Museo Hermanas Mirabal
The former home of the famous Mirabal sisters, national heroines and martyrs of the Dominican Republic
. They were a trio of political activists and pioneers in women's rights, who dictator Trujillo had murdered in November 1960 (see also history
The surviving fourth sister turned this house near Salcedo in the Cibao (inland of the country) into a shrine-like museum, with memorabilia, period furniture and clothes. And outside in the gardens are the relocated graves of the martyrs. Very much a pilgrimage site.
More background info: Though you will mostly find reference to three Mirabal sisters ('hermanas Mirabal' in Spanish), there were actually four of them. But only the three famous ones were the politically active ones – as well as those that were eventually murdered.
The oldest was Patria, born 27 February 1924, followed by Dede, born 29 February 1925, then Minerva (full name Maria Argentina Minerva Mirabal Reyes), born 12 March 1926, and the youngest (by quite a margin) was Maria Teresa, born 15 October 1935.
They grew up in a cultured, educated upper-middle-class environment and the family enjoyed good connections in society. With the exception of Dede, the sisters all went on to higher education and before long became involved in the intellectual resistance against the Trujillo regime.
The leading force in this was clearly Minerva. A woman of outstanding good looks and sparkling intelligence, she apparently played a precarious game of wills with Trujillo himself, who is alleged to have made advances on her (as he did on so many other young women – see under history
and Casa Caoba
!). Yet she rejected him, while still challenging him to let her study law at the university in Santo Domingo
. This she did, but when she finished her degree, Trujillo took revenge by barring her from actually practising law.
However, at university she had met her future husband, Manolo Tavarez (see Resistance Museum
!), who was to become one of the leading revolutionaries and anti-Trujillo rebellion leaders.
Condemned to family life, Minerva now only got more involved in the resistance struggle. Later she was joined by Patria and the youngest, Maria Teresa too. Dede, on the other hand, kept out of direct involvement (allegedly because of her husband). The three sisters thus became members of Tavarez' “June 14 Movement” (named after the date of one of Trujillo's massacres of political opponents).
Within this movement the sisters acquired the nickname “The Butterflies” ('Mariposas' in Spanish) – which later gave rise to the title of the famous book and movie “In the Time of the Butterflies”, which is about the life and death of the Mirabal sisters.
In response to their activism against the regime, there were arrests and interrogations, but apparently the Mirabal sisters themselves were not subjected to direct torture (which was otherwise more than normal under Trujillo), apparently because they had already attained quite a subcultural “celebrity” status … and foreign eyes were on them too (e.g. by the Organization of American States). So they were always released after a while – but their husbands were kept in jail.
This was the situation on 25 November 1960, when Trujillo for some reason must have decided that he finally wanted the Mirabal sisters eliminated for good. They had visited their husbands, who at the time were being held in the prison of the old Fort Felipe
in Puerto Plata
, when on their way home they were ambushed on a remote mountain road in bad weather near La Cumbre
. They were dragged from the car, separated and then beaten, stabbed and hacked to death by Trujillo's henchmen on the edge of a sugar cane grove.
Afterwards, the murderers put the bodies back in the car, which they then pushed over a cliff so that it plummeted down a steep ravine. It was supposed to be a cover-up, to make it look like a road accident. But everybody in the country (and abroad) immediately assumed it must have been Trujillo who was to blame when the news of their death broke.
For Trujillo, it had been a step too far. The outrage over the murder of the Mirabal sisters is usually seen as a main contributing factor to the end of his regime – the straw that broke the camel's back, as it were. Only six months later he was himself assassinated by dissidents (who apparently had been trained and equipped by the CIA
) en route from Santo Domingo
to his home in San Cristobal, on 30 May 1961.
For decades, the Mirabal murder was never fully investigated, even after Trujillo was gone – which is no big surprise when you consider that the next dictator that emerged after the immediate post-Trujillo turmoil, Joaquin Balaguer, had been a Trujillo prot馮é and had in fact been officially president at the time of the murder of the Mirabal sisters.
Meanwhile, the surviving sister, Dede, took over looking after her sisters' now motherless children. She also stubbornly kept the memory of her sisters alive and later became the founder of today's Mirabal museum.
From the mid-1990s onwards, in particular, the admiration for the Mirabal sisters and their brave resistance and “martyrdom” took on legendary status in the Dominican Republic. These days there are countless roads, buildings and whatnot named after them all over the country.
