Boca del Chivo: Demonic Animals and the Poetics of Deforestation in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the Huntington Library during academic year 2010-2011


This project explores devil pact narratives and the cultural impact of deforestation in the borderlands of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It focuses on stories about a particularly feared genre of shape-shifting phenomena called bacá—imaginary beasts that steal farm animals, harvests, and cash. They may be seen as "embodied memories" of the montero economy which provided free access to the hunting of wild pigs, goats, and cattle in the densely forested interior for freedmen, one that sustained this region from the seventeenth century until the 1950s. Since there is a widespread belief that woods harbor spirits—the bacá for example is said to reside in the Mapou tree, and at times bacás present themselves as extinct species of trees as well as the feral boars which inhabited the mountains until slaughtered during the swine flu outbreak in 1980—they could thus be seen as ghosts of a now extinct ecosystem, that is, creatures who, once content as wood sprites and nymphs, have become unhinged since they were forced out of their natural habitat.