The first meringue song was supposedly written in 1844, which also marked the foundation of the Dominican Republic. It is a war song that makes sarcastic remarks about a soldier called Thomas Torres, who abandoned a battle and ran away from his fellow soldiers.
Merengue music as well as dance first originated in the 19th century, and has a typical Latin American flavor to it. This art form also has an African influence, and is the national dance of the Dominican Republic. Merengue was further popularized by the dictator of this nation, called Rafael Trujillo. In the early- to mid-twentieth century, he extensively promoted this music, which later on spread to other parts of Central America and also to the USA, where it was first introduced in New York city.
There always has been a controversy regarding the derivation of the name ‘merengue’. Some say that it has been derived from the French dessert confectionery called ‘meringue’, which is made up of sugar and egg-whites. This recipe has a ‘light and bubbly feel’ to it, which was compared to the same feature of merengue music-short, simple, and cyclic rhythm patterns. It is very similar to other Latin American music and dance forms, like salsa and bachata.
There are several theories that explain the origin of merengue, but none of them have yet been confirmed. Some say that this style evolved equivalently with African, European, and Central American elements and features. It developed as a type of rural music in the Caribbean region, and also is the cultural identity and national symbol of the Dominican Republic. The music though is a bit different from the one that is played in Haiti; the latter has a slower tempo and mainly depends on string instruments such as the acoustic guitar and ukelele.
According to one version, merengue originated from the slaves who were tied together with one leg, while leaving the other free. They had to move and drag their free single legs while cutting sugarcane in the background of loud drum beats. This led to the idea of using only a single leg while dancing, in respect of the slaves who suffered. A second story tells of a war hero who returned home to his village after being victorious in many battles. Such wars were a part of the revolution that took place in the nation of the Dominican Republic in the 19th century. This soldier was limping as he was injured on one leg, and hence, to celebrate his patriotism towards his country, all the village people started limping and dancing to honor him, specifically on a 4/4 to 2/4 beat. This probably lead to the birth of merengue.