Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint: Nation, Race, and State on Hispaniola

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Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint: Nation, Race, and State on Hispaniola. By Eugenio Matibag. New York: PalGrave MacMillan Press, 2003. ISBN 0-312-29432-8.269 pages. $69.95 cloth.

Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint is a sociopolitical study of the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic focusing specifically on their spatial relationship. Eugenio Matibag has superbly documented Haitian history since Columbus' landing on the island from the Dominican perspective to attempt to explain the reasons for the sometimes amiable, often adversarial relationship between the two independent nations of Hispaniola. In part of the title of his book, "counterpoint," Matibag cites from the translation of Antonio Benítez-Rojo's 1989 essay "The Repeating Island," and uses it to illustrate the oddity of the dance between the two warring factions that expresses their interdependence along the border. Without overstating the obvious, themes deal with the fact that both republics have had their share of ineffectual governments (Chapters 2-8), evil dictatorships (Chapter 6), invasions and occupations by their rich neighbor from the north (Chapter 5), foreign debt (Chapter 6), and poverty (Chapter 6) do enter Matibag's book. Nevertheless, his book differs from others, he says, because his offers a new paradigm that studies the way "national relations and identities are constructed in a spatial dimension, the manner in which they define the meaning of the national identity and nationhood by their contradistinction to the image of an Other with regard to the terms of place, region, location, interaction, and movement" (viii).

The eight chapters contained within this text historically recount Dominican-Haitian encounters from the arrival of Columbus to the publication of this book in 2003, primarily from the Dominican point of view, which consistently perceives the Haitian in opposition to the Dominican religiously, racially, ethnically, and culturally. In his introduction, which is also the first chapter, Matibag defends his approach stating:

With regard to this particular Antillean island divided into two countries, there are two interrelated question [sic] that concern us most: 1) How did two nations rise on the same island? and 2) Being two, how did they interrelate? Focusing on the contrapuntal relations within the island's geography, the answers to such questions should reveal the ways in which nationalist and capitalist interests have produced and reproduced a border that would legitimize power structures in a spatial dimension. (6)

Indeed, Matibag takes the reader on a historical journey that weaves in, out, and between these two countries to illustrate his point. The thread of concentration is knotted at once upon reaching the end of the chapter. However, to further employ the metaphor of the weave, Matibag always reminds the reader of historical facts introduced in earlier chapters. It is not uncommon for the author to recount the same event emphasizing different points each time; in that way, his stories often are anachronistic. Chapter three, for example, opens with the Jamaican Bouckman Dutty assembling the slaves on the eve of the rebellion that would later be the beginning of the Haitian Revolution in August of 1791 and with the first mention of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the so-called "black Napoleon." However, the sub-section titled 'The Kingdoms of this World" takes the reader back historically to the year 1751, which eventually contextualizes the desire of the Haitians to make the island "une et indivisible" (one and indivisible). Although this literary rewind gives the reader some important background knowledge and eventually catches up with the previously introduced text several pages later, the extralinear approach to recounting history offers further explanations to the reader without too much of an interruption to the flow of the text.

While recognizing the sociopolitical intentions of this book, Matibag has included the effects history has had on society as it has been expressed in Dominican literature of the early twentieth century. …