Posted by: gdevi | November 29, 2011

English 328: Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

Haiti – Chronology

1492 – Christopher Columbus lands and names the island Hispaniola, or Little Spain. Island populated by Taino Indians. Spain used the island for gold mining by systematically killing or enslaving Indians who opposed Spanish rule.

1496-1697 – The Spanish establish the first European settlement in Santo Domingo, now capital of the Dominican Republic.  In the 16th century Spain imported enslaved Africans to Hispaniola for labor in the tobacco plantations. (Yet another reason to quit smoking, don’t you think? Tobacco in the new world is the quintessential product of slavery. Indians, Blacks and poor White sharecroppers work the tobacco fields even to this day.) The Taino Indians were all but killed and made extinct in the islands by the end of the 16th century. Taino Indians who escaped to the mountains intermarried with the Africans to produce the multiracial zambos. Mestizos were children born to native women of mixed Indian-African origin and European Spanish men.

1697 – Spain cedes western part of Hispaniola to France, and this becomes Haiti, or Land of Mountains. French settlers establish the first extensive sugarcane plantations in the island. During French rule, the children born to women of mixed Indian-African origin and European French men were called mulatres, or mulattos.

1791-1801 – A former black slave who became a guerrilla leader, Toussaint Louverture, conquers Haiti, abolishing slavery and proclaiming himself governor-general of an autonomous government over all Hispaniola.

1802 – 1804 – French force led by Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, fails to conquer Haitian interior. Haiti becomes independent; former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines declares himself emperor.

1806 – Dessalines assassinated and Haiti divided into a black-controlled north and a mulatto-ruled south

1818-43 – Pierre Boyer unifies Haiti, but excludes blacks from power.

1915 – 1934 – US invades Haiti following black-mulatto friction, which it thought endangered its property and investments in the country. US withdraws troops from Haiti, but maintains fiscal control until 1947.

1937 – Parsley Massacre – Haitian Massacre The francophone and former French colony of Haiti had tenuous border relations with its eastern neighbor, the former Spanish colony of the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic occupied two-thirds of the original Hispaniola, with only five-million inhabitants, while Haiti occupied one-third of the former island—mostly mountainous landmass unsuitable for farming and agriculture. Through its porous borders Haitians migrated to the Dominican Republic for labor and trade with many of them settling in the border regions. The United States had drawn the fixed “boundary” between Haiti and Dominican Republic by taking land from the side of the Dominican Republic. This border economy was far removed from the urban centers of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic’s dictator president General Trujillo who ordered the genocidal massacre of all Haitians living on the Dominican Republican side of this boundary line upon the departure of the US forces in 1934 rationalized the massacre as protecting the economic interests of the Dominican Repubilc. This massacre known as the Parsley Massacre resulted in the killing of nearly 20, 000 Haitians—men, women and children- in approximately five days. The Dominican Republican military would hold up a sprig of “parsley” during their invasion of the border communities, asking men, women and children- “What is this?”. The Spanish word for parsley is “perejil.” If the respondent pronounced this word with an uvular /r/ the French and Haitian Creole way, the militia would kill the individual. If they pronounced the word with the Spanish alveolar trill /r/ then they would be allowed to go free. Edwidge Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones is set during this Haitian massacre.

19561971 – Voodoo physician Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power in military coup and is elected president a year later. Duvalier declares himself president-for-life and establishes a dictatorship with the help of the Tontons Macoutes militia.

19901994 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide elected president in Haiti’s first free and peaceful polls. Aristide ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Raoul Cedras, triggering sanctions by the US and the Organisation of American States. Military regime relinquishes power in the face of an imminent US invasion; US forces oversee a transition to a civilian government; Aristide returns.

2000 November – 2004 January-February – Aristide elected president for a second non-consecutive term, amid allegations of irregularities. Celebrations marking 200 years of independence turn into uprising against President Aristide, who is forced into exile. An interim government takes over.

2004 May – late 2004 – Severe floods in south, and in parts of neighboring Dominican Republic, leave more than 2,000 dead or disappeared. 2004 September – Nearly 3,000 killed in flooding in the north, in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne. Rising levels of deadly political and gang violence in the capital; armed gangs loyal to former President Aristide are said to be responsible for many killings.

2005 July – Hurricane Dennis kills at least 45 people.

2008 April – 2008 August/September – Food riots. Government announces emergency plan to cut price of rice in bid to halt unrest. Parliament dismisses Prime Minister Alexis. Nearly 800 people are killed and hundreds are left injured as Haiti is hit by a series of devastating storms and hurricanes.

2009 May – 2009 July – Former US President Bill Clinton appointed UN special envoy to Haiti. World Bank and International Monetary Fund cancel $1.2bn of Haiti’s debt – 80% of the total – after judging it to have fulfilled economic reform and poverty reduction conditions.

2010 January – 2010 October-December – Up to 300,000 people are killed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the capital Port-au-Prince and its wider region – the worst in Haiti in 200 years. US takes control of the main airport to ensure orderly arrival of aid flights. International donors pledge $5.3 billion for post-quake reconstruction at a donor conference at UN headquarters. 2010 July – Popular anger grows over slow pace of reconstruction six months after quake. Cholera outbreak claims some 3,500 lives and triggers violent protests.

2011 March – 2011 July – Michel Martelly wins second round of presidential election. Death toll from cholera outbreak climbs to nearly 6,000.

The “farming of bones” is a Haitian plantation reference to the harvesting of sugarcane. Sugarcane harvests begin with the scorching and setting to fire of the sugarcane bushes that are then chopped and taken to the sugarmills. The sugarcane plantations and mills in the Dominican Republic are mostly run by illegal immigrant Haitian labor. Sugarcane is harvested the same way in the Louisiana plantations as well. Here is a song that describes our plantation life here.

Related important story about Mexican immigrants in the US here.


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