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

26 01 2010

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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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