Photographs by Esmirna Rivas Tejeda and Otto Piron
The city of Bani is the capital of the Peravia province; its residents also know it as the home of poets. It’s only an hour’s drive west of Santo Domingo. The province’s population is relatively small with 169, 865 people, and only 61, 864 in the Bani metro area. This is a tightly knit community with families and neighborhoods dating back several centuries.
Bani is a Taino word meaning “abundant water.” The area was named after an important Taino leader of the Maguana people. He was said to be one of Caonabo’s closest allies. But, it wasn’t until 1764 when a group of neighbors concerned with their security and safety came together to purchase a property large enough to build their own village in the valley of Bani. Historians set the sum of this purchase as that of “300 pesos fuertes” for a property called Cerro Gordo; the principals were listed as Francisco Baez and Bartolome del Castillo. It’s no wonder why Banilejos (Bani citizens) keep their city with such pride and high esteem. Banilejos are well known for being industrious, successful business entrepreneurs, and for having one of the best-kept towns in the Dominican Republic.
Banilejos also include a string of notable sons and daughters who have gained national and international prominence, as is the case with one of their brightest stars: Major General Maximo Gomez Baez (1836-1905), hero of Cuba’s independence. In 1865 Maximo Gomez went to Cuba as the commander of Spanish reserve troops, but soon changed sides to join Cuba’s freedom fighters in their struggle against the Spanish colonizers. The treatment of African slaves in Cuba made him realize he was fighting on the wrong side of justice and human decency. He eventually became the top military leader of the Cuban revolution. Interestingly enough, he refused nomination to the first presidential elections in Cuba in 1901 because, even after living 40 years in Cuba and dedicating most of his life to gain her freedom, Maximo Gomez still considered himself a Dominican and it was not his place to be the first Cuban president. Maximo Gomez died in his Villa in Havana, Cuba, June 17, 1905.