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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Male Heroism, Demonic Pigs, and Memories of Violence in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands

  • Author(s): Derby, Lauren (Robin)
  • et al.

This essay seeks to interpret a particular version of stories about a highly feared phenomena called bacá—imaginary hybrid beasts that steal farm animals, harvests, and cash through shape-shifting. Bacases are a particular subset of shapeshifter lore in the Dominican campo. These stories can be read as a form of historical evidence, even if as a genre they are not oral tradition as such, since their historicity resides in their poetics—the historical meanings that have accrued to formulaic elements or key symbols, rather than their narrative. I would like to consider bacá talk as a genre of embodied historical memory of the past, one that is conveyed by the history and poetics of the particular forms these spirits inhabit, from dogs, pigs, cattle and extinct species of wood. There is a strong gendered dimension to these stories. I have not yet met a woman who would confess publicly to believing in bacás. While loath to head on confrontations with the demonic, they will admit to being indirectly affected by them. This was apparent in stories I heard just after the Haitian earthquake (which some said had been caused by a bacá) that the presence of evil—in addition to the restless spirits of the unburied dead—were causing nightmares and keeping people awake at night.

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