Sunday, January 24, 2010

Carpentier: La Primera Mitad

I'm glad that we're reading a book that focuses on Haiti because Haiti and other Caribbean countries are often left out of courses that study Latin America. Obviously, given the current crisis in Haiti, El Reino De Este Mundo is particularly relevant as it reveals the history, social relations and cultural influences that have formed the nation.

As Asturias' work did for Guatemala, El Reino de Este Mundo provides insight into the cultural foundations of Haiti and the worldview of Haitians. The first half of Carpentier's text demonstrates the fierce oppositional binary that existed between the white "masters" and the black slaves in colonial Haiti. As the slaves greatly outnumbered the slave-owners in Haiti, fear of slave uprisings were a legitimate fear for white men. This fear is particularly apparent as soon as the poisoning of the owners and their farm animals begins. On page 36, out of desperation and fear for their lives, the white men physically terrorize the slaves by whipping and torturing them in an attempt to scare the slaves and stop the sequence of poisonings. This is an explicit example of the racial tension that led to the Haitian revolution and founding of the first independent modern black nation in the world. In terms of culture, this book demonstrates the strong French and West African influences in the region. I noticed that several times various groups of slaves are referred to as Angolans, or other types of Africans. Thus, it seems that many of the slave communities had immediate cultural ties to their homeland, which would have empowered them in terms of having an "old-world" cultural identity.

There seem to be fewer magical elements in El Reino De Este Mundo than in Leyendas de Guatemala. In the leyendas, there were constant images of magical settings, characters and events. In El Reino, I found that certain portions of the first half had evidently magical elements, while other portions were more or less "real".The two sections that had the magical descriptions were "Lo que hallaba la mano" and "Las Metamorfosis". This first section speaks of Mackandal's fascination with traditionally "scorned" plants that exhibit supernatural powers, such as the plant with sensitive leaves "que se doblaban al mero sonido de la voz humana" (27-8). Then, in "Las Metamorfosis" it is revealed that Mackandal is able to hide himself from the angry white men, while still communicating with the slaves by transforming into different types of animals. His ability to metamorphosize shows that "sus poderes eran ilimitados" (41) as they were not restricted to "real-world" powers.


  1. Pienso que tu observacion sobre el papel importante de los raices africanos en esta obra es muy interesante. No podria entenderlo antes, y cuando estaba leyendo, pense que con "angolans" el autor quiere hacer referencia a algunos africanos en vez de los ciudadanos!
    Sobre los elementos magicos, pienso que esta obra defiere de las leyendas de Guatemala en que transmite mas informacion sobre los hechos de la revolucion y la poblacion haitiana- y los elementos magicos sirven tambien como instrumentos complementarios en captar nuestra atencion! Pero las leyendas de Guatemala, para mi fue mas sobre la ideologia guatemalteca y no realmente sobre su historia.

  2. Hola!
    Estoy de acuerdo contigo de que hay menos elementos magicos en El Reino de Este Mundo que en Leyendas de Guatemala, en la primera mitad de este libro. Pero este capabilidad de transformacion de Mackandal es algo interesante. Es magico en un sentido humano. Que quiero decir es que lo magico esta presente en las creencias de la gente - el cuerpo de Mackandal muera, pero su espiritu permanece en los animales. Es algo diferente de lo magico en Leyendas de Guatemala, que son mas como milagros de la naturaleza, el mundo de dioses, etc. Como dice el titule del libro, lo magico de Carpentier permanece en el reino de ESTE mundo. Tu tienes algunos puntos muy interesantes! Awesome entry!