Witches & Brujos in the
Modern Dominican Republic
Old Beliefs Die Hard in this Roman Catholic country.
Dulce Maria and his supernatural powers characterize the remarkable contrast between rural Barahona and the big city life of Santo Domingo and the tourist playgrounds of Puerto Plata and Camp de Casa.
Although Barahona is only a 3-hour drive from, Santo Domingo, the way of life in the many small villages probably hasn't changed very much over the centuries except for the introduction of electricity and motorized vehicles.
Yet even a motorized bike is expensive, about US$1,000 new, so donkeys and horses are more common than on any other island I've seen, which is most of them. I feel like I'm more in the Middle East than I'm in the Caribbean.
Most people in the southwest still depend on agriculture, including sugar cane, for their livelihood. The homes are still quite basic, little more than square wooden boxes with thatch roofs, not very different from those of the Taino Indians, the original inhabitants. Running water is still a luxury.
I see no evidence of it in Dulce Maria's humble village where several of the homes are little more than wooden stockades with straw tops.
With schooling still not easily available to everyone, the mindset here remains as it was hundreds of years ago. Brujos--witches that practice both white and black magic--are regularly consulted by a considerable number of people.
Although the people of Barahona, like all Dominicans, are said to be about 90 percent Catholic, many hold convictions definitely not approved by Rome.
For instance, I've been told that it's possible to turn yourself invisible by killing a black cat at midnight, cutting off one of its legs and gnawing on the bone while invoking the powers of darkness.
The man who told me this also routinely receives holy communion in church without experiencing any contradictions. In the southwest, the contest between Satan and God is waged here on a daily, very basic level.
Dulce Maria is a manifestation of this perpetual conflict. As one who practices only white magic, he says he has the power to cast out demons because he is a psychic missionary sent by the father, son and holy spirit.
He also claims to be the country's psychic pope, the commander of an army of missionaries who carry out his orders all over the Dominican Republic. And he answers to no church hierarchy or any other authority, only to God himself.
It's obvious Dulce is a little possessed, just like the rest of us, but at least he doesn't charge for his healing services. He says that if he did, he'd lose his miraculous powers; donations, though, are permitted.
Dulce Maria is the best dressed person in his village; better dressed than any of us sitting with him. None of us wear gold chains. And I never see anyone else wearing a dress hat like his; baseball caps are the norm in the land of Sammy Sosa.
After about an hour of relating his accomplishments, Dulce leads us to the altar where he performs his healing ceremonies.
The one-room building is filled with colorful banners and rows of crepe paper hanging from the ceiling. It would be easy to assume the place is decorated for a birthday party except dozens of pictures of Christ hang on one wall.
Dulce says he heals a possessed person at his altar by giving them an herbal tea, touching the place where the illness is centered and singing a song to drive out the evil spirit. The song is required to drive the evil spirit out, and a different song is needed to treat every disease. Dulce Maria knows more songs than he can count.
Now that I know I have evil spirits inhabiting my innards, I'm curious about what degree I'm possessed and what Dulce Maria will do about it. He offered a healing demonstration earlier, so I decide to take him up on it.
However, each time I approach the matter he launches into a long-winded explanation about his powers, including his ability to tell the future. I leave without determining how high or low I am on the “possessed” scale, a disappointment since I'm not apt to find anyone back home with this information.
I don't take the failure personally. As local skeptics point out about all curanderos and brujos, “They know everything but reveal nothing.”