Comparative Studies in Society and History

The Ethics of Difference

Haitians, Magic, and Money: Raza and Society in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands, 1900 to 1937

Lauren Derbya1

a1 University of Chicago

Sitting on the banks of the shallow riverine waters separating the northern border towns of Dajabón of the Dominican Republic and Ouanaminthe of Haiti, one can see children wade, market women wash, and people pass from one nation to another. They are apparently impervious to the official meaning of this river as a national boundary that rigidly separates these two contiguous Caribbean island nations. Just as the water flows, so do people, goods, and merchandise between the two countries, even as the Dominican border guards stationed on a small mound above the river watch. The ironies of history lie here, as well as the poetics of its remembrance. This river is called El Masacre, a name which recalls the 1937 Haitian massacre, when the water is said to have run scarlet red from the blood of thousands of Haitians killed by machetes there by soldiers under the direction of the Dominican dictator, Rafael M. Trujillo (1930–61).