How Deadly Was My Parsley
August 5, 2006 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Holding up sprigs of parsley, Trujillo's men queried their prospective victims: What is this thing called? The terrified victim's fate lay in his pronunciation of the answer. Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo spearheaded an anti-Haitian massacre in which armed thugs killed every Creole speaker who couldn't pronounce the trilled R in the Spanish word for parsley. (Using pronunciation to make ethnic distinctions is called a shibboleth, a tactic often used in wars.) The murders inspired Edwige Danticat's The Farming of Bones and Mario Vargas Llosa's Feast of the Goat, as well as a poem recited for Bill Clinton by poet laureate Rita Dove. Ironically, Trujillo's desire to "whiten" Hispaniola not only led him to order the 1937 massacre, but to lobby in 1938 for the settlement of Jews fleeing Hitler.
posted by jonp72 (9 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by caddis at 5:29 PM on August 5, 2006

Fascinating, thanks.
posted by blahblahblah at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2006

I've always loved that poem. I love the villanelle.
posted by Gator at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2006

Amazing post. Excellent, complex and multi-faceted history lesson, powerful. Moving poem. Thank you.
posted by nickyskye at 6:01 PM on August 5, 2006

Superb post. I visited the Dominican Republic last year and was struck by the richness of the history, but also the way that every major theme of Latin American history is there: Columbus, Indigenes, sugar economy, slavery, military strongmen, dependency, U.S. bullying, tourism.
posted by LarryC at 6:18 PM on August 5, 2006

Getting ready to dive in.
posted by wrapper at 9:20 PM on August 5, 2006

Hell of a post added to rising clamor of approval.
posted by y2karl at 12:27 AM on August 6, 2006

Superb post!

I'm a little confused as to why the "pronounce the trilled R" link is titled "Perejil: the shibboleth myth," since the entry seems to suggest it wasn't a myth even if Trujillo later denied it. But that's a question for Trevor of kalebeul.
posted by languagehat at 6:34 AM on August 6, 2006

Great info in this post, thanks! More people could stand to know this part of history.
posted by ibeji at 8:32 AM on August 7, 2006

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