Curriculum Guide for Teaching Community College English
When Amabelle and Sebastian plan their escape, they are inadvertently separated. Then, Amabelle embarks on a journey to the border to find Sebastian, traveling through the mountains with a group of others who are fleeing the slaughter. When she arrives at the border city of Dajabon, she comes face to face with violent Dominican mobs who have been fooled into embracing the racist lies told by the Government. Amabelle is beaten and tortured when her pronunciation of a word, perejil (parsley), reveals that she is Haitian. This word was used as a shibboleth by the Dominican mobs.
She crosses the border into Haiti after her friend dies in her arms wading across the river that forms the border between the two countries. After she is nursed to health, Amabelle and her friend Yves, travel to Yves’ family’s home. Yves and Amabelle have an ambivalent relationship, complicated by Amabelle’s ongoing search for Sebastian. She continues to keep alive her hope of finding him even after she finds out about his untimely death in the massacre. The novel explores the destructive long-term consequences of the massacre by delving into the inner lives of Yves and Amabelle as they mature into middle age.
Twenty five years later, after Trujillo is killed, Amabelle travels back to Alegria, the little town in the Dominican Republic where she grew into adulthood. She is searching for some kind of closure as well as news of Sebastian. She reconnects with Senora Valencia, her childhood friend, only to discover that the friendship could never have survived the pressures of race and class division. The visit is a sad disappointment and she stops at the border to reflect on her life, experiencing an event that is open for the reader’s interpretation.
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Furthermore, the novel lends itself to an exploration of Haitian and Dominican history, the 1804 Haitian revolution, the US occupation of Haiti (1915 – 1934), and Dominican Republic (1916 – 1924), the deep-seated historical conflict between Haiti and DR. Minority students in the US, subliminally conscious of the one-sided and superficial history they have been taught, tend to take a sharp interest in Haiti’s history, in particular. They derive a sense of pride from the victorious Haitian revolution as a counterbalance to the American high schools’ emphasis on US slavery, which (because of the way it is taught) minority students often internalize as shameful and embarrassing.
As all good literature, The Farming of Bones evokes a powerful aesthetic response, which can excite students about reading. The novel delves into the universal personal themes of romantic love, the experience of being orphaned at a young age, and how racism and sexism can impact one’s life-long development. Its characters are deeply drawn through dialogue and description. Even though it ultimately tells a sad story, there are also uplifting characters who prevail against the odds.
Lastly, the novel’s beautiful use of language appeals to students’ interest in poetic language. This novel lends itself to a study of description and figurative devices that capture students’ imaginations and give them confidence in interpreting and appreciating the symbolic language of poetry.
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|1.||Ask students to do some informal internet research on the author, Edwidge Danticat, noting important facts about her life. Discuss this in class.|
|2.||Show a youtube video about the status of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Discuss the DR’s new law that renders tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants stateless and is causing so many to flee racism, police brutality, extortion, and threat of deportation.|
|3.||Watch one of the many youtube interviews of Edwidge Danticat and discuss observations and reactions.|
|4.||Use Google Earth to “go to” the border area between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Discuss how geography impacts history.|
|5.||Play youtube video of ordinary people in Haiti speaking Creole and ordinary people in DR speaking Spanish. Elicit student knowledge of the history of colonialism.|
|6.||Read and discuss a current article written by Danticat about repression against Haitians in the Dominican Republic.|
