Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean

Portal of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean

The Dominican Republic stores a univocal relationship with the historical past of the transatlantic traffic and slavery. The country because its population is mostly of African descent is undoubtedly a testimonial place of important cultural traditions related with the cultural contributions of the legacy and the indelible traces of the resistance of the African captives in the past, who expressed in this Caribbean soil the sense of freedom and dignity of the oppressed before their oppressors.

It is a summary of cultures of resistance contained in the pages of a history not yet narrated objectively, in full, from the viewpoint of a decolonized people, but that may be deduced in the most diverse spaces in the national geography bearing testimony of the enslaved Africans who defended their dignity through different means of resistance. Such means of resistance have been translated and located today to allow the survival of the valour of the heroic men and women left explicitly in anonymity but who have marked the social configuration within the Dominican cultural diversity.

This country has been and constitutes a privileged place for the emergence and development of topics and resources related with such a historic past of humanity which is today expressed with vitality, from a legacy that leaves indelible marks of the Dominican nationality and the determining presence of people of African descent as identity, as well as human and territorial community. All of this gave place to the finding of memory sites, cultural itineraries, museums and institutions, including the documentary heritage of the Dominican Republic, related with the Slave Route project: Resistance, Freedom and Heritage.

The colonial city of Santo Domingo, World Heritage, is part of this historic and contemporary tour, lodging spaces associated with the arrival of slaves and the slave traffic, as the neighbourhood of Santa Barbara, the surroundings of La Negreta street and the area of La Subastada, as well as the human settlements of the emancipated that emerged nearby in a community then called the “Mina blacks”, today known as Los Mina, to the north-east of the Colonial City.

At a relatively short distance we find the sugar mills, who had their origin in the 16th century and extended into the surrounding areas of the capital city and to the neighbouring provinces, as well as the mountain areas and caves where the “manieles” of maroon “slaves” fleeing from the sugar mills joined the Taino-Carib indigenous population who also resisted the Spanish conquest. Outstanding examples were the Taino chief Enriquillo and the maroon leader Sebastian Lemba.

These routes will be found in the provinces of Bahoruco, Independencia, Neyba, Barahona, San Juan de la Maguana, Ocoa and Azua. In them, the live heritage expressions, such as the music and the cuisine play an essential role. In the “manieles” near the capital city, such as Villa Mella, the expressions are kept in full vitality as is the case of the cultural space of the Fraternity of the Holy Ghost, or the Congos of Villa Mella, who were declared Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Likewise with the Festival Cimarron that is held every October at the Boca de Nigua sugar mill.

To the above heritage we may add the legacy of the “cocolos”, a term used to identify the descendants of workers from the British West Indies, who arrived with the development of the sugar mills, especially to the provinces of San Pedro de Macorís, Higuey and La Altagracia. Regarding this ethnic presence, on November 2005, UNESCO declared the “Cocolo” dancing theatre as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Today faced with the great challenges of globalization, the communities and populations of African descent in the country reaffirm themselves in their ancestral legacy, associated to a heritage that continues to grow permanently. These communities develop strategies to have the Dominican society re-evaluate the cultural heritage of African root and to vindicate a multi-cultural and multi-ethnical citizenship that refuses to leave behind its cultural roots.

All this process allows us to introduce a multiple heritage existing in the cultural centres of Santo Domingo, Bani, Elías Piña and Santiago. Likewise, the religious expressions deeply rooted in the Dominican society such as those of the cities of San Cristóbal, San Juan de la Maguana, Yamasá, Elías Piña, Cabral, Haina, among others. Hence it is a tour through the sources of African descent in the country and a re-reading of the glorious pages written in the struggles of a population that oppressed and discriminated against, resisted serfdom to become free at a high social and economic cost.

In conclusion, the entire island (La Hispaniola) is in itself a site of memory and of rich sources for the study and identification of elements that may contribute to an intercultural dialogue and to break the silence of shelved episodes and to assume once and for ever our wealth of African origin.