Ortiz, Last Short Portrait: The Integration of Universal Culture

10 08 2010

To conclude the comments about the present selection of Ortiz’s correspondence which is stocked in the National Library of Cuba, I would like to refer to some of his concepts about the function of culture and its political connection with the destiny of the people. His opinions, in this respect, are news that can surprise us today. Considering that Ortiz was, above all, a humanist, an expert in the human in his many dimensions thanks to the study of his cultural roots in distinctive parts of the planet; only taking this into consideration can we explain to ourselves that his words from half of a century ago still seem so current today.

So he said to his friend, Ricardo E. Alegria, a respected archaeologist and Puerto Rican cultural investigator in a postcard from 11 June 1956:

“It is necessary to strengthen more and more the nationalities at the same time we think of how to improve the international links. Although it seems contradictory, the adventure of this time, the adventure perhaps of the future, seems to be at the same time strengthening the nationalities and combining them in ever wider consortiums, free, humanistic, civilized. Because of this, to study and define the indigenous cultures seems to be good work to better to be able to, with practical realism, mesh them with the mechanism of universal progress.

“Worldwide, we have seen a revival of the folkloric, of consciousness and self-worth, at the same time that there is a definite push towards science and worldwide coordination. We have to penetrate more deeply into the natural insides of the people to work with them adjust to the ideals of the future, i.e. the integration of life.”

In this way Fernando Ortiz spoke then, for today and for tomorrow.

To continue, the bibliography used to make up texts of tribute to Fernando Ortiz is published here:

  • Alegría, Ciro:  Lázaro. Editorial Losada. Buenos Aires, 1973.
  • —————–: El mundo es ancho y ajeno. Casa de las Américas, Instituto del Libro. La Habana, 1972.
  • —————–: La Revolución cubana, un testimonio personal. Editores Peisa. Lima, 1973.
  • Bueno, Salvador: Historia de la literatura cubana. Instituto Cubano del Libro. La Habana, 1971.
  • ———————-: Medio siglo de literatura cubana. Publicaciones de la Comisión Nacional Cubana de la UNESCO. La Habana, 1953.
  • Camín, Alfonso:  Antología poética. Editorial Renacimiento. Madrid, 1931.
  • ———————: Carey y nuevos poemas. Editorial Revista Norte. México, 1945.
  • Chaple, Sergio:  Estudios de literatura cubana. Editorial Letras Cubanas. La Habana, 1980.
  • Fernández de Castro, José Antonio:  Esquema histórico de las letras en Cuba. Publicaciones del Departamento de Intercambio Cultural de la Universidad de La Habana. La Habana, 1949.
  • Henríquez Ureña, Max:  Panorama histórico de la literatura cubana. Editorial Arte y Literatura. La Habana, 1978.
  • García-Carranza, Araceli (compiladora): Bio-bibliografía de Don Fernando Ortiz. Instituto del Libro. La Habana, 1970.
  • Nueva Enciclopedia Larousse (diez volúmenes). Madrid, 1984.
  • Onís, Federico de:  Luis Palés Matos: vida y obra-biografía-antología. Instituto de Estudios Hispánicos. Universidad Central de Las Villas. Santa Clara, 1959.
  • Ortiz Fernández,  Fernando:  El engaño de las razas. Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. La Habana, 1975.
  • —————————————-:  Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar. Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. La Habana, 1983.
  • —————————————-.  Historia de una pelea cubana contra los demonios. Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. La Habana, 1975.
  • Palés Matos, Luis:  Poesía completa y prosa selecta. Biblioteca Ayacucho. Caracas, 1978.
  • Vitier, Cintio:  Lo cubano en la poesía. Instituto del Libro. La Habana, 1970.

Translated by Ivana Recmanova

The Indigenous Theme in Cuba Cinema: A Complete Vacuum? (Part 3)

28 01 2010


Woman descended from the Indigenous Tainos, a native of De Caridad de los Indios, in Yateras in Guantanamo province in Cuba.

