All I want to do
is find a place to lay it down now and again, a safe nest where it will neither
be scattered by the winds, nor remain forever buried beneath the sod (Danticat
266)

“The Farming of
Bones” is Edwidge Danticat’s novel about Amabelle Desir, a Haitian migrant in
the Dominican Republic during the 1937 Haitian massacre. It is extremely
heartbreaking and beautiful. More than anything, it’s an exploration of grief,
of how loss can define the concept of people’s lives. It is also an
investigation of the idea of borders, of how a particular river can divide one country from another, and the
living from the dead. Amabelle is familiar to that border, the dividing river.
She exists as the river does, in a half-life between Haiti and the
Dominican Republic, between life and death. And the author tells us something
history should have already taught us: at borders, there are only stories of
loss.

Since the
beginning of her career, Edwidge Danticat’s works have demonstrated and exposed
the multiple facets of the lives of Haitian people to her readers. Her fiction
and non-fiction print work, documentaries via collaborations with other
activists, and her own political activism also work to reveal the general lack
of awareness about the complex histories, culture, socioeconomic and political
experiences of this group of people who inhabited an island less than 700 miles
from the American east coast. As a result, over the last two decades, Danticat
has proved to be an important and powerful voice within and for the Haitian
community. Her works have received multiple accolades not only from the Haitian
community but from the national and global community, including the National
Book Award and the MacArthur Fellows Genius Grant. Danticat focuses on the
treatment of Haitians abroad and in Haiti itself, where political and economic
growth and development improves at a glacial pace. Haiti’s rich history stands
in stark juxtaposition to contemporary economic and political realities.
Danticat’s ability to capture this paradox gives a timeless quality to her
works. Danticat’s body of work, in its ability to depict the beauty and
ugliness of Haitian culture, consistently challenges readers to enter a role of
responsibility and raises the question: 2 should readers get involved? Should
they do something to address the injustices brought about by history, memory,
color, race, and class issues plaguing Haitians?

Moving to the
United States at the age of 12 from her native Haiti, undoubtedly had an effect
on Danticat’s writing and how she views the world and the treatment of
Haitians. In a 2004 interview, when asked about the lack of news exposure about
Haiti and the tendency to reduce such complexities to sound bites, Danticat
stated, “People think that there is a country where…these people are only
around when they are on CNN…at moments when there’s not a coup, when there are
not people in the streets, … the country disappears from people’s
consciousness” (The Morning News). Haiti is usually only presented to the
global audience to show the effects that disasters have had on the country,
whether they are natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or political turmoil.
Danticat’s works can be seen as a vehicle the author uses to get readers and
listeners to “see” Haitian people beyond these moments.

Danticat’s
exposure shows both the beauty and the ugliness of Haitian experiences, a
balancing approach not regularly covered by Haiti’s often one-sided portrayal
in the media through its disasters. In her book Create Dangerously, Danticat
questions what it means to be an immigrant writer and what it means to “create
dangerously” in this journey of revealing and uncovering hidden realities. She
concurs with the French philosopher, Albert Camus, and poet Osip Mandelstam,
that creating dangerously “is creating as a revolt against silence, creating
when both the creation and the reception, the writing and the reading, are
dangerous undertakings, disobedience to a directive” (11). Danticat essentially
creates dangerously with the subject matter of her novels, the articles
written, the interviews given, and the documentaries she has chosen to narrate,
all of which work against the grain and challenge readers to re-see Haiti, not
as a site of normalized disaster, but to engage the country in all of its
complexities as a place which necessitates global social justice. Danticat has
spoken publicly about a number of Haitian related concerns, including the role of
women in Haitian society, Haiti’s involvement in the global economy and
political struggles before and after the disastrous earthquake in 2010, and,
the racist and unequal immigration policies adopted against Haitians throughout
the Haitian diaspora. In the 2009 documentary Poto Mitan, for example, as the
writer and narrator, she braids a story about the connection between a
grandmother, a daughter and a grandchild against the documentary’s depictions
of the struggle for Haitian women to become educated and self-sufficient in a
global economy that exploits Haitian labor for profits. The central narrative
depicts Haitian women and their treatment by fellow Haitians and foreign
factory owners. The film urges its viewers to consider the cost of the goods
they consume which are produced in countries like Haiti against the wages,
sacrifices, and exploitative conditions of the very people who produce them. In
addition, Danticat has also written articles to express concerns about what can
be done for Haitians in the years following the 2010 earthquake. She has
written a fictional children’s book and has given multiple interviews about the
earthquake all to remind readers that the people affected by the earthquake and
their issues are still salient and relevant. Their stories and their struggles
have not come to an end, as the earthquake has had residual, long-lasting
effects on their lives. These conditions and experiences contribute to the
continued influx of Haitians immigrating to other places, such as the United
States, where Haitian people are often met with further injustices.

In this
award-winning novel Danticat constructs women’s social and national identity by
valuing the memory of their experience and by giving them voice. The narrative
of the novel presents an analytical reflection of Amabelle who experiences the
attacks and devastating effects of massacre longing for her self and identity.
At the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Danticat invites her
readers to explore the intersections of Ambelle’s trauma, who undergoes a lot
of toils and turmoil to construct her identity. Danticat states: “I tried to
reduce the massacre to one person, through whose eyes we can experience it”
(78). The post-colonial condition is depicted in this novel by the means of the
examination of issues raised by the characters’ crossing and re-crossing of
national, geographical and linguistic borders and the forces that mould their
personal, social and national identities.

