In Cabral, a small town near the town of Santa Cruz Barahona (Dominican Republic), the Cimarron Carnival takes place with its most famous characters, the Cachúas, who appear on Holy Saturday until Monday after Easter. Their name refers to their horns (cachos) that are attached to multicolored paper-based masks with colorful hair and used to be made of bladder. The cachúas usually dress in colored overalls and bat wings, which represent slave hunters, who “like evil spirits, operated under cover of darkness, [and also represent the night as...] the time of insurrection, of the war of liberation.”[i]

Apart from the mask there is a pita fiber whip that is attached to a stick and is similar to those used to drive cows in the pastures. The whip plays a central role in the celebration. In fact, at Saturday noon the cachúas leave their houses looking for civilians (those who are not masked but hold a whip too) or other cachúas who lash (dar 'fuetazos') or fight with (puntear) by lashings. On Sunday, the cachúas keep looking for civilians to hunt and lash as well as for other cachúas. This sometimes violent game holds the attention of the entire community. As Pedro Muamba Tujibikile wrote, the cachúas are an embodiment of “the tension between freedom and slavery.” On the one hand, they are devils armed with whips and represent the enslaver and the colonizer. On the other hand, they are lame devils that represent those abused by the colonizer. The whip in the hands of the Cachúas and the civilians is therefore not only a sign of exploitation and submission, but also a sign of resistance. In this sense, the cachúas not only embody the devil spirit of the slave master and represent the rebellious slaves too, but also, they are lame devils (diablos cojuelos) i.e., suffering devils injured by the falling weight of those 'loyal' slaves and devils who gained their freedom by capturing runaway slaves and helping the master to castigate them.

It is in this context that the final performance of Monday, after Easter, might be historically understood. That final day, probably the most violent of the days of celebration, people burn the Jua, who is believed to be Judas. As Harris states, “burning an effigy of Judas is peculiar to communities familiar with his betrayal of Christ.” Nevertheless, in Cabral, it has more meanings. When burning the Jua people say “Jua, Jua, Jua, eh, they kill him for [being a] calié” (Jua, Jua, Jua, e, lo mataron por calié).[ii] A calié was an informer recruited from all levels of the society, who worked for Military Intelligence Service (SIM) during the last years of the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (1930-61). The calié, like Judas, spied on friends, neighbors, employers, and colleagues. This means that the effigy of Judas represents the white colonizer and the black or mulatto accomplices and traitors, not only during the colonial time of slavery but also during the modern time of the Republic. This is why Harris states that the violent game of the cachúas, at its deepest level, is not a mere “dramatization of violence inflicted by others, but also of a violence inflicted by those like themselves,” and therefore we have here not only the celebration of festive freedom but moreover the unfolding of an unresolved trauma.[iii]

 


[i] Tujibikile, Pedro Muamba. Las Cachúas. Revelación de una historia encubierta. 1. ed.. Santo Domingo: Ediciones CEPAE, 1993. 39-50

[ii] Harris, Max. Diabolic Suffering, Whips, and the Burning of Judas: Holy Week in Cabral, Dominican Republic. (Forthcomming)

[iii] Harris, Max. Diabolic Suffering, Whips, and the Burning of Judas: Holy Week in Cabral, Dominican Republic. (Forthcomming)

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