Art and Culture

Memories of Casa de Campo: Exploring the Batey in the Year of the Oxen-1997

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In this week’s ‘Memories of Casa de Campo’ post, Carol Burke recalls a visit to one of the Bateys in the La Romana region. ‘Batey’ is the name given to the town where the workers of the sugar cane fields live – as the main industry in La Romana and much of the Dominican Republic is sugar there are many ‘Bateys’ in the countryside.

On St Luke’s Day
– The oxen had leave to play.
English traditional proverb. St Luke is the patron saint of artists and his emblem is a winged ox.

After walking around La Romana quite a bit, showing my brother-in-law the sights, we stopped by H-M Supermarket to buy some groceries.

There was a colorful Jorge Silvestre mural across the front of the market.

The mural begins at the door of the supermarket Memories_of_casa_de_campo_bateys

The mural continues with paintings of oxen and sugar cane production
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I took photos of the mural in five parts because it was so big and I wanted to preserve the details.

The mural is a celebration of sugar cane, the sugar workers, and all that the cane produces.

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The mural: sugar, watermelons, platanos and mangoes
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At the end of the mural Silvestre paints a small market selling sugar, watermelons, mangoes and platanos, all the food that makes life sweet in the Dominican Republic.

The mural: Sacks of sugar and the artist’s signature
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After viewing this magnificent mural, my visitor wanted to visit the source. I asked people where the sugar cane grows and I found out that it all starts in the Batey.

We drove out from La Romana and found our way to a Batay community. There the countryside was refreshing and full of interesting sights.

Children were there to greet us.

Children in the batay
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The Batey was a quiet and prospering place. People were working and children were at play. There was a solar-powered telephone for the residents.

Solar telephone in the Batey
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We saw a beautiful blue Dominican house next to a towering, twisting tree.

Blue house with Tree
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Then we saw the oxen. They are magnificent and impressive animals. In art, the ox symbolizes strength, power, service and humility.

Oxen and Sugar Cane Cart
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Oxen pull heavy tanks to the field to help in sugar production.

Oxen working in the Batey
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And when the sugar cane is ready to go to the factory, the oxen pull the full carts of cane to the railroad landing.

Oxen at railroad
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At the railroad landing the sugar cane is loaded into railcars to be transported to La Romana.

Oxen are so big and strong – and beautiful at the same time – my guest snapped some photos of them to take back with him.

Oxen posing for photos
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At that time in 1997, I was interested in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Each year is named after an animal who, legend has it, came to say good-bye to Buddha as he was leaving. The lunar years revolve in a twelve-year cycle and the oxen is honored in the second year of the cycle. I decided that from that year onwards I would look for a painting with the lunar year animal as the main subject.

I found a painting by Domingo Dominguez J. of a landscape with oxen at Eduardo’s Gallery in La Romana.

Painting by Domingo Dominguez J – 1997
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Later that year, I met Jorge Silvestre and bought one of his paintings reflecting back on the scene of the H-M mural.

Painting by Jorge Silvestre 1996
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THANK YOU to Carol for another wonderful article!

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