Universiteit Leiden

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Fera Bestia: Sorcery as History in the Haitian-Dominican Borderlands

  • Robin Derby (UCLA)
Friday 5 February 2016
Pieterskerkhof 6
2311 SR Leiden

This essay explores shapeshifting stories about people who are turned into feral animals. Whereas Devil-pact narratives have been analyzed as a form of popular commentary on capitalist wage labor relations, I explore these man-into-beast stories as they reflect an affective and sensorial relationship with animals characteristic of pastoral and hunting cultures, thus a porous boundary between humans and nonhuman persons, and as an idiom of popular male heroism. I argue that these were-creatures can also be seen as phantasmic memories of a buccaneering ecology that provided free access to the hunting of wild pigs, goats and cattle in the forested interior of Hispaniola, sustaining the poor during the seventeenth century and beyond. The presentation is based on oral histories collected in ten research trips to a rural community in the Haitian-Dominican central frontier, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 2008-2014.

Reception to follow at the Faculty Club.

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