Afrocubanista Poetry

Afro-Cuban Poetry
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  Afrocubanista Poetry and Afro-Cuban PerformanceAuthor(s): Miguel ArnedoSource: The Modern Language Review, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 990-1005Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association Stable URL: Accessed: 29/11/2010 18:11 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  Modern Humanities Research Association  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend accessto The Modern Language Review.  AFROCUBANISTA POETRY AND AFRO-CUBAN PERFORMANCE In the I920S Cuba's intellectuals began to search for a new definition of Cuban cultural identity as a response to increasing US domination of all aspects of Cuban life. Influenced by European and North American 'black' and Primitivist artistic movements, the nation's literati soon turned their attention to Afro-Cuban cultural traditions. To them, these represented a home-grown culture that was unique to the island and had remained largely uncontaminated by US cultural influences. Consequently, they seemed a particularly appropriate source of raw material for the production of nationalist literary forms. These writers formed the afrocubanista poetic movement and, during the decade I928-I938, they wrote poems incorpo- rating Afro-Cuban culture. In a more general sense, the movement can be understood as part of a discourse of mestizaje hich, as Vera Kutzinski points out, has been central to the construct of Cuban national identity since the writings of Jose Marti.' The leading figure of nineteenth-century Cuban nationalism heralded the idea of a Cuba free of racial divisions in order to convince Cubans of all colours to fight together for independence from Spain. More specifically, with the notion of 'nuestra America mestiza', he sought to promote an image of racial unity which would counteract the Cuban whites' fear that, in an independent Cuba without protection from Spain, blacks would rise up and take over the island.2 Like their revered national hero, Cuban intellectuals of the I92os and I 93os also came to believe that Cuban blacks' cooperation with Cuban whites was an essential prerequisite for the island's autonomy. After Cuba became an independent republic in I902, fear of black mobilization had continued, as it was widely believed that it would provide an excuse for US occupation.3 In this way, solidarity amongst all sectors of the population again appeared necessary for full Cuban independence. Afrocubanista poets assumed that the way to make blacks feel part of an oppressed Cuban people, thus discouraging their mobilization and gaining their support for the nationalist cause, was to enhance unity between the two racial groups. As evident in the programme of the Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos, they assumed that this could be achieved by bringing to the fore 'mulatto' cultural forms, which had resulted from the coexistence of blacks and whites throughout Cuban history.4 Fernando Sugar's ecrets. ace and he Erotics f Cuban ationalism Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993), p. 56. 2Jose Marti, 'Nuestra America' (1891), 'Mi raza' (1893), 'El manifiesto de Montecristi : El partido revolucionario Cuba' (1895), n Jose Marti: Sus mejorespdginas, d. by Raimundo Lazo (Mexico: Porrua, 1985), PP.87-93,52-53,67-72. 3 Vera M. Kutzinski, pp. I40, I43, and Aline Helg, Our Rightful hare. The Afro-Cuban truggle or Equality, i886-i912 (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), pp. 190, I45, 219 4 The Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos, ounded n 1936, was presided by Fernando Ortiz and its members included afrocubanista oets Emilio Ballagas, Ram6n Guirao, Nicolas Guillen and Marcelino Arozarena see 'Miembros de la Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos', Estudios Afirocubanos, (I937), 9- IO). Consequently, the objectives which the association et out to achieve can be seen as a reliable outline of the afrocubanista deology. The notion that these intellectuals wanted to promote cultural unity by bringing o the fore 'mulatto' cultural forms s evident n the following quotation rom 'Los estatutos de la Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos': El objeto de la Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos sera el de estudiar [. . .] los fen6menos [.. .] producidos en Cuba por la convivencia de razas distintas, particularmente de la llamada negra de srcen africano, y la lamada blanca o caucasica, con el fin de lograr [.. .] la mayor compenetraci6n gualitaria de los diversos elementos integrantes de la naci6n cubana  MIGUEL ARNEDO 991 