| The Courier N°131 Jan-Feb 1992 Dossier The urban crisis- Country Report: Dominican Republic |
|Issa DIALLO, Acting Executive Secretary of the ECA|
|15th annual meeting of ACP-EEC social partners|
|A new way of technical cooperation in Africa|
|Agrtcultural raw materials discussed by ACP and Central European professionals|
|Dominican republic: Land of contrasts|
|An eventful history|
|The European fantasy|
|The Dominico-Haitian problem - more important than health or education -|
|The social make-up|
|State bodies unstable|
|Interview with Dr Joaquin Balaguer|
|Interview with Roberto Martinez Villaneuva|
|Interview with Juan Bosch,|
|Interview with PenÃ Gomez,|
|Cooperation with the EEC|
|The Courier talks to Commission Delegate Martino Meloni|
|Conference on Universality and Europe|
|Dossier: The urban crisis|
|The Urban Crisis|
|The agenda of urban issues|
|Long-term picture of sub-Saharan Africa|
|The new inhabitants of the southern metropolis|
|Urban policies: some conclusions|
|Population growth, employment and poverty in Third World mega-cities|
|Health and sanitation|
|Transport, traffic and mobility in sub-Saharan African cities|
|The EEC and 'rurban' development aid|
|Small towns in rural development|
|Sites and services scheme in Zambia|
|New homes for learning|
|Maintenance comes first|
|A forest of congresses, conferences and committees|
|Culture and the arts|
|Fetishes: of the isle of magic by Paola ANTOLINI|
|CD-ROM or the Bag of Anansi|
|The 1991 Booker Prize winner|
An explosive mix of people, religions, languages and magic is just part of everyday life in the Caribean. Ritual ceremonies, often hidden or denied, are still preset today, amazing in the intensity of the magical thought which them feverishly to life and fills a whole multitude of with divine being, transforming them into the genuine and authentic presence of spirits and superior forces,making them umique and vital. This same magical power sanctifies medical practices from far away and the local messiah creates churches 'for it, wonders filled with idols and amulets and fetishes.
Here, where voodoo has fused with native and African religions and Catholic. dogma, there are- objects to protect against evil of all [rinds and bring power and luck. History provided an epecially good setting' for the dizzy and far reaching rise of magic very early on, here on the island which is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic, at the crossroads of the ancestral beliefs' of the three worlds of the natives, the Africans and 16th century Europe.
This magic island, Hispaniola, which Christopher Columbus discovered in 1492, lost its original' inhabitants, the Taino Indians, to forced labour; battles and disease in only a few years and slaves soon had to be brought in from Africa With them came the spirits and the fetishes - as the cave traders disparagingly called the objects which the slaves kept hidden and refused to sell - which were their ultimate protection against the evils of the now inevitable captivity and the unknown experiences of a long voyage with no hope of return.
Voodoo was to be their only power and it grew strong on the fertile ground of 16th century European beliefs, in the very heart of Catholicism, using all the images of saints, archangels even, to disguise the pantheon of African gods. Voodoo took root in town and country alike and the severest of laws were powerless to stop it. With devotion to the saints and the dead on one side and the cult of healing and the protection of the living on the other, voodoo has an altar with a focus - the medium and the server or minister of the rites.
The main feature of voodoo is the wide range of possible ritual objects. They are worshipped, they are referred to through prayers using the conventional image of Christ, even for ordinary pieces of industrial scrap, for the extraordinary thing is that old machine parts can indeed become native, primitive objects. One example of this is the Benedetta Pietra Iman, a lodestone.
The belief is that Iman stone comes from the sea and is alive and needs food to increase its powers... although, paradoxically, the fetish is in fact an industrial product made by splitting a magnetic mineral. It represents a life born of the anxiety which the Caribbean's most underprivileged feel about their existence and prayers are offered to it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the sacred days of voodoo.
An Iman stone - curiously, there are male and female versions - is plied with food and holy water, like a god, in exchange for a dream of a better life. It swells visibly in its earthenware bowl as it is fed gifts of amber and black coral and more - even silver thread and grains of gold - from those anxious for the protection of the mysterious stone and its 'fiery powers'. It is plied with food too, to create an affinity with metal, when more, the typical Caribbean dish of rice and black beans, is spread before it as before a saint.
Sacred stones and holy water
The cult of this magical, magnetic stone, which is present on every altar, goes back to the African rites of the first slaves to arrive on the new continent. The Iman stone not only brings money. It brings love to everyone who carries it as a talisman.
