Krik? Krak! | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Krik? Krak! | Context

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Political Instability in Haiti

Krik? Krak! depicts scenes from the lives of twentieth-century people living in Haiti which is a country in the Caribbean Sea on the island of Hispaniola which it shares with the Dominican Republic. The stories deal with social unrest, violence, and death. These themes reflect a long history of political instability in the country. Most of the indigenous people of the island that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) named Hispaniola in 1492 were killed by European enslavement and disease. The Europeans living in the western area that became Haiti imported thousands of African slaves. By 1789 Haiti's population of 556,000 people included 500,000 African slaves. Haitian society developed along strict racial, class, and gender lines. A series of revolutions led to Haitian independence in 1804 but ruler after ruler was overthrown. There were over 20 leaders of Haiti between 1843 and 1915.

The U.S. Occupation of Haiti

From 1915 to 1934, the United States occupied the country. Many Haitians believe that the United States did this to secure its economic interests in the region. Haiti signed a treaty with the United States and held an election in 1918 overseen by the United States Marines. As a result of the election, Haiti adopted a new constitution that allowed foreigners to own land in Haiti. The period of time when the United States occupied Haiti led to increasing racial and economic disparities among Haitians. Black Haitians suffered from racial attacks under the rule of the United States Marines and were forced to engage in labor to create public works. Some of the stories of Krik? Krak! refer to 1915 as a pivotal year in Haitian history. The occupation of Haiti by the United States Marines began in 1915 and it significantly affected Haitians' lives.

The Parsley Massacre

One story in Krik? Krak! is entitled simply "Nineteen Thirty-Seven." The title refers to a massacre in the Dominican Republic in October 1937. Soldiers led by the dictator Rafael Trujillo (1891–1961) of the Dominican Republic killed thousands of Haitian workers who lived in the Dominican Republic near the border of the two countries. The massacre of up to 20,000 Haitians became known as the Parsley Massacre because Dominican soldiers would kill anyone who could not pronounce the "r" in the Spanish word for parsley, perejil. The 1937 massacre was the culmination of a long history of conflict and tension between Haiti and its neighbor the Dominican Republic. Haiti's Black labourers were needed yet often reviled by the European-influenced, wealthier Dominican Republic.

Military Regimes after the U.S. Occupation

The United States withdrew its Marines from Haiti in 1934 but the United States controlled Haiti's economic activity directly until 1941. The United States indirectly held on to power in Haiti by maintaining financial control until 1947. In 1930 the Haitian people chose a national assembly which then chose a new president for Haiti. The years after the U.S. occupation were marked by a succession of military regimes until 1957, when physician Francois Duvalier or "Papa Doc" was elected president. Duvalier created a paramilitary force known as the Tontons Macoutes or Bogeymen in 1958 after an attempt to overthrow him. The Tontons Macoutes were created to beat, kill, and terrify the Haitian population so that Duvalier could stay in control. As a police state, Haiti became isolated from other countries and the international community. Danticat refers to the Tontons Macoutes simply as macoutes in Krik? Krak! The macoutes are shown as sadists, who are people who enjoy hurting and killing others.

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