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Spanish Shibboleth

1937: At the beginning of October, President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic ordered his soldiers to round up Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border between the two countries. To distinguish between Creole-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking Dominicans, the soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and ask, What is this? Those who could not roll the “r” of the Spanish word “perejil” gave themselves away as Haitians.

(“Art thou an Ephraimite? . . . Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right.” By this simple test the Gileadites of the Old Testament were able to identify their enemies. The inability of the Ephraimites to pronounce the “sh” sound marked them out for destruction. “Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.”)

Instead of simply bundling the Haitians across the border, Dominican troops and civilians set upon them with machetes, clubs, knives and guns. Altogether, 20,000 to 30,000 were slaughtered in what became known, because of the soldiers’ shibboleth, as the Parsley Massacre.

Source: Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., Nancy Gordon Heinl and Michael Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People 1492–1995 (1996), pp. 497–501; Judges 12:5–6

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