Though it was
published nearly 20 years ago, Edwidge Danticat’s 1998 novel, The Farming of
Bones, still speaks to the racial tensions that exist between Haiti and its
neighbor, the Dominican Republic. The Farming of Bones is a historical fiction
that explores the 1937 massacre ordered by Dominican Republic’s dictator at the
time, Rafael Trujillo. In this novel, as in her other works, Danticat
challenges readers to empathize with the characters in the novel through her
mixture of history and fiction. The Farming of Bones, a historical novel which
operates as a testimonial, to bring the complicated concerns surrounding
Haitian culture and ethnicity, identity, and social factors out of the
darkness.

The Farming of
Bones is based on the events surrounding the brutal slaughtering and massacre
of Haitians in the Dominican Republic during the rule of Rafael Trujillo in
1937. Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island – Hispaniola.
The novel tells the story of how Haitians migrate to the Dominican Republic to
escape poverty and to work as laborer in the sugarcane fields, an experience
which constructs their social identity. They are alienated and devalued in
their native society because of their poor economic condition. They do not have
enough opportunity in Haiti to avail even the common means of life. That is why
they migrate to the Dominican Republic crossing the boundary that symbolically
makes them nothing but ‘other’ and ‘inferior’.

The narrative of
the novel presents an analytical reflection of Amabelle who experiences the
attacks and devastating effects of massacre longing for her self and identity.

The political
tensions of this period had their roots in centuries of conflicts between the
two nations. They are confounded by the dissimilarity of the two cultures
residing in close proximity to one another: the Dominicans a predominantly
Spanish speaking, Catholic population, and the Haitians largely black and
Creole speaking. Being poverty stricken they cross the border. It is also known
by history that, in the nineteenth century, Haiti invaded the Spanish side of
the Alegria Island twice, and the unpleasant experience of Haitian occupation
has become fixed in the Dominican national memory. So when Haitian workers
start migrating to the Dominican Republic, Trujillo takes it as an opportunity
to take revenge. The Dominican ruler imagines Haitians as a threat to his
economy and national sovereignty. He attacks the Haitians as if the people of
the Dominican Republic have been threatened by Haitians. The Generalissimo
treats them as: “the enemy of work and prosperity” (Danticat), which is based
on nothing but mere prejudice. Dominicans think that their national identity
and individuality are being hampered by Haitian immigrants and Haitians feel
like: “They say some people don’t belong anywhere and that’s us” (Danticat 56).
So Trujillo declares to terminate all Haitians on his land. Indeed, he
constructs a Dominican national identity and individuality by applying the
policy of exclusion. Richard F Patterson states, “Like Hitler, he thought he
could purify his race” (225). It is known from history that Trujillo’s mother
was Haitian. Therefore, his idea of purification makes little sense in light of
the mixed racial composition of the Dominicans themselves. Yet he wanted to
form a totalitarian state. To him, the fantasy of elimination is an important
base in the establishment of his absolute control of the country. This idea of
exclusion is a normal picture of every colonial society.

Language becomes
an issue of life and death for Haitians. Martin Munro states, “It was in
language that slave was perhaps most successfully imprisoned by his master”
(210). We can see the reflection of this idea when Haitians are being killed in
the night “because they could not manage to trill their ‘r’ and utter a throaty
‘j’ to ask for parsley, to say perejill” (Danticat 114). The utterance of
pewejil rather than perejil would reveal a kreyol accent and thus proves that
individual as a Haitian national. Amabelle refuses to pronounce the word, as
parsley is forced into her mouth, literally taking away her ability to speak.
And yet she says she could have said the word “properly, calmly and slowly”
(Danticat 193) as she had learnt it from Alegria. But, she does not bother
about it. She realizes the absurdity of how mere pronunciation can divide an
island into two opposing sides. In other words, she could have saved herself
from violence, but instead she remains silent. So a state of voicelessness that
the entire narration seeks to negotiate is that Haitians’ inability to utter
the word is a sign of exclusion and an excuse for violence. When Amabelle’s
companion Odette is subjected to the test, she shows pride in her national
identity and challenges Trujillo’s linguistic cleansing:

With her parting
breath, she mouthed in Kreyol “pesi”, not calmly and slowly……..not questioning
as if demanding of the face of Heaven the greater meaning of senseless acts, no
effort to say “perejill” as if pleading for her life………The Generalissimo’s mind
was surely as dark as death, but if he had heard Odette’s “pesi” it might have
startled him, not the tears and supplications he would have expected, no shriek
from unbound fear, but a provocation, a challenge, a dare. (Danticat 203)

Whatever
Trujillo has done and no matter for what purpose, in Danticat’s narrative his
identity is to be taken as a dictator and a psychopath who has turned his
country into a wasteland of the spirit. His inability to control his bladder
serves to reinforce the notion of a pervasive corruption that has emerged from
the country itself. He has degraded the image of his land to the world and has achieved
nothing but a bad impression worldwide. He was killed, but Danticat knows that
to kill him is not enough; he has to be brought back to life, so that he can be
unmasked and rewritten. Thus he is disempowered through the strength of her
art.