In 1999, the UN
designated 25 November (the date of the Mirabal sisters' murder) International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Minerva's daughter, Minerva “Minou” Josefina Tavarez Mirabal, born in 1956, would later go on to become a member of the Chamber of Deputies in Santo Domingo, served as deputy foreign minister between 1996 and 2000, and is currently one of the candidates in the 2016 presidential elections in the Dominican Republic
At home, the memory of the sisters is in no small part been kept alive by the Museo Hermanas Mirabal. This is basically the second house of the Mirabals, the home they moved into after leaving their original birth house in Salcedo. Here, Dede turned the sisters' rooms into a veritable shrine to her dead siblings. Until her own death in 2014, aged 88, Dede would personally greet visitors and tell them the story of her sisters.
Today, the museum is still going strong, despite Dede's demise, and is visited by thousands each year – although the majority of visitors are groups of schoolchildren steered this way so that they learn this part of their country's history properly. And in a country that seems to care too little about its past (as evidenced by the continued closure of the history museum in Santo Domingo
) this has to be a good thing.
What there is to see: to be quite frank: disappointingly little, at least from a dark-tourism perspective, though there are a few exceptions.
The first disappointment when you arrive and the tour of the Mirabal House commences is the guide's announcement that photography anywhere inside the house is strictly forbidden. No particular reason was given, but I guess copyright worries over the many original photos and documents to be seen inside may be an issue here.
My guide spoke English, but to be honest, he struggled quite a bit, especially with pronunciation, so it was at times hard to follow his narration. Asking questions, which he repeatedly invited at every stop on the tour, was hampered by the fact that his comprehension wasn't that much better than his pronunciation. But we managed a couple of successful exchanges (though only with difficulty).
Most of what you get to see inside the old house is just period furniture, the sisters' bedrooms, clothes, sewing machines and cupboards full of (rather kitschy) crockery. It's all original, only the flooring and the roof of the house have been replaced since 1960.
In addition there are plenty of photos, including wedding pics in particular, as well as paintings and drawing produced by the Mirabal sisters themselves.
Somewhat more interesting than all this I found the display of Minerva's original law degree from the university in Santo Domingo – the one she wasn't allowed to use as a basis for actually practising law (see background
A couple of items on display then suddenly up the 'dark' factor quite a bit after all: one is a bloodstained handkerchief from the murder site. Another one is Maria Teresa's original braid, apparently cut from her scalp by Dede herself when she had to identify the bodies in the morgue. The hair is still an astonishingly original dark colour. I actually asked whether this was helped along in any way, as I would have expected the colour of the hair to have faded after so many years, but the guide was adamant that this is what it had always looked like … except that over time the length of the braid has shrunk (but it's still impressive!).
The tour continued to the kitchen of the house and then we stepped outside (where I could finally get my camera back out). There was a short row of text-and-photo panels – the only classic 'interpretative' museum element. It featured images and documents already familiar to me from the Resistance Museum
in Santo Domingo
. They were mostly about members of the the resistance and about Trujillo's assassination (including a photo of his bullet-ridden car – cf. Castillo de Cerro
). The texts were all in Spanish only.
We then toured the garden which I found remarkably well kept, positively manicured even, more so than any other garden I saw in the country. Dotted around in the trees and bushes are large colourful plastic butterflies – obviously in reference to the sisters' nickname within the resistance (and the film “In the Time of the Butterflies”).
In the back of the garden under a large tree is a group of busts – of the three murdered sisters, naturally, with another one a few yards behind, this one of Manolo Tavarez (see above
). On the lawn in front of them, photos on sticks are displayed – portraits of all the members of the June 14 Movement.
And then there is the holy of holies of this shrine … the actual graves of the three sisters as well as a fourth one: that of Manolo Tavarez. Together they are arranged to form a cross around a central short obelisk. The slabs on top of the graves simply bear the first names of the four. The bodies were actually moved from their original cemetery and reinterred here only in the year 2000, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Mirabal sisters' murder.
Back at the side building with the ticket booth, offices and a cafeteria there is also a small museum shop, but all the informational material available there (books, DVDs) were in Spanish only. And for some reason I didn't quite feel entitled to purchase and then wear a Mirabal sisters T-shirt.
