Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Border-Line Anxiety: Dominican National Identity in the "Dialogo Cantado

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Border-Line Anxiety: Dominican National Identity in the "Dialogo Cantado

Article excerpt

If one surveys the last thirty years of scholarship on the role of literature in the nineteenth-century formation of national identity in the Dominican Republic, one finds that certain genres and themes have received much more critical attention than others. First, since its publication in 1882 Manuel de Jesus GalvAn's Enriquillo has enjoyed success and popularity as much for its literary merit as for its ideological usefulness. For this reason, Doris Sommer has recognized this romance as the foremost foundational fiction of the Dominican nation (1991: 233, 251). As a prose work about a Hispanized native hero, Enriquillo has overshadowed the two major poetic works, published around the same time, about indigenous responses to the Spanish Conquest of Hispaniola. The collection of poems Fantasias indigenas (1877) by Jose Joaquin Perez and the epic poem "Anacaona" (1880) by Salome Urena de Henriquez have both been noted for their high quality and their foundational elements, but they have received little in-depth literary analysis.1 Enriquillo, Fantasias indigenas, and "Anacaona" were all instrumental in shaping definitions of the Dominican nation as politically separate from but culturally bound to Spain. Indeed, all three were published within fifteen years after the Dominicans defeated the Spaniards in the War of Restoration (1863-1865), after President Pedro Santana annexed the country to Spain in 1861.

If critics have shown more interest in one monumental work of prose than in a corpus of poetry about Dominican links with Spain, they have all but ignored poetry about the nation's relationship to Haiti. A principle reason for this neglect may be that most of the poetry on this theme was composed in popular forms, such as the ten-line stanza of octosyllabic verse known as the decimal Such poetry was likely regarded as folkloric and unworthy of serious literary analysis. Given the Haitian invasions of Dominican territory throughout the first half of the nineteenth century and twenty-two years of Haitian rule (1822-1844), much of the poetry on this theme can be characterized as nationalist propaganda.3 Poems like "Cantos dominicanos" by Felix Maria del Monte (1875) demonized Haitians and called upon citizens to defend the homeland against the presence and influence of the Haitian enemy (Rodriguez Demorizi 1979: 244-248). Investigators have often held up such pieces as examples of rabid anti-Haitianism, while overlooking the few poems that depict the interdependence between the two nations of Hispaniola. On the whole, literary critics have done little more than anthologize and mention the poetry of Dominico-Haitian relations, while social scientists have frequently referred to it.

One oft-cited poem is the "DiAlogo cantado" (ca. 1876) by Juan Antonio Alix (1833-1918).4 This imagined poetic duel between a Dominican and a Haitian has been mentioned in studies in the fields of anthropology (Deive 391), sociology (Despradel 97), and linguistics (Lipski 19-20). These researchers have taken the "Dialogo" as an artifact, as evidence of anti-Haitian sentiments or Haitian cultural influence. Yet, the "Dialogo" deserves closer examination, and not only for its themes and its exceptional length (40 decimas). As a poem, it transcends folklore.5 Its rhetorical strategies and linguistic features exhibit considerable sophistication. More importantly, the poem does not simply express a Dominican national identity based on anti-Haitianism. The "Dialogo cantado" also exposes the flaws and contradictions of such an identity, as it highlights the problematic nature of identity itself.

The Author

Juan Antonio Alix was the most renowned popular poet of the late nineteenth-century Dominican Republic. He spent most of his life in the northern agricultural region known as the Cibao, and he transcribed the distinctive cibaeno accent into many of his poems.6 Dubbed "PapA Tono" and the "Cantor del Yaque" (Bard of the Yaque River region) Alix made his living from his craft: his numerous poems circulated on broadsides and newspapers all over the country. …

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