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Chapters 6 – 10
Chapters 11 – 15
Chapters 16 - 21
Chapters 22 - 25
Chapter 26 - 27
Chapters 28 – 30
Chapters 31 – 34
Chapter 35 - 39
Chapters 40 – 41
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|1 – 25||1 – 5|
|26 – 56||6 – 10|
|57 – 83||11 – 15|
|84 – 117||16 -21|
|118 – 139||22 – 25|
|140 – 178||26 – 27|
|179 – 217||28 – 30|
|218 – 250||31 – 34|
|251 – 280||35 – 39|
|281 – 310||40 - 41|
|1.||Describe Senora Valencia’s twins.|
|2.||What happened to Senora Valencia’s mother?|
|3.||What do you learn about Senor Pico, Senora Valencia’s husband?|
|4.||What proposal did Doctor Javier make to Amabelle?|
|5.||Where are Sebastian’s parents?|
|1.||There are two different fonts in the book. What does this represent?|
|2.||Keep a log of the different characters and their relationships, so you can keep straight in your mind who is who.|
|3.||What’s the setting—the place and time that the action occurs?|
|1.||Describe how Amabelle’s parents drowned and what happened to her right after they drowned.|
|2.||What do we know about Juana? Why is she sad?|
|3.||Describe the accident that killed Joel.|
|4.||How does Papi feel about the accident?|
|5.||What did Kongo do with Joel’s body?|
|6.||How does the accident show the inequalities in the Dominican Republic?|
|1.||What are your opinions of the accident?|
|2.||What does this passage tell you about Amabelle? P. 45 (top) “Nearly everything…..”|
|3.||Both Amabelle and Mimi work in the homes of wealthy Dominicans. P. 63 mid (“your people….) – p. 64 mid (“…dying from hunger.”) How do they each view the people they work for? Which view do you identify with? Why?|
|4.||This passage refers to the title of the novel. What meaning do you get from it? P. 55 (bottom) “I knew he considered…..”|
|1.||Describe (briefly) each character’s attitude to the accident when Joel was killed.
|2.||Whose attitude can you most relate to? Why? (You will have different answers here.)
|1.||Why did Kongo disapprove of Joel’s relationship with Felice?|
|2.||What kind of life did the cane cutters live? What details can you draw on from the novel?|
|3.||Why does Mimi want Sebastian and Amabelle to live together?|
|4.||What was Sebastian’s plan for his life?|
|5.||Besides cutting sugar cane, what kinds of work did Haitians have in the Dominican Republic?|
|6.||Describe Father Romain? What do you learn about the kind of man/priest he was?|
|1.||How did Amabelle come to be the housemaid for Papi and Senora Valencia?|
|2.||What character(s) seems to support Trujillo (the Generalissimo)? Who doesn’t seem to support him?|
|3.||What was Senora Valencia’s mother like?|
|4.||How and where did Kongo bury Joel?|
|5.||Why do you think Senor Pico smashes the tea set against the cement walls of the latrines? What does that tell you about him?|
|6.||What are the rumors the cane workers are hearing?|
|7.||Why do you think Senora Valencia invites Kongo and the other workers to come into the house for coffee?|
|1.||Why did Sebastian send Kongo to talk to Amabelle? What was the purpose?|
|2.||Why did Unel and the other Haitian stonemasons form the night watchman brigade?|
|3.||What is Senor Pico’s attitude toward Rosalinda? What is your interpretation of this?|
|4.||Why was Senor Pico making his wife practice shooting a gun?|
|1.||How did Amabelle react when Dr. Javier asked her to leave the DR with him?|
|2.||What is the significance of the wood that Sebastian took from Papi?|
|3.||Describe Pico’s attitude toward Unel and his brigade.|
|4.||What kind of tactics did the Haitian people use to defend themselves?|
|5.||What happened to Sebastian and Mimi?|
|6.||Why were the two priests arrested?|
|7.||What were the different attitudes among the Dominicans?|
|8.||Describe Yves’ and Amabelle’s journey to the border.|
|9.||Think of all the characters we have met in The Farming of Bones. To what degree are the Dominicans joining with the Generalissimo’s campaign of terror against Haitians.|
|1.||P. 154 – 155
How did you react to the confrontation between Pico and Unel’s brigade? Do you support Unel’ defiance?
“Don Ignacio….” – 145 What is bothering Yves about Kongo’s description of his visit with Papi? What is the significance of the wood? What could it be a symbol of?
What is Tibon’s point of view about the plight of the Haitians? What is the connection between racism and poverty?
|4.||What do you think is going to happen?
