Sugar Mills

Sugar Mills

The First Sugar Mills: Vestiges of the Past Key to Understanding the Present

In 2006, I immersed myself in a project focused on elaborating positioning strategies of the Dominican Republic within the international framework of cultural tourism, through the Project of the Slave Routes and Marronage, directed by Dr. Jordi Treserras of the University of Barcelona, financed by the AECI and linked to policies of recovery of the historical memory of the African diaspora by the UNESCO.

The Dominican Republic fell behind in regard to the dynamics and offers which were being set in place in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Central America. The tourism on the island had been reduced to an offer of Resorts, centered on a tourism known as “sun, sand, sea and sex”or the “4 S”. Tourism which started to glimmer with few resources.

At the beginning of the tourism industry, the dynamics were centered on the greatest profitability by territory during the summer season. The impacts would be gathered under the form of economic benefits and income. Critiques of the social costs and of the aggressive impact on the touristic territories soon started gaining in importance. Following the mercantile logic of the moment, since the end of the 20thcentury and during the 21stcentury, the market strategies began to change. In this manner, tangible products were no longer being sold, but instead were replaced by “intangible experiences”. This is how new tourist brands focused on exclusive groups of potential tourists began to form: phrasing was modified, and they started talking about ‘responsible tourism’, ‘sustainable tourism’ and ‘alternative tourism’. New images were built for new necessities related to experiences of ‘authenticity’.

Tourism and the gaze of the tourist become enhancers of heritage conservation and local development. It is the tourist’s gaze that constructs the new discourses, transforming their spaces and experiences through their expectations. Well-managed tourism can be a catalyst for local conflicts and harmed identities. It is important, for this reason, to work on good planning of the territorial dynamization through tourism, since tourism can be a double-edged sword which, when poorly managed, can cause the deterioration of tangible and intangible heritage and the erosion of the communities, but well managed contributes to the improvement of the quality of life of local communities through the conservation, valorization and sustainable use of the cultural diversity and its manifestations.

The Dominican Republic has a great offer from a historical perspective, since its historical processes have been very linked to colonization history, linking to discourses of heritage interpretation which transport us back to their origins and enriching their image beyond its natural offer. The vestiges of the island narrate thefirst experiences provoked by the contact between settlers and the natives, as well as the beginnings of the African diaspora through the sale of transatlantic slaves and the beginning of the symbiosis which gives birth to the Dominican culture. The Dominican Republic was a laboratory space where the practices that would be carried out in the colonization of the continent were incubated, through a series of test-trials.

The Dominican Republic has a great offer from a historical perspective, since its historical processes have been very linked to colonization history, linking to discourses of heritage interpretation which transport us back to their origins and enriching their image beyond its natural offer. The vestiges of the island narrate thefirst experiences provoked by the contact between settlers and the natives, as well as the beginnings of the African diaspora through the sale of transatlantic slaves and the beginning of the symbiosis which gives birth to the Dominican culture. The Dominican Republic was a laboratory space where the practices that would be carried out in the colonization of the continent were incubated, through a series of test-trials.

Christopher Columbus introduced to the island the cultivation of Sugar Cane brought from the Canaries. Due to the environmental conditions of the New World, its size and quality doubled in Hispaniola. At the time, the control of the sugar production and trade was an economic deposit which corresponded to one of the most prestigious conservatives in Europe. The sugar cane cultivation brought along the first boats with slaves bought in African European ports. Thus started the transatlantic trade and the routes of slavery. Up until then, slaves had been domestic. Black labour for the sugar industry started in the Canary Islands at the end of the 20thcentury. The Spanish Crown began offering seats to those traffickers who could guarantee a constant supply of slaves. In 1540, there were already approximately 30 000 African slaves in Hispaniola. At the same time, the first slave revolt was confirmed in 1522, at the Sugar Mill belonging to Diego Columbus.

 Report “La ruta del esclavo y el cimarronaje en la República Dominicana: inventario y diagnóstico. Un primer paso para una futura puesta en valor, capacitación de recursos humanos y apoyo al desarrollo de iniciativas de gestión turística del patrimonio” (Fundación Bosch-Gimpera-AECID 2006)

The sugar mills of Santo Domingo, San Cristobál and of Azua, such as Sanaté, Engombe, Palavé, Boca de Nigua, Diego Caballero and Zipi-Zipi, have converted into key pieces in the discursive strategies of cultural tourism and in Dominican history. It was within their walls that the food that has given rise to Dominican gastronomy was cooked, where the religious practices which engendered Dominican voodoo syncretized, where artistic manifestations which are reproduced in expressions such as Dominican music and painting developed, and most importantly, where the history of the island and the identity of its inhabitants was cemented. Thus, it seems to us that its management can reconcile the Dominican with his African past, with such pride as with other pasts, since the Dominican is a symbiosis of both pasts encountered in these spaces, fruit of a rich cultural diversity.

In 2003, work was made on the enhancement of the mills, with the goal of presenting them to UNESCO as a proposal to declare them World Heritage, under the name of “The Route of the First Sugar Mills”. Most of them were intervened upon and restored. Only the mill of Diego Caballero was studied from an archaeological point of view for that project.

In 2006, we returned to act on behalf of the University of Barcelona, with the purpose of inventorying the mills within the framework of The Slave Route and Marronage in the Dominican Republic and to enhance their value within the Afro-Dominican legacy associated with the Memory Spaces program and the Slave Route promoted by UNESCO. For this, we received the support of the UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.

UNESCO has been working for 20 years to break the silence with respect to the slave trade, highlighting the consequences of slavery in contemporary societies and ensuring a better understanding of the cultural interactions that generated the  agreement between the peoples and a culture of peace. The general project of “The Slave Route” was approved by the UNESCO General Conference at its 27thmeeting, held in 1993 (Resolution 27 C/3.13), and already has an extended history.As a celebration of its tenth anniversary, the UNESCO declared 2004 the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. The international day to commemorate the event annually is August 23rd. The chosen date refers back to the events of the night of August 22 to 23, 1791, when the spark of an insurrection was lit up on the island of Hispaniola, insurrection which would turn out to be decisive for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and the emancipation of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Today, ten years later, the proposed project has still not seen the light of day and the Mills have yet to be valued or presented to become a World Heritage Site, but we are considering 2014 as a key date for this adventure.

 

The Sugar Mills can be understood as elements which are fundamental to the creation of tourist-cultural circuits that link to the colonial city of Santo Domingo and the spaces associated with the arrival of slaves and trafficking, like the Barrio de Santa Bárbara and the surroundings of the La Negreta street.

Moreover, they do not only connect with the capital but extend to the outskirts and connect with neighbouring provinces, as well as with the mountainous areas and caves where the marooned slaves, after escaping the “bateyes”(i.e. settlements based around sugar mills),took refuge and established their “havens” along with the Taino-Caribbean indigenous populations resisting the Spanish conquest. On the other hand, as we have already presented, the interpretation of its heritage connects to living heritage expressions, such as music, dance, popular religiosity or gastronomy, elements which play an essential role in Dominican culture.

Beyond its historical and heritage wealth, the Sugar Mills can transform into cultural spaces for the Dominicans, where a great range of activities could be set into place. We propose, in this way, to create spaces which could serve as a motor for current events, as well as festivals where different musical expressions and other artistic branches may regroup, all of them with African roots, such as the  Cimarrón festival, the Yamasá festival or the Polofestival.

Olga Díez Ascaso

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