- Novel TestimonyAlternative Archives in Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones
In the famous and haunting scene at the center of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Gabriel García Márquez re-imagines the 1928 United Fruit Company Massacre in Ciénaga, Colombia, from the perspective of the fictional character José Arcadio Segundo Buendía. Having miraculously survived the massacre of the banana company workers, José Arcadio Segundo awakens to find himself on a train full of “man corpses, woman corpses, child corpses who would be thrown in the sea like rejected bananas” (312). Haunted by what he witnesses and justifiably traumatized by the state’s subsequent erasure of the massacre from public memory and from the history books with “the official version that nothing had happened,” José Arcadio Segundo is brought back from the brink of insanity by befriending Aureliano Babilionia Buendía to whom he imparts his knowledge of the massacre (354). José Arcadio Segundo spends his dying breath entreating Aureliano Babilonia not to forget the events: “Always remember that they were more than three thousand and that they were thrown into the sea” (359). Aureliano Babilonia follows the injunction, sharing the account with his friend Gabriel who, symbolic of Gabriel García Márquez, embodies the possibility that an oral storytelling chain can function as an alternative archive to hegemonic history. García Márquez inscribes this memory into his fictional novel, for before the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the United Fruit Massacre was largely absent from written histories of the region and school textbooks, surviving predominately in local oral accounts. Subsequently, García Márquez’s representation of the massacre has come to occupy a prominent place in the Colombian national historical imaginary and has stimulated important recuperative historical work. I bring up the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude because its intervention into the historical archive exemplifies how fictional representations of historical events can function as powerful forms of testimony that critique state violence and mass disappearances.
Edwidge Danticat’s 1998 novel The Farming of Bones follows in a long tradition of novels in the Americas that, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, echo José Arcadio Segundo’s plea to “Always remember,” using the medium of fiction and the novelization of memory to testify against state violence. The Farming of Bones functions as a testimonio or testimony against the genocidal atrocities perpetrated by the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo against ethnic Haitians in the Dominican Republic during the 1937 Parsley Massacre. In this essay, I argue that the novel’s aesthetic interweaving of imaginative, documentary, oral, and corporeal modes enriches the testimonial project and stakes a claim for the novel as a testimonial archive. [End Page 1162]
Blending creative and documentary forms, The Farming of Bones differs from traditional testimony because it places fiction at the center of its memorial project. Scholarship on testimonio has focused predominately on nonfiction narratives and has traditionally defined testimonio, or testimony, as a first person narrative orally dictated or composed by a subaltern who has witnessed and experienced conditions of exploitation or oppression. The narrative gives an account of the abuses committed against the subaltern and her community as well as an account of their struggles against the conditions of domination.1 Such a definition is conceptually constructive when considering a certain kind of narrative production and a particular mode of protest against and documentation of abuses. Yet, imaginative fiction, particularly the novel, has been an important medium through which writers have engaged in the testimonial project, especially when contesting state-sponsored violence and social death.2 The function of testimony, as I articulate it, is to critique conditions of domination and their ideological justifications. Considering testimony through this critical oppositional function, rather than restricting the boundaries of testimony to nonfiction documentary narratives that relate events witnessed first-hand, illuminates how other narrative modes (such as fiction), other forms of witnessing (such as second- or third-hand hearsay), and other sites (such as the body) produce testimony.
The Farming of Bones valorizes creative forms of testimony as well as oral and corporeal modes of testifying to and passing on...