(If you’ve read ahead, please don’t spill the beans.)
|1.||What happened to the two sisters that Amabelle and Yves were traveling with?|
|2.||What did Amabelle, Yves, and the others experience in the deserted village?|
|3.||How did the crowds in Dajabon respond to Trujillo?|
|4.||What happened to Odette?|
|5.||What was the meaning of the word parsley or “perejil”? How was it being used?|
|6.||What happened to Amabelle and Yves after they crossed the river into Haiti?|
|7.||What did Amabelle learn from talking to other victims?|
|1.||p. 183 (last line) – middle of p. 184 What is Amabelle feeling or experiencing in this passage?|
|2.||Do you like Tibon? Why or why not?|
|3.||This chapter shows that ordinary Dominicans were won over to participate in the massacre of innocents. How do you explain this? Do you think something like this could happen here in the U.S.? What could ordinary people do to stop it from happening?|
|1.||Where did Yves and Amabelle go after they left the clinic on the Haitian/Dominican border, and what kind of reception did they get?|
|2.||Describe Yves and Amabelle’s relationship.|
|3.||How did Yves spend most of his time after they returned to Haiti?|
|4.||What did the government do for the victims of the massacre?|
|5.||How did the people respond when the soldiers announced there was no more money for the victims and their families?|
|6.||Why did Man Denise name her son Sebastian?|
|7.||Why did Amabelle tell Man Denise that she didn’t believe the story about Mimi’s and Sebastian’s death and why did Amabelle really believe it?|
|8.||When they finally started talking to each other, what did Yves reveal to Amabelle about Joel’s death?|
|1.||Where did Man Denise (Sebastian’s mother) go and why?|
|2.||What had happened to Father Romain and in what condition did Amabelle find him?|
|3.||What happened to the Generalissimo?|
|4.||How did the survivors of the massacre respond to the news of the Generalissimo’s death?|
|5.||What was Father Romain’s life like 24 years later?|
|6.||What was Yves life like 24 years later?|
|7.||What was Amabelle’s life like 24 years later?|
|8.||How did Yves father really die?|
|1.||How did Amabelle cross the border into the Dominican Republic?|
|2.||How had Alegria changed?|
|3.||How did Amabelle prove her identity to Senora Valencia?|
|4.||What did Amabelle learn about Senora Valencia and her family?|
|5.||Why did Amabelle come back to the Dominican Republic?|
|6.||How do you interpret the very end, when Amabelle went into the Massacre River?|
|1.||Choose one of the metaphors or similes in the first three short paragraphs on p. 281 and explain what it means.|
|2.||How had Amabelles’ relationship with Senora Valencia changed? How do you explain the change? P. 300|
|3.||What did Amabelle see in Sylvie’s eyes? P. 305 (bot) – 306|
|4.||Why does Danticat create the Professor character? What does he represent?|
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|A.||To write your summary, select the key points in the essay so your readers will understand what the essay is about as well as Danticat’s purpose for writing it. Don’t include any of your own comments or opinions. Focus entirely on what Danticat is saying. Start with an introductory sentence (two sentences is OK too) that includes the following information:
|B.||Your response will be your reaction, your opinion of the essay. Think back to how you felt when you read the essay for the first time. What were your thoughts and feelings? Think about where your mind took you. Rather than jump around giving different impressions, make one point and develop it. Your response should be at least one paragraph. Please type your summary and response according to the “College Format that I gave out in class.|
|•||First, define and explain the term Shibboleth. You may include a quotation from a dictionary but the explanation of this concept should be completely in your own words. Part of this should be an explanation of the origin of the word, Shibboleth. As part of your definition, please paraphrase the biblical passage that Danticat includes as the preface to The Farming of Bones.|
|•||Second, summarize chapter 29, the events in Dajabon. Include one direct quotation in your summary. Make sure you establish a smooth transition between this paragraph and the first one that explains Shibboleth.|
|•||Lastly, draw a conclusion about what you’ve written so far. Why does it matter? Why should we care? Develop your point of view fully.|
|•||Summarize and explain (in your own words) Samuel Martinez’s point about Haitian-Dominican relations. (1 paragraph)|
|•||What does The Farming of Bones reveal about Haitian-Dominican relations? Use at least three specific examples to support your point. (2 – 3 paragraphs)|
|•||Taking into account what you have learned from the article, the novel, and your own life experience, write your opinion about the conflict between Dominicans and Haitians and what can be done about it. (1 paragraph)|
|1.||Begin with a summary of the plot, including only the key events. Write it as though the audience were people who hadn’t read the book.|
|2.||In a second paragraph discuss the concept of Shibboleth and how it relates to novel (summarizing and quoting from The Farming of Bones). (The biblical quotation at the beginning of novel is one way that Edwidge Danticat focuses our attention on her purpose for writing it.)|
|3.||In a third and possibly fourth paragraph draw a conclusion about why you think Danticat wrote the book. What did she want her readers to walk away with? What did she want us to learn? To feel? To think about? Support your point by discussing your own experience reading the novel.|
|1.||Weave into your critical review some thoughts you have about either River Massacre or Theories of Racism. Make it clear how this article deepened your understanding of The Farming of Bones.|
|2.||Read two out of three of on-line interviews with Edwidge Danticat. Choose one or two quotes from the interviews to support your point about Danticat’s purpose.
