Cuba's Wild East: A Literary Geography of Oriente

Cuba's Wild East: A Literary Geography of Oriente

Cuba's Wild East: A Literary Geography of Oriente

Cuba's Wild East: A Literary Geography of Oriente

Excerpt

I'm going there to die,
Caramba, I’m going there to kill.
Look, negra, I’m going there to die.
Oriente, if I could only sing your song the way I want to,
The land where Maceo first saw the light of day, Oriente.
Today I only offer you the chimera
Just like a simple play.
You are my encyclopaedia,
My mother supreme, Oriente,
With poets like Maceo and Heredia,
Caramba, negra.

(Cheo Marquetti)

In Cuba the term Oriente, which just means ‘east’ in Spanish, has long been applied to the easternmost part of the island, roughly a quarter of the country’s total area. It is not uncommon for one of the four main compass points to be turned into a regional designation, usually with a very particular set of resonances: in the USA, the west; in Italy, the south; in England, the north. Although the resonances of these norths and souths and easts and wests are obviously very specific to the countries concerned, Cuba’s Oriente shares some characteristics with Italy’s south or England’s north: an under-developed economy, a mountainous terrain, distant from centres of power, a history of social and political unrest. For all these reasons its population has often been looked down upon by Cuba’s various elites. At the same time, however, the region has exercised a magnetic pull on the imaginations of those elsewhere in the country and outside the country. Cheo Marquetti’s wonderful song suggests the fascination of Cuba’s Oriente, encapsulated in that combination of Maceo and Heredia: Antonio Maceo, the Bronze Titan, Cuba’s greatest military hero, who was killed in 1896 during Cuba’s wars of independence, and José María Heredia, the tragic Romantic poet, dead at 35, both men born . . .

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