National Geographic : 1944 Feb
The Land Columbus Loved BY OLIVER P. NEWMAN With Illustrations by Staff PhotographerB. Anthony Stewart H ISPANIOLA, "the land Columbus loved," is an island of contradictions. When you meet a friend in the western end you say, "Bonjour"; in the east ern end, "Buenos dias." For Haiti speaks French, while the Dominican Republic clings to Spanish. All over the island the wind blows from the south all day and from the north all night. The days are hot, the nights are cool. In the hills a native will let his beard grow to cure malaria. In the city a graduate of Columbia will take out your tonsils. American Marines were in the Dominican Republic for eight years and the effects of the occupation remain. Concluding a telephone conversation, a Dominican will say, "Bueno, all right, muy bien, O. K." On a broad ridge overlooking Ciudad Tru jillo, capital of the Dominican Republic, lies a big, modern airfield, where giant bombers, huge transports, and fighter craft swarm daily in their task of giving economic aid and secu rity to the West Indies and the Panama Canal. Below the airfield, on the edge of the silver sparkling waters of the blue Caribbean, hidden away in the half-modernized town, are the first Christian church, the first cathedral, and the first pontifically established university of the Western Hemisphere. Outside the Cathedral a 12-cylinder Pack ard will deposit its occupants. Inside, they will kneel before a crypt within which, Do minicans will tell you, lie the bones of the Great Discoverer (page 198). Eastward 50 miles are thousands of acres of lush, green sugar cane, but in between lies a stretch of bleak, bare, wild, rocky, arid land. It is peopled only by wild goats but blanketed with cactus, abloom in the varie gated colors of a Persian carpet. Base of Spanish Explorers At one end of the town stands a ceiba tree to which Columbus is reputed to have tied his ships. At the other rises a reproduction of the Washington Monument, 140 feet high. Columbus must have loved the land, for he went back to it again and again, thereby setting in motion the long, colorful train of Spanish explorers who discovered, conquered, and colonized much of South America and the lower third of North America. Cortez, Balboa, Pizarro, Ponce de Le6n, De Soto, and other adventurers from Spain set out on some of their historic expeditions in the new little port of Santo Domingo, capital of the New World, founded by Bartolome, brother of Christopher Columbus, in 1496 (map, page 200). From the blood, courage, hopes, and ener gies of that great stream of world conquerors materialized the Dominican Republic. Hardy, fearless, careless rogues, rascals, scholars, cul tured gentlemen, churchmen, younger sons of the noble and rich, all adventured into the new and exciting fields of opportunity for a hundred years before Jamestown-and stayed. Today the descendants of the proud con quistadores carry on, their blood mingled with that of many peoples-Dutch, English, Syrian, German, French, African. But much of the culture of old Spain has survived. In two-thirds of the island (the Dominican Republic) the language remains, remarkably undefiled, and also the traditions, art, music, and habits the Spaniards brought. The Dominicans had a tough time to sur vive. If they were not under assault from French or English invaders, they were at tacked by pirates and, in between times, were torn by bitter quarrels. When they finally gained their freedom in 1844, after years of uncertain relations with Spain and Haiti, their leaders continued to fight among themselves. But they have survived. On February 27, 1944, they will celebrate their one-hundredth birthday, and through all their travail they have preserved their pride, their cheerfulness, their courtesy. When two Dominican men meet on the street they doff their hats to each other. When cocktails are passed, the nearest Domin ican lifts a glass off the tray and presents it to the friend at his elbow. Promising young men in the more well-to-do families are groomed from childhood to go out into the world and hold their own in cul tured circles. Perhaps there are five boys in the family. One is particularly alert and intelligent. All the other members of the family (including cousins and inlaws) sacri fice whatever is necessary to give the bright boy his chance. In earlier years he was sent to the Sor bonne, to Heidelberg, to Vienna, to England. Latterly, the United States has been preferred.