|•||Describe a part of the film that you had a strong reaction to: the priest (his motivation and life work), the conditions of sugar cane cutters, the racist movement against Haitians, the strike and the workers’ movement, the Viccini family, the role of politicians, the role of the media.|
|•||Describe your reaction.|
|•||Explain why you reacted as you did. Your explanation should reveal what you believe in and what influenced (people and experiences) the formation of your beliefs.|
|1.||Imagine you are Father Romain writing a letter to Amabelle giving her advice at the point in her life when the book ends.|
|2.||In Amabelle’s voice, explain her inner experience when she disrobes and enters the Massacre River at the end of the novel.|
|3.||Write a letter to Edwidge Danticat explaining what you learned and experienced while reading her novel, The Farming of Bones.|
|4.||Write a letter to a friend or family member in which you convince them to read the novel, The Farming of Bones. Address the specific aspects of their lives/experiences that make you think they will be able to relate to the novel.|
|5.||Imagine you are Man Rapadou revealing to her son how his father died and what she wishes for Yves.|
|6.||Imagine you are Senora Valencia writing in her journal after Amabelle’s visit.|
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|•||You may not read your report, but you should have notes on notecards that you glance down at when you speak.|
|•||Work as a team by dividing down the information between you.|
|•||Write an °acrostic poem using his name|
|•||Write a poem or rap about Columbus or the holiday Columbus Day|
|•||Rewrite 1492 or Columbus Day Song|
|•||Create a °collage or drawing of: The °Legacy of Christopher Columbus, or Columbus Day|
|•||Design a Tattoo for Christopher Columbus, accompanied by a narrative that explains the choices you made. Also explain where you would place the tattoo on his body and why.|
|°||Legacy: something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation or time|
|°||Collage: a picture made by sticking cloth, pieces of paper, photographs, and other objects onto a surface|
|°||Acrostic poem: a number of lines of writing in which a combination of letters from each line spells a word or phrase.|
|My world starts with you,|
|On a hospital bed at night.|
|The doctor gives me to you.|
|Hands hold me tight.|
|Ever so close, you|
|Rock me through my fright.|
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“A Little While” (New Yorker Magazine 2/1/2010)
A personal narrative essay written by Danticat after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
“Haitian-Dominican Relations,” Samuel Martinez
A short essay that “suggests that Dominican politicians have used anti-Haitian feeling for political gain.”
Adaptation from “Not a Cockfight: Rethinking Haitian-Dominican Relations”, Latin American Perspective 30, No. 3 80 – 101
Reprinted in The Dominican Republic (Resource Book) Teaching for Change
“The River Massacre: The Real and Imagine Borders of Hispaniola”, Michelle Wucker
An historical essay that describes the causes and effects of the 1937 massacre in the DR.
http://www.windowsonhaiti.com/windowsonhaiti/wucker1.shtml (Shortened version in Handouts section)
Teaching About Haiti (Resource Book)
“Theories of Racism”
An analytical piece on the political economy of racism/a class analysis of racism
Excerpted from Fight Racism: A Fighter’s Manual (2008), a Progressive Labor Party pamphlet
“United Front in U.S. Labor Struggle: How the Exploitation of Illegal Immigrants and Lower Class People Affects All Workers”, Grover Furr, Posted 10/19/06
An essay that compares illegal immigrant status to the status of slaves and explains why this powerless status helps employers and hurts all workers.
“Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress” excerpted from A Peoples History of the United States, Howard Zinn (Shortened with questions embedded in Handouts section)
A chapter (shortened) that presents an anti-racist history of Columbus’ “discovery of the New World”.
|•||“In landmark case, 500 Haitian workers sue Dominican sugar mill” (2009) clavedigital.com|
|•||“Racist Imperialists Looted Haiti for 500 Years: Capitalism+Earthquake = Mass Murder” posted by Challenge Newspaper 1/22/10 plp.org|
|•||“A Global Trek to Poor Nations—from Poorer Ones” New York Times
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|1.||Think about the process of writing a summary (both a reading and writing skill!) What do you need to do as you read “A Global Trek….” for the second time to prepare for writing a summary? What is the thinking process involved? What strategies can you use?|
|2.||Read the article annotating, marking key points, making marginal notes that identify topic and paraphrase key points.|
|3.||Now write the main idea of the article in your own words.|
|4.||Craft your introductory sentence for the summary:|
|5.||Now, you’re ready to write the rest of the summary (10 – 15 sentences). Include key points and leave out the description, details and examples (which is most of the article).|
|1.||Where do you think this reading selection came from?|
|2.||Who do you think the Arawaks were?|
|3.||Who wrote this? What’s a log? Why might he have kept a log?|
|4.||What kind of people were the Arawaks?|
|5.||What kind of man was Christopher Columbus?|
|6.||What are the two societies being compared? How do they compare?|
|7.||Why were the King and Queen of Spain interested in funding Columbus’ exploration?|
|8.||Look on the map. Where did Christopher Columbus come from? Where did he meet the Arawaks? What does it mean “…sail west in order to get to the Far East.”|
|9.||Where does Columbus think he’ll find the gold?|
|10.||What are timbers? What is the Santa Maria? What happened to it?|
|11.||What are the Nina and Pinta?|
|12.||Why was he talking about religion?|
|13.||Why did Columbus report to the Court in Madrid? What country do you think Madrid is in?|
|14.||Why did he exaggerate? What were his promises?|
|15.||Why were the villages empty?|
|16.||Who killed the sailors?|
|17.||What is the interior?|
|18.||What is a dividend?|
|19.||What does it mean—“five hundred best specimens”?|
|20.||What is Columbus implying about the Indians?|
|21.||Who might have invested in Columbus’ expedition?|
|22.||Why would an Indian wear a copper token? Why would an Indian not wear a copper token?|
|23.||Why did the Arawaks lose the fight with the Spanish?|
|24.||Why might de Las Casas have changed his position about Spanish cruelty?|
|25.||How did the Spanish view the Indians?|
|26.||What was Las Casas point of view (how did he feel about the Indians)? What words tell you this?|
|27.||What do you think procreate means? (Use context and word analysis clues)|
|28.||Why is there no bloodshed in the history books?|
Top of pageⅢ. Answer Sheet: “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress” from The Peoples History of the
Top of pageⅣ. GLOSSARY—THE RIVER MASSACRE
Shallow—little water (opposite of deep)
Distorted—misrepresented , not truly or completely representing the facts
Propaganda—ideas deliberately spread to convince people of something
Mania—hysteria, excessive excitement
|4.||Juncture—a point of time that is critical because of circumstances
Relative—comparing to other times
Resonated—understood, received a sympathetic response
Obsessions—domination of one’s thoughts or feelings on one thing
Status—the position of an individual in relation to others
|8.||Exploited—took advantage of|
|9.||Protégé—someone who follows in someone’s footsteps
Crystallization—to give a definite form or expression to
Depredations—preying on someone, total attack including robbery
Exile—forced to leave one’s country
Triumphantly—victoriously, having won
Socialization—ways to control people
Criollo—mixed Europeans and Africans
Chafing—irritated or annoyed
Re-annexed—took back over
|11.||Nebulous—not well defined
|12.||Taint—spoil, stain, pollute|
|13.||Diaspora—when a group immigrates out of their country to other countries
Articulates—expresses with clarity
Top of pageⅤ. Read the opinion piece: “United Front in U.S. Labor Struggle”
|1.||In what way can illegal immigration be compared to slavery?|
|2.||Why is this comparison important?|
|3.||Who benefits from laws that make some immigrants “illegal”? How?|
|4.||Who is hurt by these laws? How?|