Ortiz, the movement's leader in questions of Afro-Cuban culture, was the main advocate of this approach. He believed that 'truly national' cultural forms were those incorporating elements from both African and Spanish srcins. According to him, these 'mulatto' forms, as he called them, emerged from a common juice or stock formed by the historical interaction between black and white Cubans. Afrocubanista oetry was one of the products of this process, a 'mulatto' literary genre that symbolized black and white cultural unity because it introduced 'black' cultural forms into 'white' poetry.5 The study of this movement must meet the challenge of reaching a balance between denouncing aspects that are ideologically troublesome and rescuing those that are positive. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Fernando Ortiz. On one hand his acceptance of the notion of biological determinism, which sustains nineteenth-century racial theories, is noticeable in many of his writings.6 Further- more, although he gradually moved from overt hostility to relative acceptance of Afro-Cuban culture, evolutionist and highly elitist descriptions of it continue in his writings as late as the 1950s (see Moore 1994, and Arnedo 200 ). On the other hand Ortiz's writings contain highly exploitable formulations that have been productively adapted and elaborated upon in important works of criticism in the last forty years.7 Elsewhere I have explored the restrictive aspects of his concept of'mulatto poetry', hacia la feliz realizaci6n de sus comunes destinos hist6ricos. (p. 7) Members of the Sociedad saw it as a response to the urgent need for blacks and whites to feel 'conjuntamente responsables de la fuerza hist6rica que integran' and, thus, 'propender honradamente, en una identificaci6n totalitaria, al examen profundo, inteligente, valeroso e imparcial de los fen6menos producidos en la isla a causa del contacto entre sus pobladores mas etnicamente caracteristicos'. The role of the Sociedad, they felt, was to 'ser un instrumento para ese examen y para esa uni6n' ('La Sociedad de Estudios Afrocubanos Contra los Racismos. Advertencia , comprensi6n y designio', 3-6 (pp. 5-6)). 5 For a more detailed analysis of Ortiz's concept of mulatto poetry, see my 'Arte blanco con motivos negros: Fernando Ortiz's Concept of the Cuban National Culture and Identity', Bulletin of Latin American Research, 20 (2001), 88-101. 6 See, for example, Los negros brujos (I906) (Miami FL: Ediciones Universal, 1973) where he claims that 'el fetichismo, como suele decirse, esta en la masa de la sangre de los negros africanos' (p. 230). Considering Ortiz's status as the 'defender' of blacks (see Robin Dale Moore, 'Representations of Afro-Cuban Expressive Culture in the Writings of Fernando Ortiz', Latin American Music Review, 15 (1994), 32-54 (p. 33)) and his important role in afrocubanismo, it is shocking to see how these theories continued to influence his work years later. The following extracts from a book published in 19 3 strongly reflect the influence of Herbert Spencer's Social Darwinism: El transformismo es hoy ley de la vida en todas sus manifestaciones ...]. Acaso nuestro porvenir nacional no sea en el fondo mas que un complicado problema de seleccion etnica - fisiologica y psiquica. Quizas no se trate sino de conseguir que el espinoso cactus de nuestra psiquis criolla (desgraciadamente ruzada con especies de escaso ugo y de muchas puas) vaya por escogidos cruzamientos con cactos jugosos y sin espinas [...]. La selecci6n de este cactus humano [...] especialmente en Cuba - sigue abandonada a si misma, determinada por las mas elementales leyes fisico sociales, luchando contra la biologicamente general prolificuidad de las especies inferiores. Entre ubanos. sicologia ropical Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1986), p. 54). 7 In particular, his term and concept 'transculturation'. See, for example, Gustavo Perez Firmat, The Cuban Condition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, I989), My Own Private Cuba: Essays on Cuban Literature and Culture (Boulder, CO: Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, I999); Antonio Benitez Rojo, 'Fernando Ortiz and Cubanness: A Postmodern Perspective', Cuban Studies, 18 (1988), I25-32; Angel Rama, Transculturacion narrativa en America Latina (Mexico: Siglo xxi, 1982); Fernando Coronil, 'Transculturation and the Politics of Theory: Countering the Center, Cuban Counterpoint', in Fernando Ortiz, Cuban Counterpoint, trans. by Harriet de Onis (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. ix-lvi; Catherine Davies, 'Fernando Ortiz's Transculturation: the Postcolonial Intellectual and the Politics of Cultural Representation', in Postcolonial Perspectives on the Cultures of Latin America and LusophoneAfrica, ed. by Robin Fiddian (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), pp. 141-68. In 'La critica latinoamericana y sus metaforas: algunas anotaciones' (Thesaurus: Boletin del Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 54.3, forthcoming) Patricia D'Allemand provides a useful analysis of some of the uses given to Ortiz's concept in Latin American cultural criticism. She denounces the recent tendency to focus solely on its reductionist aspects and stresses the importance of also exploiting its productive potential.  