Dominican Gagá: Nation, Race and the Saint-Gods of the Feast of Saint Michael


Photograph by Alfonso Lomba

by Carolina Armenteros

A product of the Antilles’ tri-continental heritage, Dominican Gagá is a musical celebration combining African, European and Native American heritages to give life to a magical religion. Gagá is a bit marginal in its own land: most Dominicans see it as dubiously Hatian, and it is practiced with relative discretion, being most widespread in the bateys, or the villages that form around sugarcane fields and that tend to have strong Haitian populations. During Carnival and Holy Week, however, when social distinctions become less important, Gagá groups travel throughout the country, practicing their rites and expressing themselves explosively through their music and costumes.

One of these groups, the Gagá of Bocachica, even won the costume prize at the national Carnival. It was this Gagá that invited me to participate in a private feast in honor of Saint Michael, the archangel who threw Satan out of heaven, and who in Gagá is known also as a peacemaker, an articulate mediator[1] and a patron saint of justice named Belié Belcán. The feast in his honor is intended to entice him to come down from Heaven, induce trances in his devotees, and distribute boons and protection to all.

A Lively Feast

The feast, for which around 100 people are present, takes place in the backyard of one of Bocachica’s poor homes, where a goat was killed that morning to honor the saint. On entering the yard, I walk past a cauldron containing the remains of the goat looking for Gambao, the mayor or leader of the Gagá, whom I find near a smoking tree trunk. He welcomes me warmly and leads me to a shed in the back of the yard. It is a vividly decorated shed, with a big terrace and portico in front that is the center of the feast. Two men, the paleros, sit in the terrace beating drums, surrounded by about thirty other young men who stand around drinking, singing, and taking turns in leading the song. Some of the refrains are in Spanish, ¡toma fuerza! (‘take strength!’), others in English, ‘Dominican way!’ and the rest in what one young man tells me is dominicano, a language with African cadences that sounds like Haitian Creole.

But the music is not just voices and katas or palos (drums) – the instruments of Kongo origin that make this a fiesta de palo, or ‘palo feast’. Some people also have bamboo flutes and a güiro, a percussion instrument in the shape of a pear that is rasped with a metal bar. These were the instruments of the Taíno, the Arawak people who inhabited Hispaniola – or Haiti, their name for the island[2] – before the Spanish arrived. They were soon extinguished by European diseases and forced labor, but their cultural, genetic and linguistic legacy endures. Gagá is one example of this: it was the Taíno who, at the start of spring – that is, more or less around Holy Week – celebrated a festival consecrated to nature and led by mayores. Haitian slaves later adopted this festival and the instruments used in it to give rise to a new musical form, designed for saint-propitiation, called Rara, and pronounced Gagá[3] in the Spanish part of the island. Fully participatory, Dominican Gagá is less strict, complex and formalized than the Haitian religion from which it derives (the word ‘Gagá’ is a Spanish corruption of the French ‘Rara’). As a result, it is more dependent for its expression on the guidance of the mayor. Much of what I see around me, therefore, reflects Gambao’s preferences.

The whole space of song where I’m standing has been prepared for the saints. The portico bears a colorful garland announcing Saint Michael; a little room, draped with vividly colored cloth in red and green, his colors, has been set up inside the terrace especially for him. Inside, his plastic statue crowns an enormous cake, below which are placed a plate of sweets, a plate of wheat with a hard-boiled egg, and cups full of coffee, the offerings that will be distributed at the end of the feast (the coffee will make sense once I realize just how much alcohol Gagá practitioners consume).


More offerings to the saint hang from the poles in the terrace inside macutos, cylindrically shaped baskets containing coins, corn, and sweets.


Catholic saints or feisty gods?

Until now, the food and decorations could be those of any Caribbean Catholic festival, but other elements soon appear. Hanging beside the macutos are two plastic dolls, a boy and a girl, that Gambao tells me chase away evil spirits: I will speculate later on whom they represented originally. The shed itself is decorated with a fresco of Saint Charles Borromeo, also known in Gagá as Papá Candelo or Candelo Cedife.[4] Unlike the plastic statue of Saint Michael, this fresco is not a conventional depiction of the saint. He appears in his cardinal’s hat and robe, but he is looking downward, forbidding and brooding as he blesses a kneeling man.