|5.||A sentence is repeated in this opinion piece: cheap labor anywhere is a threat to labor everywhere. In your own words explain what it means.|
|6.||What does the writer see as the solution to the problem?|
|1.||In what way can illegal immigration be compared to slavery? They have no legal rights, like slaves had no legal rights, and therefore they can be exploited to the max.|
|2.||Why is this comparison important? It is important to see that we are all workers with different amounts of rights. They are only slaves and “illegal aliens” because of laws that are passed to create a division among us.|
|3.||Who benefits from laws that make some immigrants “illegal”? How? The employers and politicians—They get cheap labor. They get a labor force too afraid to fight back. They get a divided labor force. They can blame undocumented immigrants for everything.|
|4.||Who is hurt by these laws? How? All workers because their wages are all lowered and they are too divided to fight back.|
|5.||A sentence is repeated in this opinion piece: cheap labor anywhere is a threat to labor everywhere. In your own words explain what it means. When the bosses can get some workers to work for less, it pulls down the wages of all workers and divides them so they can’t fight back.|
|6.||What does the writer see as the solution to the problem? We have to do away with the category of “illegal” workers.
Top of pageⅦ. Shibboleth(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
|•||During the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers used knowledge of baseball to determine if others were fellow Americans or if they were German infiltrators in American uniform.|
|•||The Dutch famously used the name of the port town Scheveningen as a shibboleth to tell Germans from the Dutch (the Dutch pronounce the S separately from the ch).|
|•||Prior to the Guldensporenslag, the Flemish slaughtered every Frenchman they could find in the city of Bruges. They are said to have identified Frenchmen based on their inability to pronounce the phrase "Schild ende Vriend" ("Shield and Friend"), or possibly "'s Gilden vriend" ("Friend of the Guilds").|
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When the British began to develop profitable plantations in their American colonies they faced a serious shortage of workers. They also faced the problem of labor discipline because it was easy for workers to leave the plantations or escape to the Indians.
The British tried several ways of dealing with the labor shortage. The main one, at first, was indentured servitude . Under this system, unemployed people from England were convinced to come to America or were kidnapped. They were forced to work without wages to pay off their passage to America from England, usually for seven years. People were packed like sardines into the holds of ships for two to three months. Sometimes, fewer than half of them survived the trip. When people died, they were tossed overboard. Once they arrived in America, they were auctioned off to buyers. Husbands, wives and children were separated. These were white, English people: racism had nothing to do with it. It was just plain capitalist greed.
Indentured servants were brutally exploited. The plantation owners and the colonial government violently disciplined these workers. Runaways were punished by hanging, burning, being staked in the sun or shot. It was also legal to increase their seven-year contract as punishment for various misdeeds. At this stage, most indentured servants did not even live until the end of their seven year contract.
The shipmasters and merchants who brought white laborers to the colonies also went to Africa to get laborers. Slavery of the early, pre-capitalist type existed in west Africa at that time. When different groups went to war, people who were captured became slaves -- not for life, and not without rights, but still slaves. British and other European merchants offered money to purchase captured slaves, and they found the African slave owning rulers willing to sell. "Africans joined whites as indentured servants and went through the same hell..."
For several decades, the Africans brought to North America joined whites as indentured servants. They went through the same hell, from the boat passage to the auction block to the beatings and harsh conditions. In the colonies, they worked and lived alongside the whites. There was no barrier between white and black servants: their common enemy created an intense solidarity, which overcame the superficial differences in language and cultural habits. They lived, worked, and married together. They often ran away together, and on several occasions they rebelled together.
