Thick red-brick partitions towered over me as I made my means contained in the gated 16th-Century remains of Hospital de San Nicolás de Bari within the coronary heart of Santo Domingo’s Unesco-inscribed Colonial Metropolis. My information, Maribel Nuñez, an activist and chief of Acción Afro-Dominicana, a non-profit organization primarily based right here within the Dominican Republic’s capital, started telling the story of Micaela – “la Negra del hospital,” or the black girl who lived right here within the early 1500s and impressed then-Spanish governor Nicolás de Ovando to construct this historic, first hospital within the Americas.
“There was a black girl during the sick in her humble shack, which was positioned properly the place Hospital de Bari was constructed,” Nuñez stated. “She used her information about pure drugs to save lots of lives.”
The story of this faceless, anonymous Afro-Dominican heroine – who Nuñez determined to name “Micaela” to humanize her story since a part of the dehumanization of slavery was to erase folks’ names – is documented in some 16th-Century manuscript that students on the Metropolis College of New York’s Dominican Research Institute transcribed when researching the primary African presence within the Dominican Republic. In a letter to the Spanish Crown regarding the new hospital: the Archbishop of Santo Domingo has described its origins as linked to “a pious black girl who sheltered all of the poor folks she may and cured them so far as she was capable of.”
Exterior the ruins, I glanced on the newly put in vacationer plaque, whose description recognized the town’s former Spanish governor for its creation; however omitted Micaela – his black muse and the primary individual to determine and run a hospital within the Americas.
“Let’s honor Micaela and maintain her reminiscence alive!” Nuñez stated. “Let the Nationwide Congress and the entire nation recognize her! Let there be an indication telling the story of this heroic black girl!”
She then turned on a transportable loudspeaker, and a conventional African chant often known as Ogun Balenyó, devoted to an African deity, started to echo off the encircling ruins. Inside seconds, a handful of Afro-Dominican ladies, together with Nuñez, started dancing below the recent solar. They shook their hips, arms on their waists because the circle grew wider on the previous hospital’s foot.
Few folks realize that the Dominican Republic was dwelling to the primary black folks within the Americas, who have been initially introduced right here from present-day Senegal and The Gambia within the 1490s by Christopher Columbus. The place the Atlantic slave commerce started in 1503 – 116 years earlier than the primary slaves arrived within the US Colonies. After Haiti, the subsequent door, it was the subsequent nation to abolish African slavery in 1801.
The Dominican Republic was dwelling to the Americas’ primary black folks, who have been introduced right here by Christopher Columbus.
The story of the nation’s colonial previous started the place I stood that morning and the place the ladies have been dancing in remembrance of their ancestor. In 2014, the Colonial Metropolis skilled greater than $100m in renovations over a three-year interval to spice up tourism. Constructing facades have been repainted and restored, remodeling into bistros, artwork galleries, and outlets. Nevertheless, to today, la Zona Colonial, as locals name it, reveals little about its African previous. Guests who flock right here go away after studying a single model of the Dominican Republic’s historical past: that of Spain.
Touted as “a metropolis of firsts,” the Colonial Metropolis is the oldest, everlasting European city settlement within the Americas. There’s little question that this 10-block neighborhood is a historical and architectural gem. The previous walled metropolis – its authentic fortified entrances stay standing – boasts the primarily paved roads and the primary army fort, cathedral, convent, and college constructed within the New World. Its slender cobblestone streets are lined with Spanish-style colonial structures, together with pink, inexperienced, and yellow pastel-colored stone buildings, a lot of which retain their authentic steel doorways, arched entrances and home windows, stucco partitions, and wrought-iron balconies. Sprawling plazas stay punctuated with statues and busts of Spanish colonialists.
The Spanish selected this location on the west financial institution of the Ozama River after two failed preliminary settlements on the island’s north coast. When Columbus arrived in 1492, and his pursuit of the island’s gold for the Spanish Crown had led to the enslavement and extermination of greater than 400,000 indigenous Taino over a two-decade interval. Because the Spanish turned their consideration from gold to sugarcane, they imported African slaves to work on the New World’s primary sugarcane plantations. The town’s historical past is intertwined with greater than 28 African tribes delivered to the island over an interval of three centuries. But strolling across the Colonial Metropolis in the present day, it’s straightforward to assume that the Spanish have been the one protagonists in Santo Domingo’s wealthy heritage and previous.
