Analogy of the History of Merengue and the Island of Hispaniola

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Two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, inhabit the island of Hispaniola in the the Caribbean. Haiti occupies the western half, and the Dominican Republic occupies the larger and eastern portion of the island. Haiti’s population consists of ninety percent blacks of West African descent, and the rest of the population consists primarily of mulattos. The majority of the Dominican Republic’s population is of mixed African and European descent. Even though their populations look much different, due to their close proximities, these two neighbors have a shared history. Since Christopher Columbus’ discovery of Hispaniola in 1492, these two countries have had a similar course of development. Many Haitians today live in the Dominican Republic. Another shared characteristic between these two countries is that they both enjoy the merengue music. Merengue is a popular genre in Latin music that is specific to the Dominican Republic. It is enjoyed throughout Latin America and the United States, especially in urban areas. It shares influences from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. However, whether or not the Dominicans recognize the Haitian influence in merengue is another story. Dominicans refuse to recognize both the African roots of merengue and their historical African roots. This refusal is apparent in the history of merengue and the history of Hispaniola. Parallels between these two histories can be drawn to reflect the modern relations between these two neighboring countries.

It is important to highlight the past history and relationship with the Dominican Republic ( Santo Domingo) and Haiti (Saint Domingue) to help understand their modern relations with each other. Christopher Columbus and his brother Bartholomew stumbled upon Santo Domingo after finding gold on the southwest coast. The island was inhabited by the Taino indigenous Indians. Soon after, Columbus and the Spanish brought African slaves to work on plantations. The French and British were more interested in the western part of the island while the Spaniards were focused on establishing themselves in Santo Domingo. It is evident that the French colony of Saint Domingue was richer in resources from sugar to coffee. With that France took over the entire island of Hispaniola in 1795. In 1801, Toussaint L’Ouverture claimed and helped form the free black republic of Haiti and establish better relations with France to help aide in the Haitian Revolution( Dubois 65). France’s colony of Saint Domingue soon became the wealthiest french colony, threatening Napoleon Bonaparte, military leader of France. During Napoleon’s reign in France, Napoleon sought to control the entire island of Hispaniola through control of Spain and the reacquisition of Haiti. Harsh rule by the governors-general induced loyalists to form the movement La Reconquista to rise up in order to restore Spanish sovereignty. (Metibag 91)

Bonaparte was threatened because he wanted all of Hispaniola, specifically Saint Domingue to return to slavery plantations instead subsistence farming because it gave them the most efficient way to make money for low cost of living and maintenance of workers, but with enough resistance what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic fought for their freedom keeping many traditions and cultural influences of other nations including clothing, food and music such as meringue or merengue.

The word Merengue means whipped egg whites and sugar, applied to music the word is believed to derive from the term maringa from Mozambique nearing Madagascar. Although we are not certain how the merengue was invented, there are two different folk stories with similar dance steps that describe where the basic steps came from. One story begins in the 1690’s when the Spanish have a third of the Hispaniola to the French, also known as the Dominican Republic. A century later they had over 500,000 slaves. These slaves were chained together were they were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of drums creating a simple dance move that would later become a variation of the meringue or merengue(Ballroom). Another story is told about a great hero during the Dominican Republic revolutions where he was welcomed home and out of sympathy everyone danced with a limp dragging one foot. Merengue music seems to had begun to develop in the mid 1800’s as a creole variant of the family of integrated couple dances variously called and merengue in Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. In the Caribbean each island has its own traditions that come from its African roots and colonial past with Britain, France, Spanish, and Dutch. Due to the large intervention of different countries on Hispaniola, The Dominican Republic and Haitian culture of music emerged.

In the mid nineteenth century Haitian mereng began to appear. Haitian connection is quite likely as suggested by an 1822 reference to merengue being performed for some Haitian patrons. Mereng texts dealt with all manner of topics, serving as rich oral tradition of social commentary that were sung in many languages including Creole, English, Spanish, and Portuguese (ArtsEdge). These folk merengue forms were denounced as vulgar and crude by the elite, although they thrived in regional variants throughout the country. People from different socioeconomic backgrounds enjoyed the music of the meringue in Haiti, creating a bond with the culture regardless of how rich or poor you were. At the same time, there were many people opposing the Haitian merge because of its more obvious African roots in dance and rhythm. Because Haitian meringue has more African roots it was not favored by most people on the eastern side of the island. This divide caused people to branch out and create their own forms of meringue and mereng making it more suitable and appealing to those outside of the western part of Hispaniola.

Mereng evolved from the fusion of slave music such as Chica and Calenda. These two specific slave music types drew in on African traditions and rhythms. The Calenda was one of the post popular slave dance in the Caribbean (Largey 35). The merengue may have been predominantly European in origin, but outside the ballrooms very different forms of merengue flourished, most with a marked Afro-Caribbean flavour in their lively rhythms. The European influence came from the French Minuet and cortandanse where the dance steps are swift and in a form of a line dancing. This helped formed the French-Haitian kortradanse with the use of African influence. With the mesh of line dancing and hip movements from both different parts of the world Haitian meringue to gain popularity. As the years progressed many variations of the Haitian meringue began to emerge creating one of the largest rivalries that changed the popularity of meringue in Haiti.

As Haitian meringue began to diverge into several sub-genres, creating what was known as Haitian meringue soon died out. Haitian legendary musician Nemours Jean-Baptiste (1918 – 1985) was a Haitian saxophonist, writer, and band leader. His whole life was surrounded by the music of Haiti. In 1955, Jean-Baptiste formed a band called the Conjunto International Band. Joining his band was Webert Sicot(1930 – 1985) from Port-au-Prince and heavily influenced by jazz and the saxophone. Together, in this band they all traveled all over the island and the world including the United States, spreading the cultural music of Haiti (Vallon 50-56). Through Jean- Baptiste’s experience in music he created a new sound in Haitian music history. He is credited with being the inventor of kompas, also known as “kompas direk”, a style of Haitian music that translate to “direct beat” in english. During the sixties there was a period of strong occasion of powerful rivalry when Webert Sicot created his own sound of meringue music called “kandans kompa/ rampa”(Preval 42). This huge rivalry between them caused a split in the band and both Jean-baptist and Sicot focused on their solo careers on who will remain superior in meringue kompa music. Through the months of Haitian Carnival (January and February), the people of Haiti became very passionate about the musical competitions Sicot and Jean-Baptiste would have (Vallon 66). Both lyrics from the kompas have many spiritual, emotional, and instantaneous popular sensations between the two legends. These two types of kompas that formed were considered a huge adjustment to the Haitian musical heritage. In turn this divide in music created for the meringue music of Haiti to be more widely recognized as the Dominican Republic being the originator or merengue music.

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Analogy of The History of Merengue and the Island of Hispaniola. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved from

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