Even less conventional is the fresco of Saint Martha that fiercely greets me on entering the shed. Had Gambao not pointed out who she is, it would not have occurred to me to recognize this as a saint of any kind. This is a wild woman with unkempt hair and a gnarling grimace whose body-less head emerges from a huge serpent coiled around her neck.


Her full name is Santa Marta la Dominadora, Saint Martha the Dominatrix, also known as Filomena Lubana. I learn that she does precisely what her epithet suggests – dominate men – and that she ‘mounts’ homosexuals when they go into a trance: this ferocious, serpent-loving saint provides a public outlet for homosexual desires in a culture where they often remain taboo. She also likes coffee (the cups of it below Saint Michael’s cake may be for her), malted beer, and eggs – preferences never associated with Christian saints, but ones abounding among the gods and spirits of magical religions.

Saint Martha’s fellow saint Anaísa (a.k.a. Ezilie Freda) has related tasks – and less healthy tastes (beer and cigarettes) – although one would not guess from looking at her image, which is also in the shed. She looks like a medieval queen-nun surrounded by hearts, drenched in jewels, and pierced through the heart by a sword, but one of the women tells me confidentially that she is a whore who helps people fall in love and obtain money.

Others say that this is not true, that she is simply a very playful and joyful coquette who likes to dress up and put on perfume from head to toe. She is extraordinarily lucky, as are her devotees, and she conquers all men through her charm. I wonder about her origins: ‘Anaísa’ is a variation of Anne, the Virgin Mary’s mother with whom this Gagá saint is usually associated, and her icon certainly borrows the Virgin’s iconography: the white and blue veils, the golden crown, the hearts. Due to her sword-pierced heart, she is also frequently syncretized with Our Lady of Sorrows, whose image is standing near hers. But the name ‘Anaísa’ is also a variation on Anahita,[5] or more completely Aredvi Sura Anahita, the Zoroastrian goddess of love, abundance, and the waters. A Persian origin seems a bit distant yet still possible in the Antilles,[6] and Anaísa the partying avatar of affection and plenty seems to have more in common with the ancient Middle Eastern deity than with the Virgin’s long-barren mother. In addition, like the Zoroastrian figure, Anaísa is associated with water: one of her epithets is ‘gentle lady of the Sweet Waters’. What is certain is that her presence is indispensable at the feast of her close friend, Saint Michael: reputedly, these two misterios[7] or loas (spirits) work very well together, so that no feast is ever celebrated for the one without the other being present.

The shed where I’m standing is the baji or bayi, the altar room, and Anaísa is one of the many saints whose picture stands on the altar, which is covered with vividly colored cloth and strewn with lit candles. I am struck by the quaint appearance of these saints, whose images are specific to Gagá, and which could not contrast more with threatening Saint Martha on the wall. They form a veritable pantheon that spans the centuries. The santo niño de Atocha, ‘the holy child of Atocha’, dressed in his medieval pilgrim’s dress and revered throughout the former Spanish colonies, is there; as is Our Lady of Sorrows, the saint often syncretized with Anaísa who is known here as Metresilí, a Creole conflation of ‘Metres’ or ‘Mistress’ and ‘Ezili’[8].


Near her is Saint Clare, whose portrait is usually hung opposite the entrance door in traditional Dominican homes – since, as her name suggests, she shines clarity on the way; and Saint Gregory, patron saint of the sick, dressed in a suit and tie.

He is one other than José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919) – a Venezuelan Franciscan, scientist, and medical doctor known for his solidarity with the poor, pronounced ‘Venerable’ by the Catholic Church, and a saint by poor people throughout Latin America.


I will learn later that these are all saints of the ‘División Blanca’, the ‘White Division’, one of the three main divisions into which Gagá’s saints are categorized, the other two being the Black and Indian Divisions – in tribute to the three major cultures that melded to form Dominican culture – and the total number of divisions being twenty-one. The White saints all stand on the altar behind a forest of alcohol bottles, so many that one must get close in order to distinguish the images. Saints and alcohol are not usually associated in orthodox Christianity, but here the saints must be honored, and their ‘mounting’ sought, by drinking their favorite alcohol type or smoking their favorite tobacco – as the young people are doing outside.