That’s why yearly, Nuñez, with help from the College of Santo Domingo, and Afro-Dominican activist teams like Afros RD and Reconodi. Do, plans a Jornada de Visibilización del Cimarronaje, or a “Maroon Consciousness Tour” – a regional time period referring to escaped African slaves who established free communities in secluded areas all through the Caribbean. The 2-day occasion, held every October, attracts college students, metropolis residents, and ex-pats like me curious to study the town’s little-told African previous. The tour stops at historic places throughout Santo Domingo, revealing Africans’ contribution to the historical past of the Dominican Republic.
After leaving the hospital, Nuñez took our group 24km south-west of Santo Domingo to the small city of Nigua, as soon as the center of the Spanish-run sugarcane plantations and mills. It’s additionally the place, on 30 October 1796, 200 enslaved Africans led one of many island’s largest rebellions on the Ingenio Boca de Nigua mill.
“Boca De Nigua was essentially the most important expression of the African resistance to slavery within the Spanish a part of the island,” stated Dario Solano, an Afro-Dominican historical past knowledgeable and native of Nigua, who sits on the Unesco Slavery Route’s Dominican Republic Committee. “[It was] the primary insurrection that had a political dimension, to abolish slavery and make authorities representing the ethnic variety that existed on the island.”
A part of the strategic assault concerned seizing the property’s ammunitions and burning the sugarcane fields and the plantation proprietor’s home. Nuñez revealed that the rebellion’s leaders included Ana María, who was topped “queen of the freed slaves” throughout the insurrection.
Though Boca de Nigua is talked about in Unesco’s Locations of Reminiscence on the Slave Route within the Latin Caribbean undertaking, the positioning’s significance stays “comparatively unknown” on a nationwide degree line with Solano. There’s no interpretive center, no indicators right here – solely ruins. “It’s paradoxical, for a rustic just like the DR, the place tourism is key,” he stated. “There’s a muting; they wish to maintain silencing what unfolded right here.”
Yearly on 30 October, Solano hosts an official Pageant del Cimarronaje, or “Maroon Pageant” at this web site, to commemorate Boca de Nigua’s insurrection. Nigua is the one city within the Dominican Republic that honors slavery and enslaved Africans to the Dominican historical past. “This yr, we’re going to formally suggest to the nationwide fee for Unesco and to the Ministry of Tradition that Boca de Nigua be introduced as a candidate for World Heritage Web site standing,” Solano stated. Further, plans embody designating 30 October as “Día de la Africanidad” (African Heritage Day) in Nigua, which Solano is definite will change into a nationwide occasion sooner or later.
Whereas Boca de Nigua’s insurrection was impressed by Haiti’s revolution of 1791, the historical past reveals that black resistance within the Americas truly started right here within the Dominican Republic. The primary sugarcane plantation insurrection occurred in Nigua in 1522 in a mill owned by Christopher Columbus’ eldest son. “The boys who rebelled have been of the Wolof ethnic group, from the Senegambia [the former confederation in West Africa between Senegal and The Gambia],” Solano stated. “In two years, we are going to commemorate the 500th anniversary of that first black insurrection within the New World.”
One other important second within the Dominican Republic’s resistance motion got here courtesy of Juan Sebastian Lemba, a baby when he was forcibly delivered to Santo Domingo from present-day Congo within the early 16th Century. In 1532, Lemba escaped slavery and commenced a heroic 15-year journey throughout the Dominican Republic, raising a military of 200 to 400 Marooned Africans who joined him in liberating enslaved communities across the nation. Lemba’s statue – the one nationwide that honors an African – stands the doorway outdoors to the Museum of the Dominican Man, a 15-minute drive east of the Colonial Metropolis.
The final cease on our Maroon Consciousness Tour took us 20 minutes north of Santo Domingo to the city of Villa Mella, a space dwelling to centuries-old brotherhoods shaped by enslaved Africans beginning within the 16th Century. Their descendants have preserved their ancestors’ drumming traditions and syncretic religions. Amongst these teams is Los Morenos de Villa Mella.
A turquoise-colored picket home with zinc roofing serves because the church and headquarters of Los Morenos. Coming into the construction, I noticed a gaggle of three males on the altar, with tall, goat-skin coated drums tucked between their thighs and strapped to their decrease waists with a skinny rope string. They have been surrounded by different neighborhood members and welcomed us with a religious chant and drumming. The solar was setting, and a downpour was adopted. However, the drums, tambourines, and name and response overpowered the rain splattering overhead.
Our group took over the empty flooring going through Los Morenos – waists bent, hips shaking and arms transferring aspect to aspect. I requested Solano regarding the tall drums that I have not often heard within the metropolis center.