The massacre that Edwidge Danticat describes in The Farming of Bones is a historical event. In 1937, the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo, ordered the slaughter of Haitians on the border of the two countries. Twelve thousand Haitians died during the massacre (Roorda 301). The Massacre River, which forms the northern portion of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was named for a separate massacre in the nineteenth-century of French soldiers by revolting native slaves. Although the river has been the site of much tragedy in the past, it “shows no mark” of the violence that has taken place there (Van Boven par. 2).
Danticat states that “nature has no memory” (qtd. in Holmes par. 5). On a visit to the Massacre River, Danticat observed that “people were using it, almost oblivious” (Holmes par. 6). Even Haitians did not know the truth about the past of the river. One of Danticat’s reasons for writing The Farming of Bones was to tell the story of the 1937 massacre for the world to hear “so that [these things] don’t happen again” (Holmes p. 12).
The Massacre River was, in fact, Danticat’s inspiration to write the book (Wachtel 108). She sees the river as “both sad and comforting” in Hispaniola’s history (Wechtel 107). The river is both a site of grief and a site of hope. Although so many people have died in the river, Haitians still use it to “cleanse their labor’s residue off their bodies, reconnect with their community, and pay homage to their dead” (Shemak 96). Danticat also sees the river as dividing between torment and hope (Bell xi). This idea of water being both divisive and comforting is prominent throughout the novel.
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Houlberg, Marilyn. “Sirens and snakes.” African Arts 29.2 (1996): 30+.
Leyburn, James Graham. The Haitian People. New Haven: Yale, 1966.
Loederer, Richard A. Voodoo Fire in Haiti. New York: Literary Guild, 1935.
Ogungbile, David Olugbenga. “Water symbolism in African culture and Afro-Christian churches.” Journal of Religious Thought 53.2 (1997): 21+.
Roorda, Eric Paul. “Genocide next door.” Diplomatic History 20.3 (1996): 301+.
Shemak, April. “RE-MEMBERING HISPANIOLA: EDWIDGE DANTICAT’S THE FARMING OF
BONES.” Modern Fiction Studies 48.1 (2002): 83+.
Van Boven, Sarah. (1998, September 7). Massacre river. Newsweek, 132, 44.
Wachtel, Eleanor. “A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat.” Brick 65 (2000): 106-119.
Wesdake, Larry. “Mystic Traveler.” Ceramics Monthly Nov. 2000: 53-57.
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