Evidence of The Usage of “Indio” Before The Creation of The Dominican Republic

One of the criticisms made by some sociologists and historians regarding the usage of “indio” in Dominican society is to blame the cultural origin to one of two historical periods. One is assuming that this identity is a way to differentiate from Haitians with the creation of the Dominican Republic. The other argument regards dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo that lasted from 1930 to 1961. They allege that “indio” wasn’t used in Dominican society before 1930. We have found both assumptions to not be true.

The Meaning of “Indio” in The Dominican Republic

The very first thing that must be understood is that “indio” is not used as an equivalence of racd or ethnicity. In the Dominican Republic, “indio” is used as a description applied to people of a certain range of skin color. It’s not used to referred to people very light or white skin colors, unless the person has very obvious mixture of African and European features. Those that allege to be referred to as “indio” is the equivalent of a race or ethnicity in the Dominican Republic are completely incorrect.

The Word “Indio” As a Color and Not a Race or Ethnicity Isn’t Unique To The Dominican Republic

Some people may think that the Dominican Republic is the only place in the world where “indio” means a particular range of skin colors. This is not correct. Other places, among them Puerto Rico and Cuba, have very few or no people of indian or indigenous people; however, the term “indio” is used to refer to a range of skin colors between very dark and very light. In those cases it’s used as a descriptiin and not a race or with expectations of behavior, pleasures, and other ways a person can be. This is very similar to the Dominican Republic.

A good example where a person is referred to as “indio” (in this case it would be in its feminine form of “india”) is Linda Bell Viera Caballero. She is a very famous singer from Puerto Rico. Her artistic name is the same as her personal nickname, “La India.” This nickname was given to her in her native Puerto Rico by her grandmother. She called her “india” due to her features with are similar to how the Taino indians. They used to live in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands and were the first of the indigenous people of the Americas to greet the Spanish. At no moment did she or anyone else that she knew saw her as racially or ethnically as an indian. Her cinnamon skin color is a reminder of one of her ancestors. As is the case with all Puerto Ricans, in addition to Taino heritage she is a descendant of Spaniards and Africans all at once.

The Dominican Republic has other aspects thst mske her unique on a globsl scale, in fact unique compared to other Latin American countries. Despite this, there isn’t a desire of changing Dominicans or is seen by some as a problem. Two excellent examples are orange as a color and orange as a fruit. In genersl, Dominicans are the only human beings that hsve two words that means the same for orange as a color. One is orange, a term used in all Spanish-speaking countries and people to refer to the color produced with the mixture of yellow and red. Another name used by Dominicans to refer to orange the color is “mamey” (ma-may-ee.) Both terms are used interchangeably in the Dominican Republic, but “mamey” is strictly used by Dominicans only. The same situation occurs when referring to orange as a fruit, though this is limited to the metropolitan area of Santo Domingo and widespread in the neighboring island of Puerto Rico. In this area an orange is referred to as a “china.” A Dominican can go to Bogota, Lima, Chicago, Madrid and ask for a «china» and the other person eill look at then weird or erroneausly think he or she is referring to China the country or to the Chinese. The same person asks for a “china” or “jugo de china” (orange juice) in Santo Domingo or San Juan, Puerto Rivo and the locals will automatically understand that him or her wants an orange or orsnge juice. In that same sense are msny more examples of words thst either have a meaning or the words themselves are unique to the Dominican Republic or shared with a few other places.

Evidence in the Baptism Book of La Vega XIV from 1805

Returning to the meaning of “indio” as a reference to a range of skin colors in the Dominican Republic, we noticed the following. The Baptism Book of La Vega XIV has the following note imbedded in one of its pages. This volume covers baptisms that ocurred between January and April in 1805 and then jumps restarting in October of 1810. The reason for this was the horrible Haitian invasion of 1805 (in Haitian history books this is referred to as The Campaign of The East) with leader Jean Jacques Dessalines. La Vega was one of the affected towns during that invasion where the Haitian army was focus on causing destruction everywhere they went on Dominican territory. Most of the residents managed to flee into the surrounding forest and countryside before the arrival of the Haitian army. Among its acts which included indiscriminate assasinations and massacres, kidnappings, and pillage was a great fire intentionslly caused by the Haitian troops as their final destruction of La Vega prior to marching to the next town and doing the same. Many books, documents, land titled, marriage records, etc found in various institutions such as town hall and the main church were destroyed in the fire. The Baptism Book of La Vega XIV was miraculously found in 1810 in possession of a random person in Santo Domingo. As the book was recuperated and again incorporated within the church records, they continue to use it to register the remsining baptisms at the La Vega church starting with October 1810. Prior to this continuation, a small note is added to explain why the book jumps from April 1805 to October 1810 and this is shown below.

Titular page where it indicates what the book is about, the date it start, who is the priest, etc. TRANSLATION: “XIV Book of Baptisms of this Parrish of La Vega starting in the day of the 1st of January of 1805 with the Rector Priest … Agustin Hernandez of the Our Lady of Mercy Orders.”
The note of interest. Its translation is below.

The note of interest says the following.

Presbyter and Subcantor of the Holy Church Cathedral Mr Agustin Tabares found this book of baptisms in Santo Domingo, the capital, in possession of a random person who had it since the great fires that affected all the cities, towns, and villages of this island and were created by the indigenous, in this year 5 of this century 1800 (XIX). Due to this, the records were not continued in this book and we were obligated to use another book. This book continues where thst one left off, starting with October.

Taking into consideration that the great fire that it mentions was created by the Haitian army during the invasion of 1805 and the troops were composed mostly by black Africans, it catches attention where Mr Agustin Tabares refers to them as “indigenous,” which is equivalent to “indio.” With that in mind, the creation of the Dominican Republic was 34 years into the future and the start of the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo was 120 years into the future.

Food for Thought

We finish with the following question. How is it possible that something used by Dominicans well before the creation of the country and is not unique to Dominicans, its origin is alleged to the creation of the country or to Trujillo which rises to power centuries later?