A particularly significant milestone in the history of Cuban cinema on the Indian issue is the documentary A Legacy (1976, 26 minutes, color) by director Santiago Villafuerte. The film is the first to show evidence of the presence of descendants of IndoCubans among the peasant population of Cuba. The film is the first work that is concerned with the difficult issue of Indian heritage evident in certain sectors of the current Cuban population, and its culture. Villafuerte goes in search of descendants of IndoCubans living in the area of the Yateras Mountains (in the province of Guantanamo), to bear witness this sociocultural phenomenon, which amazed most viewers then and still does today. The documentary has the additional virtue of presenting separate interviews of two of the most prestigious Cuban scientists associated with the study of Cuban indigenous issues.  He interviewed the anthropologist and archaeologist Dr. Manuel Rivero de la Calle, then Director of the Museum of Anthropology, and also Luis Montane, a professor at the University of Havana, and the experienced archaeologist at the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, and Dr. Jose Manuel Guarch Delmonte, both deceased. Their testimony was based on their rigorous scientific research (that of Rivero related to ethnic and indigenous cultural survival in the peasant sector of the contemporary Cuban population) as well as the testimonies of descendants of those Indians (today mestizos). This research apparently stimulated Villafuerte to continue exploring cultural evidence relating to that sector of the Cuban population.

Altar Cross (color film, 14 minutes), A Changüí Party (also in color, 11 minutes), and The Owners of the River (also in color, 12 minutes), are three films also made by him in 1980, with images recorded during his long and adventurous journey through eastern Cuba. Villafuerte is attracted to everything that, in his fine artistic intuition (now supported by the experience of having known true descendants of IndoCubans), he suspects may have an indigenous background.  Hence, in Altar Cross, without identifying the details of Indian origin contained in the ceremony (only available to anthropologists), he takes testimony of how it was traditionally performed among Guantameran peasant families. He inquires about their religious background (Catholic) and how they have held onto these forms of celebration for so long. This documentary is also the first audiovisual evidence of such an aged creole and popular religious ceremony, never before recorded and now largely defunct, hence another merit for this work.

A Changüí Party vibrates in the same string of perceived resonances of Indian ancestry in different expressions of the spiritual culture of Cuba. Again, Villafuerte’s work opened the paths for finding ancestral roots, this time in traditional Cuban popular music. The Changüí, a vocal and dance genre popular in vast rural areas especially in eastern Cuba, is a matter of interest in searching for the earliest roots of the Cuban. The theme of the documentary ties together very closely the issue of a possible Indian heritage that little more than a century later again be investigated. 

The Owners of the River is a testimonial to a simple but unique peculiarity of the area: the peasants who live along the river Toa in Guantanamo and are engaged in navigating it, transporting goods and people. But even though here they are seen as simple fishermen or men of the river, the viewer can not help but feel the atmosphere it evokes of the indigenous people of this place (many actually distant descendants of the native), such as the environment, and even boats, which, like the indigenous before them, they produce with their own hands and “dugouts.” Today we know that the dugouts recall the memory of the Indian canoe that for so many centuries sailed the same waters.

In the decade of the 1980s, Cuban film about indigenous issues added four titles; while not referring to IndoCubans, at least they point to the lively and ethnically distinct indigenous living in other nations of America, as they are co-productions with two of these countries. From Peru three films were added, where the indigenous majority is part of the territory and the population struggling to survive as human beings while preserving their ancestral culture. The fourth film was made in Ecuador. Of these the first of that decade was The Wind of The Ayahuasca (1982, 86 minutes and in color), directed by Nora Iscue, which relates a curious story of love resulting from the indigenous religion in the Peruvian Amazon region. The second is In the Land of the Awajunti (1984, color, 21 minutes), directed by Alberto Durant, which is about the survival of indigenous Awarunas (also of the Peruvian Amazon), who affected their traditional lifestyles introducing changes in their habitat. The third is entitled Exodus Without Absence (1985, 12 minutes, in color), directed by Cuban Jorge Luis Sanchez, which reveals how the Ecuadorian community of Puesetus struggles to preserve their ancient cultural traditions despite needing need migrate to the city. And finally, the documentary Rimac Tampu (A Trip to the Past), (1989, 20 minutes and in color), directed by Rafael Delucchi, offered evidence of the survival of Indian spiritual culture of Peru (their myths and legends), despite the devastation of the people by colonialism and the imposition of modern Western culture. 