The saints of the Indian Division seem absent from Saint Michael’s feast, although unsweetened coffee like the one below Saint Michael’s cake is often for them, and Gambao’s name itself is derived from Gamao, the Indian sun deity that Gagá associates with Saint Nicholas and that is a harbinger of hope and prosperity.[9] Of the Black Division, only fierce Saint Martha on the wall seems to be present. When the serpent coils around her head, she is known as Black Saint Martha. In this aspect, she was originally a fifteenth-century African warrior-woman who saved an orphan boy from being swallowed by a serpent before adopting him as her own son. In her aspect as Filomena Lubana, Black Saint Martha incarnates the Dominican historical figure of Juana de la Merced Trinidad (ca. 1815-1860), also known as Juana Saltitopa[10] and La negra Filomena, who earned the nickname of La coronela or ‘The she-coronel’ during the Dominican War of Independence from Haiti for the valor and enthusiasm with which she served the Dominican cause as a nurse and water-carrier. Whatever aspect she adopts, though, Black Saint Martha, I’m told, is a sorceress: the serpent coils around her head because she does not so much dominate it as use it to cast spells.

But Saint Martha also has a White vuelta or ‘path’ that I do not see represented here. This is White Saint Martha, or Marta Pye, who instead of holding the serpent in her hands, steps on it.

This Saint Martha is the familiar Gospel saint, the sister of Lazarus and Mary whose home Jesus visited at least three times. Legend has it that after Jesus’ death she moved to Gaul, where she settled in a village, bordered by a swamp, which contained a dragon that ate humans. The village people were made desperate the dragon’s anthropophagic habits and called on the saint, who went down to the swamp and subdued the dragon by showing him a cross. Marta Pye is a gentle-looking saint but she holds a torch to indicate that her temperament is fiery, while her Catholic identity makes her more acceptable to the Dominican Republic’s Catholic majority.

A marginal religion

Acceptability is crucial for Dominican Gagá practitioners, as their magical religion is a relatively recent arrival looked upon with much suspicion in Dominican society. ‘But that is a Haitian thing’, people tell me with concern and disapproval when I tell them that I went to a Gagá feast. Ten to twenty years ago, the major and probably the only African forms of worship practiced by Dominicans themselves in the Eastern part of the island were the palos or atabales, songs sung in Church to the saints and the Virgin Mary and accompanied by drums of the same name. As I can hear on the terrace today, Gagá has now adopted and transformed the palos, but a few decades ago, if anything resembling Gagá was present, it was solely as the practice of Haitian sugarcane workers.

Over the last generation, though, attitudes to Gagá have changed. ‘The old people didn’t like it’, says thirty-six-year-old Adelca, recalling her childhood in a batey. ‘But we, the muchachos, were curious. We learned to speak Creole from the Haitian children, as they couldn’t speak Spanish and we wanted to play with them. When they did Gagá, we went to see. My mother didn’t speak Creole and she didn’t want me to be there. The old people said it was all sorcery and devil-worship, and she was afraid that something bad might happen to me. Now so many young people are doing it’.

Even today, though, Gagá remains marginal in a Dominican culture that tends to perpetuate the discourse of colonial religiosity. It is not only the bateys’ old people who mistrust the new magic, or the Seventh-Day Adventists who hold rituals of saint-smashing when accepting new converts: the Catholic Church forbids it too. For if Gagá’s saints can represent such a range of mindsets, from ferocity to flirtation to feastly joy, it is because originally, they were not saints at all. Far from it: they were the orishas of the Yoruba people who lived in what is now Benin, Niger, and Togo. As powerful demigods who mediated between humanity and an indifferent God, the orishas manifested natural forces and granted peace, health, prosperity, protection, and love. The Yoruba who served them were strongly affected by the slave trade (an estimated 20% of the African slaves who came to the Americas were from their part of Africa) and brought their religious practices to the New World. There, however, they encountered the resistance of the Church, which, like the old people of the batey where Adelca grew up, banned the orishas as demons and their propitiation as witchcraft.