But to have its power, they say, the stone has to lie in a torrent of holy water near the sea and, at full moon, the mysteries, all the magical powers of voodoo call upon the people to join it. It is wrong to obtain a stone in any way other than as a gift, preferably from a woman.
Iman stones, set in holy water, are placed on altars, before images of the saints and the African powers of voodoo. They are reluctant to be seen, for they house the spirits and they are to be treated with respect.
Only after much pressing will people - sometimes - recount, reservedly, how they found the stones and how they obtained them. The stories are usually unforgettable. Far from being the fruit of imagination, accounts of meeting these stones must be real, particularly in the rural areas. In cities in the Caribbean, on the other hand, there is no time to seek and be attracted by lodestones at full moon and the giving of them is not nearly so common as it was. Here, with all the demands of city life, stones have to be magnets taken from radios or cars and bought at the market.
The intensity of this love of stones, a mixture of African ritual and local belief, is as strong as ever it was and the gift shops are full of them, for there is a consuming need to feel protected, which is deep down in all of us. However, it is not always so easy for the uninitiated to uncover the ritual secrets of fetishes revealed to devotees. We do know that the stones have to be kept in water and that their powers are manifest as the water - the 'house' of the spirits in the rites - evaporates. And saints which fail to work, stones which fail to attract money, love or luck, are punished by keeping them dry.
Bolt from the blue
Another stone in which people believe fervently is the thunderstone which is an old idea. When explaining meteors in 1637, Cartesio said that a thunderbolt could indeed change into a stone which destroyed all it came across. And what the European tradition calls a thunderstone or thunderbolt turns out to be exactly what it is on the island too - a neolithic axe head, dating back to the Taino Indians. Here, as in Europe, these stones protect homes from danger, including thunderbolts, but here on the island they also house spirits and have powers of healing. They are placed on altars and fed water, just like the Iman stones, and are carefully tended for they are useful for health, for women and for water and they are often the spirits which guide people to their meetings. Tradition in the Caribbean has it that, if a thunderstone is thrown to the ground, it sinks seven feet into the earth and takes seven years to re-emerge.
Thunderstones are talismans, as they once were in Europe, to be carried about and prayed to for protection and the practice is widespread in Haiti, for example, where the voodoo ceremonies are not to be missed.
But just how many people perform these rituals faithfully?
Voodoo may be officially outlawed as a wild and primitive practice, but few people escape its influence. In many cases, even in the cities, altars are set up for ritual devotions, although the worshippers are often the poorest and darkest-skinned members of society - descendants of the slaves, that is to say.
A voodoo altar is a focus of forces which reflect the way it is organised, its vision of saints and divinities and the objects which symbolise it. In many cases, a picture of the Holy Trinity or of various of the seven African gods is placed at the highest point of the altar. In the southern parts of the Dominican Republic and in Haiti, the gods are also represented by stones in earthenware bowls of water. The saints, the main powers, are in the middle. All these images are baptised and two sets of godparents are chosen for each of them - which forges a close ritual relationship between the people in the cult, i.e. the owner of the sacred images, the priest and the godparents.
Glittering pictures of the former Indian chiefs Anacaona and Enriquillo stand alongside the images of the saints. A case apart is the picture of the fetish of Liborio, a messiah and warrior who was captured and killed by the American army at the turn of the century when he organised a major religious and political movement. Today he is venerated as Saint - and God and Papa - Liborio.
Drums - there are three of them, like the three crosses on Calvary or the three parts of the Holy Trinity - are baptised and even dressed up, in the same manner as saints, for they are the voices of the saints and call the spirits.
During the American military occupation, which lasted until 1932, there was a great wave of repression in Haiti which hit voodoo and all these symbols and there was even a clerical movement 10 years after that calling for the e1imination of all ritual objects deemed to be wild and works of the devil.
Bond between people and ritual objects
All ritual objects - the altar cloths, the Calvary crosses and the shawls with the colours of the various gods involved in the mysteries - are baptised and the importance of the unbreakable bond between people and objects is manifest in the large numbers of godparents needed for the ceremonies.
Water, rum and tobacco are vital parts of the ritual too and prayers are even dedicated to them. Clearly, there is not just one kind of voodoo. Although all the ministers claim to be Catholic believers, they do not hesitate to use prayers to get through to the seven African powers and to tobacco and the four winds.
Here in the Caribbean, archipelago and terra firma, a geographical link between North and South America and an historical link with Europe, they pray to the one true soul or to San Giovanni the Mad or to benevolent spirits or to the Holy Destroyer or to the Baron of the Cemetery as the mood takes them.