Returning to the theme of IndoCubans in the national film production of the 1980s, two short productions that although they do not directly address that case, they brush the surface, or contain it implicitly. The first of these if The Bohío (The Hut) (1984, 9 minutes, color): a cartoon directed by Mario Rivas, who uses that typical model of Cuban peasant housing construction (an inheritance of IndoCuban, later modified) as a reason for repetitive speech on key moments Cuba’s history from the colonial period until 1959. The second is One Day I Left (1987, 14 minutes and in color), directed by Guillermo Centeno. This takes place in the small town of Baracoa, and dwells on its vintage Indian origin, about the meaning of its aboriginal name, but mostly about its people today, many of them descendants of the aboriginal ethnic and cultural heritage – how they live and how beautiful is the environment where the population evolves. 

In those years, Modesto Garcia returns to the memory of IndoCubans and produces a short animated documentary called, simply, Aborigines (1986, 6 minutes, in color), which the following year won the Annual Award of the Critic 1987. This develops a very interesting topic: a group of IndoCubans victoriously rejected the attack of others living in the same area, and as they move through the territory come into contact with another indigenous community that welcomes them and from whom they learn farming techniques, the making of ceramic vessels, the making fishing nets, etc. Upon returning to their home communities, they bring the contribution of new knowledge. Thus cinema is reflected in one of the most complex cultural phenomena and interesting parts of the history of the Cuban indigenous past: the process of miscegenation and cultural exchange that occurred between the primordial human groups with different lifestyles, who  coexisted in Cuba for many years.

(To be continued in the next post.)

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The Indigenous Theme in Cuba Cinema: A Complete Vacuum? (Part 2)

26 01 2010


The artistic intuition of the filmmakers

In this situation, total ignorance is understandable when art turns to reveal its intrinsic power as a source of knowledge.  The artistic sensibility of certain creators, this time through the visual image and sound, intuitively grasps that this reality kept secret from the history books, and therefore ignored by many, floats like a spiritual mist through our society, through memories, customs, traditions and even everyday expressions of religion.

The poet, N Nicolás Guillén, tried to synthesize the Cuban race in a phrase where he tells us: “Santa Barbara on one side / on the other Chango,” but this formula is very simple, not to describe the simplistic: white and black… and nothing more?  Today we know that the Cuban race has another original ingredient, in addition to the Spanish and the African: an ingredient both more remote and much closer at the same time, because it still lives: the indigenous.  That is, “completely mixed.”  In this the poet Guillén is right.

It’s true that the indigenous ingredient has been the neglected component of the Cuban cultural identity, although some although some feel it today.  They know it is one of the essential substances that has intervened in the cooking of that cultural “melting pot” that Ortiz once defined and that continues today t constitute our Creole personality.  And so this had been brilliantly intuited by some of our nineteenth century poets, those called “Siboney-ists,” who also perceived the indigenous presence in the sociocultural environment they fed their creative inspiration.  Especially the the two leading poets of this literary trend: Juan Cristóbal Nápoles Fajardo and José Fornaris.