The slaves’ response was to lend their ancestral protectors new identities as Catholic saints. They seem to have replicated this process in most of the places they went in the Americas, giving rise to the Afro religions that Walter Mignolo has put forward enthusiastically as examples of ‘decolonized religions’, that is, religions free from the paradigms of Occidental modernity.[11] Whether as saints or dolls, and incarnating political, historical, and even biblical figures, the orishas are the disguised protagonists of Brazilian Candomblé, Umbanda and Quimbanda; of Cuban Santería, Jamaican Obeayisne, Louisiana Voodoo, Mississippi Hoodoo, Trinidad Shango and the Venezuelan religion of María Lionza. Over the centuries, their disguise has become so effective that today’s Gagá practitioners seem oblivious to their saints’ African birth. Nobody at the feast of Saint Michael, for instance, seems to know where the two plastic dolls representing children that hang near the macutos come from – Gambao just tells me that they are from Haiti and that they chase away evil – but they are likely latter-day avatars of the Ibeyes, orisha twins whom the Haitians call Marassa and whose gifts are sweetness and interior peace.[12] Along with fierce Saint Martha on the wall, the Marassa – who look like white children – are the only figures here vaguely recalling Gagá’s African origins.

I go back to the terrace, where a smiling woman is dancing with one of the men in a sexually enticing manner. She is Gambao’s girlfriend, a Mama Mambo or Mama Lwa, a priestess figure who assists participants in becoming montaos.[13] It is she who urges me to stay for the upcoming misterio so I can report that Gagá has muchas cosas buenas,‘many good things’. My attention seems to be welcome here. Hasta las blanquitas vienen aquí, ‘even the little white women come here’, says proudly one of the women with whom I have been speaking. I am the only white person around. Nearly everyone I meet encourages me to take pictures, to take videos, to write down everything I see, even to drink the saints’ alcohol and become montá. They seem excited that Gagá is getting attention and that it might even appear in a newspaper.

Gagá and Dominican race

Their attitudes remind me that the Haitian Vodun from which Gagá descends is widely understood as a direct expression of African identity. But I do not feel this is the case of Gagá itself. If it were, there would be no particular desire to include a European like me, and Gagá’s practitioners would know more about the practice’s African origins. I ask Adelca, who tells me that she has never thought of Gagá as a way of expressing her African ancestry or identity, and that she has never known of anyone who does. Gagá for her is just a way of solving personal problems, of improving her daily life and accessing dimensions beyond the physical (although she tells me confidentially that she does not believe in the trances of these ‘young Dominican people’, as in her experience it was only the old Haitian people whose saints could achieve ‘things out of the ordinary’). That Dominican Gagá does not seek to express a racial, ethnic, or ancestral identity is also testified by the fact that it comes and goes through people’s lives as needed. Adelca tells me that some whom the saints have mounted too much enact a ritual that ‘binds’ the saints so they cannot return: these intense divinities, she suggests discreetly, can be troublesome, not least because their mutually inimical relations are sometimes replicated among their devotees. Gagá is thus magic and religion in their purest form: practices intended to enhance human well-being and to help individuals and communities confront adversity through strictly spiritual processes. As one of the celebrants tells me, the feast of Saint Michael is the gift of one of Bocachica’s wealthier Gagá members, the owner of a colmado[14] who wants everyone in his community to enjoy protection and prosperity.

Gagá’s strictly spiritual identity conforms with attitudes to race in the Dominican Republic, which, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. observes, concentrate on the Indian and European heritage to the detriment of the African one.[15] In a culture that measured beauty and social status by one’s percentage of whiteness, the Indian Enriquillo – who in 1519-1533 led a successful revolt against Spain, negotiating peace by giving away black slaves – became a national idol and his race a national ideal, a way of explaining Dominicans’ dark skin color without reference to Africanness.[16] Today, the désir de lactification or ‘desire for lactification’ or whiteness that Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) described as prevalent among black women in the Antilles[17] seems to remain the major Dominican emotion regarding race. Although more than 90% of the population has black ancestry, blackness, whenever thought about, is often explained away as a regrettable Haitian deed. Los haitianos nos estropearon, ‘the Haitians ruined us’, says to me Floralba, a particularly well-read and highly politicized woman living in Villaconsuelo, one of the poorest barrios in Santo Domingo, when referring to the miscegenation that happened during Haiti’s 1822-1844 occupation of the Eastern part of the island. Dominicans’ true racial essence, she implies, is Indian and white: if they now look black, this is a superficial feature that is due not to the European slave trade, but to the exploitation perpetrated by the (then-invited) next-door-neighbor that most Dominicans view as eternally annoying.

In this context, it is not surprising that insofar as Gagá has a socio-political identity, it is not African but Dominican. That is why the young people sing ‘Dominican way!’; why they refer even to the language with African roots they intone as dominicanonot as Creole or africano; why Gagá neglects the African and Indian Divisions of saints; and why many of the participants at this feast insist to me that there is no contradiction between Gagá and the Catholic faith of Spanish descent to which most of them are loyal.

