Yale-NYU K-12 Summer Institute: Sugar Production in DR

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Slave bunker at Boca de Nigua sugar mill


During my trip with the PIER Institute to Santo Domingo, I visited the first two sugar mills constructed in Spanish America. Touring the sugar mills or ingenios was interesting to me. The ruins of the ingenios, show the remains of the socio-economic effects of colonization, and have historic importance, and since my project is on the topic, it was an invaluable experience. Our knowledgeable guide Miguel Angel gave us a tour. They stand approximately 500 yards apart and are located about an hour away from the capital. We drove through several impoverished small towns before arriving at the site

The first mill we visited, Ingenio Santa Isable/Boca Nigua, was built in 1508 and restored in 1978. The Spanish part of the island, and where the slaves lived, is the site of the second major slave revolt, which took place in 1796. The second mill ruin we visited, a few hundred yards away, was situated on the River Nigua. Very little of its structure is left, but the canal, which was an integral part of the mill, still stands. Built in 1504, it was the very first sugar mill in Spanish America.

It is fascinating to walk around these sites, imagining and sensing the magnitude of what once was the thriving force of slave labor for sugar production in Latin America, and to reflect the socio-economic complexity of colonization. Many slaves lost hands, limbs, even their very lives to the process. This horrific thought stayed with me long after we departed. My colleagues and I observed the absence of signs and billboards, or anything else that might have indicated the site’s importance. It was as if nothing of relevance ever happened. Travel books list the mills as historical sites of the Colonial period, yet even there, there is little recognition. Where is the tribute or honor paid to the many workers of African and indigenous descent who contributed to the wealth of the island? One can only wonder.

Posted by Myriam Victoria — Dual language Leader, PS 24 Dual Language School for International Studies

Myriam was an educator participant in the Yale University PIER Yale University CLAISNYU CLACS  Summer Educator Institute on Colonial Latin America in July 2011.

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