9Afrocubanista' oetry which implied a view of Cuban national culture and identity as imbued in a whitening process in which 'pure' African cultural forms were disappearing (Arnedo 200I). This article is an attempt to achieve a more desirable balance by looking at some of the more positive effects that Ortiz's concept had on the afrocubanista oetic production. This article explores the difficulties posed by the non-written nature of Afro-Cuban culture for these intellectuals in their endeavour to produce 'mulatto' poetry. It then illustrates the various ways in which they overcame these problems in the process of formally incorporating Afro-Cuban culture. Drawing from these explanations, the article then evaluates Ortiz's concept and the poetry's potential to symbolize a harmoniously integrated Cuban cultural identity. Fernando Ortiz generally referred to all afrocubanista oems as mulatto. Neverthe- less, he viewed some as being more authentically or typically mulatto than others. Producing these authentic mulatto poems was not just a question of using Afro- Cuban culture as subject matter but, rather, as an instrument through which to alter high literary forms. In relation to language, for example, he argued that it was necessary to do more than simply insert the occasional Afro-Cuban term. The poetry achieved through this kind of approach would not be negroide: como no lo es el retrato de una mulata en una postal de litografia alemana. Es poesia, al parecer, mulata por su virtud de espejo donde se refleja una externidad; pero no lo es por su naturaleza intrinseca'.8 One obvious difficulty afrocubanistas aced in formally incorporating Afro-Cuban cultural forms was that this task clearly required a degree of proficiency in Afro- Cuban cultural traditions. Unfortunately, like most of the second generation of republican intellectuals, these poets did not come from the black sectors where these traditions were practised. Instead, they belonged to the middle classes, and were highly educated in the dominant culture.9 Emilio Ballagas, for example, belonged to a white middle-class family in Camaguey. He received a university education and held a teaching position in the Escuela Normal de Santa Clara throughout the duration of the movement.10 The poets Jose Zacarias Tallet and Alejo Carpentier, both white, were educated in France and the United States and they were members of the minoristas, political group with artistic interests whose members came from relatively wealthy backgrounds. Another obstacle in this endeavour was their belief that Afro-Cuban culture did not comprise a written literature from which to borrow formal characteristics. Ortiz had pointed out in 'Los ultimos versos mulatos' that the only black literature in Cuba was confined to the oral expressions used in Afro-Cuban religious and secular collective practices.'2 Even as late as 1938, he attributed R6mulo Lachatafiere's difficulties in writing iOh, mio remayd o the oral characteristics of his primary sources. These, he argued, were a continuation or survival from 'preliterate' African 8 'Mas acerca de la poesia mulata. Escorzos para su estudio' (1936), in Iniciacidn la poesia afro-americana, d. by Oscar Fernandez de la Vega and Alberto N. Pamies Miami: Ediciones Universal, I973), I73-202 (p. 179). 9 For an outline of the social background of the members of this generation, see Francisco L6pez Segrera, Cuba: Culturay sociedad Havana: Letras Cubanas, i989), p. 190. 10 See Robin Dale Moore, Nationalizing lackness: frocubanismo nd Artistic Revolution n Havana, 1920-i935 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services, 1995), p. 224, and Argyll Pryor Rice, Emilio Ballagas: oeta poesia (Mexico: Ediciones de Andrea, I966), p. 17. L Ram6n Guirao, Orbita e a poesia Afrocubana. 928-37 (Havana: Ucar, Garcia y Cia, 1938), pp. 64, 76, and Moore, Nationalizing lackness, . 213. 12 'Los iltimos versos mulatos', in Fernandez de la Vega, pp. 156-71 (pp. i56-58). 992
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