The trance

Mealtime is approaching, and I am offered a typical Dominican dish: half-burnt rice (concon) with fried plantain and roasted meat from the goat that was killed that morning. I sit to speak with some women, who tell me that Gambao will initiate a misterio or ‘mystery’ after the meal, and that the smoking tree trunk in front of the shed is for those who are montaos or ‘mounted’ by the saints: they must go to it. No one gives a reason, but it is probable that the tree trunk is a spiritual test, a means of determining whether people are truly in a trance or just pretending. The smoke emanating from it is too intense on the eyes – it is impossible to be close to it without tearing – so that only those whose consciousness has risen to a point that they no longer identify with their bodies can stand to be near it. The saints themselves are the examiners who impose these tests: I learn that fiery Papá Candelo must be served three candles, whose fire he eats – in the person, of course, of the devotee whom he possesses.

The smoking tree trunk will soon fulfill its role, as Gambao is using the goat’s remains to prepare the misterio. The whole ambiance of the feast is changing. I am at the door of the bayi, trying to get a glimpse of the preparations, but someone pulls me aside to let through a young man. From the look of him it is clear that he has become a caballo or ‘horse’, on whose cabeza or ‘head’ a saint has mounted. He is in a trance: apparently at least, his personality is gone, though the saint who possesses him is probably not Saint Michael. Each saint has his or her own landmark manner of possession, and this young man is on the verge of crying – a sign of mounting by Saint Michael’s friend and working partner Anaísa, who, usually invoked in matters of love and the home, makes her devotees weep. The young man is making his way through the parting crowd and toward the altar with a can full of alcohol in one hand and a lit candle in the other. As he walks, he spills a bit of alcohol on the ground, spins around, and continues forward. He enters the bayi and moves toward the altar as another young man faints and the music becomes louder.

After a few minutes, this second young man recovers consciousness, takes off his belt, and goes beat with it a pole, standing on a pile of trash, from which hang three bull-heads made of painted cardboard. A man tells me that the function of this pole is to ‘frighten’. Perhaps the beating symbolizes that the caballo has vanquished fear or his enemies, just as Saint Michael triumphed over Satan, and just as his Gagá aspect wards off evil and achieves justice. What is certain is that the young man’s action affects him deeply: dropping the belt, he begins crying copiously as people approach to give him long and deeply felt hugs.

This highly emotional moment triggers a frenzy in the crowd. Gambao makes a sign for me to stay, but I cannot get close as the crowd is advancing toward him from all sides as if to swallow him. Nearly every participant now seems to be in a trance, or at least in an unrestrained emotional state. The singing and drumming have become overpowering. The participants, some screaming, many crying, are coming ever closer to each other, their hands and arms interlaced, as if the experience of the saints’ intense presence might make them melt at any moment into a single human mass. It is difficult to watch this scene without being moved. I reflect that I have never witnessed a more visually obvious manifestation of the fundamental religious function indicated by the etymology of the word ‘religion’. Religio, Latin for ‘to bind together’, ‘to bind again’.

Gagá and Inclusion

At this point, I stop feeling like a participant and begin feeling like a stranger, as if there were something intrusive and almost obscene in my remaining here much longer. Night is falling and the road back to Santo Domingo can be dangerous: I turn to leave, thinking about what seems so familiar and at the same time so foreign about Gagá. The causes of the familiarity are easy to identify: they are the warmth and inclusiveness with which Gagá’s practitioners have welcomed me, and the encounter with devotion to saints to whom I have been accustomed since my childhood as a Southern European Catholic.

What is less familiar is the use of alcohol and sexuality as spiritual stimulants. In a country where nearly every public bus bears a biblical quotation and where the invocation of God and worlds beyond the physical is included even in professional conversations, drinking and sexual behavior in spiritual contexts bears a strong spiritual charge. Specifically, when used as instruments for transforming the physical world, these things disperse the psychic energies that non-magical spirituality aims to store in order to attain higher states of consciousness. From the viewpoint of spiritual economics, then – and hence for a majority of Dominicans – Gagá is an anti-spiritual practice, and as such more iniquitous than it might seem to the non-spiritually minded.