In the 1660s all this began to change -- drastically. England cut back on white emigration. The industrial revolution was beginning so more workers were needed in the factories at home. British capitalists also gave massive support to the African slave trade. They had made a decision to base the American economic system on human slavery, and the supply of labor from Africa was cheap and plentiful.
"British capitalists made a conscious decision to base the American economic system on human slavery." The slave trade was immensely profitable. The profits from buying and selling African workers, combined with the rape of gold and silver from South and Central America, provided the capital to drive the engine of the industrial revolution. Europe became the top dog in the world based on the enslavement of American Indians and Africans.
At this time, the colonial ruling class (plantation owning families like the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Mathers and Byrds: the "fathers of our country") began to legalize slavery. At first, some plantation owners began to hold certain Africans for life, rather than for seven years. Then lifetime servitude for black servants became law. In 1662 came the "principal of heredity," which declared that, legally, if the mother was a black slave, the child would also be a slave from birth. But in a society which until then had paid almost no attention to skin color, a number of questions had to be answered: what was a black person? What was a white person? What was a child whose parents were different colors? At this stage, the concept of race needed to be made up. To do this, more laws were passed. The Virginia legislature, in 1672, defined a black person: anyone with one black grandparent. (Hitler used a parallel law to define a "Jew".) This was very significant: if it was necessary to pass a law to define a "race," it is obvious that at that time, people did not think of each other as belonging to separate "races."
These laws represent the beginning of the idea of racism. The idea was that whites were superior to blacks. This idea was very profitable, so it didn't bother the capitalist rulers of the colonies that it was a blatant lie. They used the idea to justify all past, present and future exploitation and abuse of black people, Indians, and later, other "people of color." The final step in this process was that black people lost all their rights and became the property of the slave owners. Every aspect of the trade and of slavery became even more brutal. Millions of black people were murdered by capitalism in this process.
But the colonial rulers still faced a big problem: both whites and blacks resisted the new system. Although most historians today say that racism came about because Europeans were "naturally" prejudiced against Africans because of their skin color, the truth is that skin color was an excuse for racism, not the cause of it. "The truth is that skin color was an excuse for racism, not the cause of it."
Blacks and whites did not view each other as different races. They had to be trained to. This training was ruthless and carefully planned, and continues to this day! The legislatures, the churches, the courts and the press were all used in the campaign. The purpose was to separate whites and blacks in order to control both. This made slavery possible. It also made it possible for the ruling class to make huge profits off the backs of poor white workers and farmers who were divided from their black brothers and sisters, and confused by racism about the cause of their poverty.
Laws were passed to punish whites who had black friends, or who ran away with black people, and vice versa. Laws were passed against interracial dating and marriage -- which people ignored for more than a century. Black and white people were punished by torture, maiming and death for breaking these laws. Opponents of the system were branded, castrated, starved to death, roasted to death over fires. White and black rebels were beheaded, and their heads put on poles along the roads as warnings. Despite all this, rebellion and unity continued. Whites in general still had not learned to be racist. They openly disobeyed the laws.
The ruling class began to offer rewards to each group to betray the other: Indians were offered bounties for betraying black runaways, blacks were given minor rewards for helping to fight Indians, whites were used against both. The bosses eventually "persuaded" many white workers to identify with their masters instead of their black brothers and sisters. As racism came to be more accepted, conditions for whites got even worse. The plantations system grew, forcing them off any land they might farm, and out of any jobs they might get.
The truth, hidden by the bosses, is that racist ideas and practices were forced on the working class by one hundred years of violence, laws and propaganda. White workers as well as black slaves became victims of it. The capitalists who devised racism clearly knew what they were doing.
"Racist ideas were forced on the working class by one hundred years of violence and propaganda." The capitalists made racism an essential part of their system, but they never succeeded in squashing the opposition to it. Because racism (then and now) is against the direct interests of the working class, many workers, both slave and "free," continued to unite in rebellions against slavery. Although they were defeated by the overwhelmingly superior force of the government, there were hundreds of slave revolts in the United States, a great many of which involved white workers and farmers. The event which touched off the Civil War was the Harper's Ferry raid. This carefully planned raid was intended to be the beginning of an army of escaped slaves and a guerrilla war in the south. It was an integrated raid, and one of the main organizers was John Brown, who was white.
