In the southeastern Dominican Republic, a festive, carnivalesque Easter procession featuring music, dance and ritual is widely performed by small local troupes of mostly poor rural workers and working-class residents of local mill towns. The procession is called, in Spanish, el Gaga, and originates in Haitian Rara brought by Haitian immigrant laborers, especially those who have travelled to the region to work in the sugar cane industry. A number of interest groups participate in this performance, across boundaries of language, nation of origin, race, ethnicity, class, age and gender. I utilize a composite name, Rara/Gaga, to honour the participation of Haitian immigrants, Haitian Dominicans and Dominicans who claim no Haitian ancestry in this performance and to evoke its dialogism and hybridity. In this work, the performance is examined in the light of the historical context of Haitian Dominican relations, as well as global geopolitical forces.
Most of my fieldwork was undertaken in a sugar cane village and other locales in the southeastern Dominican Republic in the mid 1990s, with research also conducted in urban centers of the Dominican Republic, in New York City and in Haiti. My approach is informed by prior studies in New York City of music/dance/ritual practices that demonstrate Central African influences, especially AfroCuban traditions; Central African influences in Rara/Gaga are also explored in this work. I examine the overlap between Rara/Gaga and AfroHispaniolan ritual called Vodou in Haiti and Vodu in the Dominican Republic. I argue that, for participants in the Dominican Southeast and along a transnational social network that includes Haiti and diasporic locales such as the United States, Rara/Gaga is viewed by participants as a healing community that incorporates music, dance, ritual and procession along the Haitian Dominican cultural border.