In a country, too, where a revolutionary tradition like Haiti’s is lacking, it is not surprising that Gagá fails to provide a seed for crystallizing racial, cultural, ethnic and political identities for traditionally disempowered groups – identities that could in turn translate into social recognition and ascent, and into a society more racially equitable than the current one, where whiteness often functions as an instant passport to elite status. Unless the past is confronted, though, and its conceptual heritage decolonized – to use the vocabulary of post-colonial studies – it is unlikely that Gagá will serve these ulterior roles in the foreseeable future: if its African, Indian, and White Divisions of saints acknowledge symbolically the Dominican Republic’s tricontinental heritage, the Indian Division is usually neglected, while the African one seems only sporadically remembered. These are not accidental forgettings: they mirror Dominican society’s attitudes to race.

The flip side of oblivion is the inclusiveness, the hopefulness, and the capacity for universal binding that constitute some of religion’s most humanizing aspects, and that is manifested most vividly at the feast of Saint Michael by the collective tears and the entwining of bodies during the final misterio. After all, I’ve been assured, the saints will shower boons even on blanquitas like me.


[1] Eugenio Matibag, Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint: Nation, State, and Race on Hispaniola (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003), p. 200.

[2] More exactly, the English ‘Haiti’ is a derivation of the Taíno ‘Ayiti’, which is still the word for Haiti in Haitian Creole. According to different versions, ‘Ayiti’ meant ‘land of the high mountains’, ‘the mountain in the sea’, or ‘rough land’, and it referred either to the whole island or to its mountainous part. See ‘Saint-Domingue’, ‘Hispaniola’ and ‘Haïti’ in Marie-Nicolas Bouillet, Dictionnaire universel d’histoire et de géographie (Paris: Hachette, 1878).The Taíno name for the Eastern part of the island roughly corresponding to the present-day Dominican Republic was ‘Quisqueya’.

[3] The word ‘Gagá’ can refer to both the music and the religion.

[4] ‘Cedife’, from the Creole ‘is fire’. This saint loves fire and has a fiery personality.

[5] Persian for ‘immaculate’.

[6] The Antilles, though, are such a cultural crossroads that one is often surprised at the distance of the influences one finds in it. The Black Virgin of Częstochowa, for instance, brought to Haiti by Polish soldiers during the Haitian Revolution, is the effigy commonly used to represent Ezili Dantor, the protector of women and children.

[7] The word ‘misterio’ or ‘mystery’ can refer both to the saint him/herself, or to the process of invoking the spirit so that he ‘mounts’ his ‘horse’. ‘Mounting’ is a state of mystical trance during which the individual’s personality disappears to be replaced by the saint’s.

[8] Depending on context, ‘Ezili’ (or ‘Erzulie’) designates either a group of female saints, or different aspects of the same female divinity.

[9] See Jan Lundius and Mats Lundahl, Peasants and Religion: A Socioeconomic Study of Dios Olivorio and the Palma Sola Movement in the Dominican Republic (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 326.

[10] ‘Saltitopa’, which translates roughly as ‘springing among the tops’, was a nickname given to her for her habit of climbing trees and jumping from branch to branch.

[11] Walter Mignolo, ‘La clausura de las ciencias sociales y el resurgir del pensamiento independiente’, keynote lecture given at the Segundo Congreso Transdiciplinar del Caribe: El futuro de las ciencias sociales, Santo Domingo, 1-3 October 2014.

[12] The importance of these twins in Yoruba mythology may be related to the fact that the Yoruba have the highest rate of twinning in the world.

[13] Gambao, her male counterpart, is a Papa Bok or Papa Lwa.

[14] A Dominican convenience store.

[15] See Gates,, in The Root, August 2011 (last accessed 22 September 2014).

[16] For a brief historical sketch of the development of ideas on race in the Dominican Republic, see ‘Race and Dominicanness in the Dominican Republic: A Struggle for Identity’, (last accessed 22 September 2014).

[17] See Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1952), p. 38.

[18] Throughout this essay, I use the word ‘Indian’ rather than ‘Native American’ in an attempt to remain close to the Spanish ‘La División India’ and Dominicans’ own self-understanding as indios. The vocabulary of color also includes moreno for the darker-skinned and rubio for white people regardless of hair color, while india, in addition to a color indicator,is a way of complimenting a woman for her beauty.

About the Author:

Carolina Armenteros is a historian and the author of The French Idea of History: Joseph de Maistre and his Heirs, 1794-1854 (Cornell, 2011). She lives, writes and teaches in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.