If you watch how young children act, you will realize that we learned our ideas about race and nationality -- we weren't born with them. Two and three year old children usually do not think skin color is very significant. If they are in an integrated day care situation, they are as likely to say, "hey look at that purple kid," identifying another child by the color of a shirt rather than by skin color. It's not that the children don't see each other's skin color, it's just that it means no more than the color of their eyes, or the color of their clothes. As they grow older, they soon learn how significant skin color is in capitalist society.
As much as the capitalists want to force us to believe in race, however, there is no such thing as a race of humans. All humans are part of the same species. There are variations in the physical appearance of humans, but they are insignificant. There is no medical test that will show what so-called "race" a person belongs to. The physical differences between humans are much smaller than you would find in many other species. Think of all the distinct breeds of dogs, horses or cows, for instance.
Many people think that the differences in appearance between people is inherited -- that it's "in the genes." This is a very small part of the story. After all, somewhere between 95% and 98% of human genetic makeup is the same as chimpanzees'. If only 3% to 5% of our genes account for the huge differences between us and chimps, imagine what a tiny amount goes into the small variations in human appearance.
In fact, genes cannot code for race. Many genes code for most human physical characteristics, not just one. There is no such thing as a "black" gene or a "white" gene. All human genes exist in all populations of humans, from all parts of the world. Some appear more frequently in one area than another. There is actually more genetic variation within any given population than there is between groups of so called "races".
The average human being is brown. A smaller number of people are black or white. This is similar to other traits: for example, height. Most people fall in a middle range of height, with a smaller number very tall or very short. There are a few physical traits controlled by only one gene. They are, for example, the ability to curl your tongue, or whether your ear lobes are attached. Those traits don't correspond to the capitalists' needs to divide people into races, however. So nobody even notices them.
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1. Where do you think this
reading selection came
2. Who do you think the Arawaks
3. Who wrote this? What's a log?
Why might he have kept a log?
4. What kind of people were the
5. What kind of man was
6. What are the two societies
being compared? How do
7. Why were the King and Queen
of Spain interested in funding
8. Look on the map. Where
did Christopher Columbus
come from? Where did he
meet the Arawaks? What
does it mean "...sail
west in order to
get to the Far East."
9. Where does Columbus
think he'll find the gold?
10. What are timbers? What
is the Santa Maria?
What happened to it?
11. What are the Nina and Pinta?
12. Why was he talking about
13. Why did Columbus report
to the Court in Madrid?
What country do you
think Madrid is in?
14. Why did he exaggerate?
What were his promises?
other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.
So, approaching land, they were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.
This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of visible gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.
On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.
Columbus's report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction:
Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful ... the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals....
The Indians, Columbus reported, "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage "as much gold as they need ... and as many slaves as they ask." He was full of religious talk: "Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities."
Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread
15. Why were the
16. Who killed the
17. What is the interior?
18. What is a dividend?
19. What does it mean -
five hundred best specimens?
20. What is Columbus
implying about the
21. Who might have
invested in Columbus'
22. Why would an Indian
wear a copper
23. Why would an Indian
not wear a copper
of the Europeans' intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.
Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.
Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.
When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.
24. Why might de Las Casas
have changed his position
about Spanish cruelty?
25. How did the Spanish
view the Indians?
26. What was Las Casas point
of view (how did he feel
about the Indians)? What
words tell you this?
of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.
The chief source-and, on many matters the only source-of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. Las Casas transcribed Columbus's journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies.
Las Casas tells how the Spaniards "grew more conceited every day" and after a while refused to walk any distance. They "rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry" or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. "In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings."
Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades." Las Casas tells how "two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys."
The Indians' attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports, "they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help." He describes their work in the mines:
... mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside....
After each six or eight months' work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.
While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging
23. Why is there no
bloodshed in the history
and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.... in this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . .. and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile ... was depopulated. ... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write. ...
When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it...."
Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas-even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)-is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure-there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration.
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