In Cuba, the cinematographic work of some directors reveals to us anew this special intuition the artists possess to approach — and to help us get closer to — the true social and cultural history.  The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) conserves in its collection some of the most precious and earliest works we can cite as examples of the indigenous theme reflected in Cuban cinema.  In chronological order, the fist work done in this regard was a simple and short documentary directed in 1963 by Bernabe Hernandez, a 6-minute black-and-white film titled Aboriginal Culture, that gives us a rough overview of the IndoCubans. It was followed the next year by a larger work in purpose and execution, this time by the excellent cartoonist Modesto Garcia. He made the animated documentary, The IndoCubans (1964, 28 minutes in black and white), that illustrates the peaceful life of the IndoCubans and their communities and how this life was destroyed by the violence perpetrated by the conquistadores.  Although, of course, the historical version on which this is based is the traditional one, it has, among others, the merit of presenting it in an educational way, accessible to children or adults.  The author presents a case previously forgotten by the still poor Cuban cinema.  The images are a complete departure form the old idyllic view of indigenous Cubans, showing remarkable realistic details, created by the gaze of an artist with accurate anthropological information about the physical appearance of the people, their environment, customs and lifestyles, and so on.  As a result of such an excellent job, The IndoCubans was turned into a book in 1982 (published by Gente Nueva), with the accompanying text of Onelio Jorge Cardoso.  Even today it is one of the best books illustrated with fictional images of IndoCubans.

Perhaps because of the success of The IndoCubans in 1964, the theme of the aboriginal Cuban was taken up again in the following year by the creator of the Tulio Raggi cartoons, produced in Macrotí: un Noé cubano (Macroti: A Cuban Noah) (1965, 10 minutes, in color), a brief documentary whose these develops an IndoCuban legend about a mythic person similar to the Biblical Noah; a kind of Cuban Noah.  Eleven years later, the work of this creator appeared under a new title, also very brief: El pajarito prieto (The Bird Prieto) (1976, 6 minutes, in color) a lovely adventure in which the principal characters are children: Gibara, an indigenous Cuban, and Cimarron, a little black boy.  They are taken prisoner on a slave ship where they are rescued by another little black boy.”  Both of Raggi’s works (the first based on traditional legends and the second on historic situations) can be considered a small sample of the wide possibilities offered on indigenous issues in Cuban film creation.

In the same genre of animated cartoons, Tabey (1965, 8 minutes, in color) is a short documentary — the name is Taino — from the famous artist Juan Padrón, who created a fictional cartoon from historic facts.  In the film, the figure of an aboriginal Cuban stars in the heroic an patriotic action of helping a group of Taino warriors to attack a Spanish fort, and the Spaniards ultimately flee.  It makes one wonder, is there not perhaps in these characters the antecedents of the celebrated Elpido Valdez and his Mambises?

With regards to this see my work: Santiago, número 65, julio de 1987, pp. 187-204.

(to be continued in the following post)

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The Indigenous Theme in Cuba Cinema: A Complete Vacuum? (Part 1)

26 01 2010


Woman descended from the indigenous Tainos, natives of the mountainous region of Yateras in Guantanamo province.

By José Antonio García

Returning to the theme of the IndoCuban heritage in current Cuban culture, it is interesting to rummage around in what has transpired with cinema (including video) because, as everyone knows, it is one of the most important manifestations of modern art.  When we look it appears, effectively, that one of the most remarkable gaps in the creation of Cuban films is in the area of indigenous themes, both indigenous issues in general and in relation to the indigenous Cuban in particular.  However, while it is completely unjustified, the vacuum is perfectly understandable.  Many will say, “After all, which indigenous would one refer to in Cuba?  Everyone knows, that none of them survived the sixteenth century.”  Or the following questions might arise: What proven facts related to aboriginal Cubans have passed into the pages of the earliest history of Cuba?  What folktales can be traced to the IndoCuban tradition, which in turn would support the development of a film script or a piece of literature?  And, in any case, what interest could there be in the little known history of that period, when the Spanish and indigenous people lived together in Cuba?  What attraction could there be today in the few anecdotes or stories from the oral tradition that have survived from these eras so remote and unknown as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, that would merit making them into films or literature?

