This essay explores shapeshifting stories about people who are turned into feral animals. Whereas Devil-pact narratives have been analyzed as a form of popular commentary on capitalist wage labor relations, I explore these man-into-beast stories as they reflect an affective and sensorial relationship with animals characteristic of pastoral and hunting cultures, thus a porous boundary between humans and nonhuman persons, and as an idiom of popular male heroism. I argue that these were-creatures can also be seen as phantasmic memories of a buccaneering ecology that provided free access to the hunting of wild pigs, goats and cattle in the forested interior of Hispaniola, sustaining the poor during the seventeenth century and beyond. The presentation is based on oral histories collected in ten research trips to a rural community in the Haitian-Dominican central frontier, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 2008-2014.
Lauren (Robin) Derby is associate professor of Latin American history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work includes The Dictator’s Seduction: Politics and the Popular Imagination in the Era of Trujillo (Spanish version currently in press at the Dominican Academy of History) which won the Bolton-Johnson Prize and co-won the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis award; (co-editor) Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black Atlantic World; and (co-editor) The Dominican Republic Reader and articles on Haiti, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
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