From Palenque in Colombia to Yanga in Veracruz, Latin American history is filled with glorious stories of runaway slave societies where Africans stolen from their homes coalesced far from centers of colonial power to live out their traditions in freedom. Oftentimes these cimarrones mixed with local indigenous groups, who shared knowledge of the flora and fauna that was essential for survival, leading to syncretic cultures and languages forged on the margins of Spanish authority.
In the Dominican Republic, three towns in particular are known for their origins as cimarrón societies: Elías Piña, near the Haitian border; Cocoricamo and Las Tifuas in San Juan de la Maguana; and las Cachuas de Cabral in Barahona. Over the centuries, these three regions developed distinct cultural practices deeply rooted in their African origins that have earned the fascination of scholars and artists alike.
A new ethnographic documentary entitled Cimarrón Spirit brings together individuals from both sides of this spectrum: professors, designers, and filmmakers; Dominican and American, to document the idiosyncratic customs of these three centers of cimarrón culture in the Dominican Republic. Led by Dominican-born, Houston-based filmmaker Rubén Durán, the collaborative project doesn’t seem to boast many artistic pretensions, acting instead instead as an almost anthropological exercise that seeks to document and share the story of Dominican cimarrones and their descendants.
A short trailer for Cimarrón Spirit showcases the filmmakers’ eye for the colors, rhythms, and frenetic dances that characterize communal celebrations in these towns and villages. Blocks of text provide context about the history of cimarronaje, while talking-head interviews reinforce the point. Overall, Cimarrón Spirit promises to be a rather straightforward look into some of the Dominican Republic’s deepest cultural practices, filled to the brim with impressive costumes and exuberant celebration.