Hopefully many creators of visual images in Cuba until recently have formulated for themselves the previous questions; at least these.  When reviewing Cuban cinema production in its diverse formats over many years, the suspicion arises that most of them haven’t even touched on — at least for the last decade — such ideas.  The exceptions mentioned below confirm this severe truth.

Before discussion the few directors who, alone in recent years, have turned their attention to the indigenous Cuban past — almost always to show is their transcendental humanity and culture in the present — I consider it necessary as we dig more deeply into the reasons that may offer an explanation of why there is this thematic gap in Cuban cinema that, as we will see, is not a complete vacuum.

The IndoCuban

The initial cause of forgetting seems to have been widespread ignorance regarding the true history of Cuba before and during the first centuries of colonial life.  So I am referring to specific historic reasons: generations of Cubans, one after the other, have been deceived since childhood; they learn in elementary school that indigenous Cubans had disappeared or were exterminated by early in the sixteenth century.  From this point of view one might ask, “Why be interested in the life of a people who disappeared completely half a millennium ago?  What connection could such a remote and forgotten past have with the present.”

The thesis of the “extermination” of the aboriginal population of Cuba (similar to that held for the population of Puerto Rico and the island of Hispanola, among others) has a long and sad history.  Even today we know that the majority of IndoCubans (calculated to have been some hundreds of thousands at the beginning of the sixteenth century), were neither captured no enslaved.  They escaped the Spanish conquerors and fled through the dense wilds to the mountains, and the swamps and cays surrounding our island, where the few Spanish at that time did not have access.  A very different interpretation, however, was given by the early historians of Cuba in the reports about the situation written by friar Bartolome de Las Casas.    He wrote to the king, alarmed, protesting the physical abuse that the conquistadores committed against the aboriginals they managed to capture as slaves.  And although he referred on occasion to the many indigenous who escaped the control of the Spaniards, fleeing their presence, it was not the most important thing to complain to the king about, as much as the many others who died or were mutilated by the violence of the first encounter. Finally, of the great number who managed to save themselves, nothing was known.  No one has written their history.  Over time, the IndoCubans gradually merged with the rest of the other components (basically the Spanish and the Africans) of the Creole ethnos to form what we are today; a new ethnos, the result of a wonderful blend of three peoples, originally different but united in the end by the same history from the sixteenth century.

But the hypothesis of the “extermination” of the IndoCubans in the sixteenth century grew, developed, and took root up to the current time, in contradiction to the most basic scientific reasoning.  It made its appearance from the chroniclers who wrote the first documents, which served as a source for the firsts test about the history of Cuba in the eighteenth century.  In the same way, the population census could not express for centuries the reality with respect to the indigenous population that actually was in Cuba, because only the smallest part of them was within reach of those from the peninsula.  Thus, the firm belief that the IndoCuban population had disappeared “completely” in the frist decades of the sixteenth century, along with the equally widespread variant of the “near extinction” or so-called “gradual disappearance” which have constituted fallacies that historians have copied among themselves and repeated mindlessly over generations.

Now we must recognize that in recent times historical studies, aided by anthropology and archeology, fundamentally and thankfully, have been developing guidelines to determine better approach to the reality of historic facts, from from dogma and prejudice.  However, we also must recognize that the prejudice of extermination has been and still is a firm conviction rooted in Cuban social consciousness (as well as that of other peoples), passed mechanically from generation to generation, blind victims of a colonial ideological legacy that that fostered this belief on purpose to downplay the the importance of the primordial roots of the Creole ethnos (that is of its non-Spanish elements) and build a supposedly unique and true story in which the “Iberian race” had absolute primacy.

Thus, the history of Cuba began — according to the colonialist approach outlined in the first texts on the history of Cuba — not with the lives of the aboriginal communities on our archipelago from about ten thousands years before Christopher Columbus arrived, but at exactly the moment when he arrived in Cuba.  In conclusion, the IndoCuban became a person excised from the official history, and therefore, from the social consciousness of Cubans.

(to be continued in the following post)

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