All in all this really is much more a pilgrimage destination than a proper dark-tourism site, despite the occasional really dark detail. The whole atmosphere is one of quasi-religious reverence. That is of course fine and fully justifiable. But for many dedicated dark tourists I guess it won't really be worth the considerable effort of getting here specifically for the museum. But if you are driving from Santo Domingo
to Santiago and/or Puerto Plata
anyway, then making the detour might be worth considering all the same.
the museum is located right by the road connecting the towns Salcedo and Tenares, ca. 3.5 miles (5.5 km) from the former and one mile (1.6 km) from the latter (at a place called Conuco). The original Mirbal home (where the sisters were born, and where Dede continued to live until her passing in 2014) is located elsewhere, either in Salcedo itself or the nearby village of Ojo de Agua – sources vary on the details and the markers I found on Google maps are clearly unreliable. And since I didn't go there (see combinations
) to take my own GPS reading, I cannot be any more precise myself either. Sorry. But you can ask at the museum and they will give you directions.
Access and costs: way off the usual tourist routes but not too difficult to find; inexpensive.
With the inland location off any main routes, getting to the Mirabal House(s) is a bit of a challenge, unless you splash out on a private tour with a car/driver from e.g. Santo Domingo
, Santiago or Samana.
In this case, I decided to do it independently and drive there myself. (See under Dominican Republic
in general for the issue of driving in this country!)
Unless you start out in Samana, in which case you'd probably go via San Francisco de Macoris (along the 132), you will first have to make your way to the town of Moca – ca. 12 miles (20 km) north of the turn-off from the Autopista Duarte at La Vega when coming from Santo Domingo, and a similar distance from Santiago when coming from the west.
From Moca, head east towards Salcedo, Tenares and San Francisco. It's not signposted, but you could always ask a local to make sure you're heading the right way. Coming from La Vega you first pass a gas station on your right as you get to the centre. Keep right here, leaving the little park on your left. Keep going straight, ignoring the turn-off to Santiago, and the road will eventually bend right and lead out of Moca. It's a fairly good, smooth road now. Within town, though, you have to be very careful with the traffic, speed bumps and general hustle and bustle. But it can be done.
The museum is on the right-hand side of the road ca. 5 km out of Salcedo as you approach Tenares. It is quite well signposted (for the DomRep) so it's hard to miss. They have their own car park (free).
Visitation is by guided tour only. Usually in Spanish – but there was also one guide who spoke English (to a degree) who took me around. This didn't cost any extra.
No photography is allowed anywhere inside the house, only out in the grounds.
Admission/tour: 100 RD$
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on weekends to 6 p.m.; closed on Mondays.
Time required: ca. half an hour.
Combinations with other dark destinations: When you've made it all the way out here on your Mirabal pilgrimage you may also want to call at the other Mirabal house, the original family home where the three martyred sisters were born, and where the surviving fourth sister Dede used to live until her death in 2014.
You cannot see this house from the inside, but outside stands a monument to the three murdered sisters, again picking up the butterfly theme. Pictures of this monument and the original house feature on the back of the current 200 RD$ note (the front has the portraits of the three national heroine sisters).
Probably of darker interest is the fact that they also have on display part of the mangled chassis of the car that the sisters had travelled in and in which they were pushed down the cliff to make the murder look like a road accident.
The staff at the Mirabal Museum can give directions to that other Mirabal house. I would have gone there too, but had to give up on the idea as I was running short of time (after my rental car had been delivered over two hours late in Santo Domingo), as I still had to make it to Puerto Plata the same day but didn't want to risk getting there after dark (in the end I just about managed to get there by dusk, so my decision to skip the other Mirabal house proved right).
What I still did take in en route north-west towards Puerto Plata
is the monument that's been erected at the actual Mirabal murder site near La Cumbre
. It's not a big detour, but requires driving a few miles along a very, very rough dirt track.
In Puerto Plata, you can visit the old Spanish fort, Fortaleza San Felipe
, which was used as a political prison at the time. This is where the Mirabal sisters' husbands were incarcerated and where they were visited by their wives before the sisters were ambushed on their way home to Salcedo. Nothing is made of this historical connection at the fort, though (the commodification
there concentrates solely on older history – no mention of Trujillo), but I guess it can still be regarded part of the Mirabal pilgrimage trail.
Salcedo is said to be one of the more pleasant (and safe) small towns in the inland of of the Dominican Republic, but I didn't stop to explore, so I can neither confirm nor deny this. Otherwise there is precious little of mainstream tourism interest in the area.
- Mirabal House 1 - Museo Hermanas Mirabal
- Mirabal House 2 - obvious symbolism
- Mirabal House 3 - main building
- Mirabal House 4 - porch
- Mirabal House 5 - garden
- Mirabal House 6 - assorted revolutionaries
- Mirabal House 7 - new graves
- Mirabal House 8 - busts
- Mirabal House 9 - gate