The Caribbean's fluidity of thought sprang from its hesitation in the face of history. As a marginal and heterogeneous part of the world, it was the scene of one of the cruellest battles which mankind has ever fought and indeed it has never seen an end to piracy. Even Mother Nature is violent with it, for the most dangerous hurricanes whip up and crash down on these islands.
There is water. There is holy water, lucky water, the fearful water of the spirits, 'come hither' water, 'draw more' water and 'open the way' water and, under modern influence, there is 'leave me a sign on the bed' water too. Huge amounts of water are used and any magic store, herbal emporium or cosmetic shop will have hundreds of samples.
Tuesdays-and Thursdays, magic days, are the times to obtain the desired effect by bathing in these potions, now produced on an industrial scale and presented in standard plastic or glass containers bearing that legend of authenticity and effectiveness - 'Made in Haiti'.
Let us spray
Water fetishes, a legacy of the Taino Indians, with their springs and all the spirits they housed, are a part of even the smallest of rituals. Their success, of course, has led the businessmen to produce spray versions too, expensive little bottles guaranteeing love, luck and money, all made in the USA (Puerto Rico), and by the myriad Caribbean emigrants there too, and selling like hot cakes, their magic powers enhanced by western technology. The spray, one of the great fetishes of modern times for everyone in the developing world, gets its brand of holiness from the Christ (Saint Barbara - Chango the Terrible, the voodoo god - Red Indian Chief turned into San Geronimo) label. The seven African divinities are also available in spray form.
In the turbulent vitality of magical thinking in the Caribbean and the chaotic fusion of industrial and indigenous, it is not unusual for the great Taino warrior Chief Enriquello, beloved legendary leader of the battle between the Indians and the Spanish colonials, to appear on the label of tonic water bottled in the Dominican Republic.
The people of the Caribbean do not just submit to these paradoxes. Those threatening little voodoo dolls which bring death and destruction in the hands of a wizard, become nothing but harmless decorative hair pins in a tourist boutique.
Cullure in the Dominican Republic a talk with Marianne de Tolentino
· Can we look at culture in the Dominican Republic at the present time ?
- There is more cultural life here than you might imagine, but it is more or less, centralized in Santo Domingo, the capital. Other events are secondary or set up on a purely one off basis.
It all depends on your concept of culture. If you take the broadest meaning of the term, as being mahifestation of life in general, then clearly Dominican colture exists at every level, in the districts of the capital, in the provinces and in the country, and it is all completely traditional activity, music, dancing, singing and a bit of art and craft.
And what about the arts in Santo Domingo? There is a great deal more plastic art in the capital and there is music too, with our National Symphony Orchestra. Theatre is mainly private, the national company being virtually inoperative now, but we have a national folk ballet company and a national classical ballet company. They only put on shows sporadically and they are not evolving as they should, alas, because they are short of money and the authorities aren't interested.
Artists are too badly paid to be fulltime performers. The folk ballet tries to put on regular shows, but whether it does so depends entirely on the subsidies it can get from the private sector. The orchestral musicans depend on a private foundation, called Symfonia, too. Without private patronage there would be little or no cultural life at all.
· Is much music written here?
- Yes, but there should be a great deal more. Little has been done to develop Dominican classical music. The National Symphony Orchestra spends more time playing than composing.
· What about art?
- We have a lot of artists here, 100 or so, of whom 20 odd are worthwhile and four or five will go a very long way, but we have nothing for them. People buy pictures, of course, but they tend to want traditional ones.
It is the most creative artists who have the biggest problems. Research assistance is what is needed. If artists were given financing and monitored during the creative process, their works could then be the property of the museum and that would make Dominican art evolve.
We don't just need assistance with research (which could be given under LomÃ©) either. We also need awards for study abroad, not necessarily just for long courses, but to enable Dominican artists to work with artists from other countries.
Our painters are good, but our sculptors really need to update. They are well | trained technically speaking, but it is the | sort of academic training you got in the 19th century, a kind of precious sculpture, and they need to be taught about I new forms and learn about freedom of I expression to avoid the gratuitous outpourings of freedom which so often I culminate in informality and gestures I with nothing behind them.
With no commitment, the techniques have no message behind them. The best Dominican painting was in the 1960s, the time when freedom blossomed after all those years of struggle; that was great panting. It wasn't socialist realism. It really was sincere, rebellious, spontaneous expressionism in quest of an ideal and backed up by sound traditional training.
Artists don't get so worked up nowadays. Passion doesn't pay, so they paint pretty little landscapes with palm trees and flowers and they go down well.
Interview by D.D.