of remembrance.”
Brice-Finch (1999) A review of The Farming of Bones, in World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 2, p. 373. Munro, M. (2006) Writing Disaster: Trauma, Memory, and History in Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones. London: Faber and Faber Upchurch, M. (1998) “No Room for the Living,” in New York Times Book Review. Lancer, J. The Conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Retrieved from http://www.allempires.com/forum/
Wucker, M. (1998) The River Massacre: The Real and Imagined Borders of Hispaniola Retrieved from: http://windows.on.haiti-the.river.massacre.files.html
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(2009) 70 Years Ago in the Dominican Republic! Retrieved from http://fowomouvriye.org/Bulletins/001/TheHopeAct.html
(2012) The Farming of Bones: Author Biography. Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/farming-bones
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