The Poetics of Nicomedes Santa Cruz and Its Challenge to the Canon of Peruvian Hegemonic Literature

By Orihuela, Carlos L. | Afro - Hispanic Review, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The Poetics of Nicomedes Santa Cruz and Its Challenge to the Canon of Peruvian Hegemonic Literature


Orihuela, Carlos L., Afro - Hispanic Review


Nicomedes Santa Cruz (Lima-Peru, 1925- Madrid, 1992) represents the first successful challenge to the canon of Peruvian hegemonic literature from the perspective of negritude. This is explained by three indisputable facts. First, he broadens the intellectual indigenist discourse towards the consideration of other ethnic groups, especially Afro-Peruvians, who form an inherent part of modern Peru. Second, he desanctifies canonical literary genres by revising and recreating representative forms of traditional black poetry from which he develops a personal type of versification, thus solidifying a style of writing conceived within his own ethnic perspective. Third, he encourages the majority of the Peruvian public to recognize the African cultural presence and to incorporate it as part of their tradition.

Until the nineteen fifties, the zenith of the "indigenist" currents and the inclusion of the so-called pre-Columbian literature into the official histories of the national literature had been the most important transformations in the Peruvian hegemonic culture and literature characterized by their occidentalist and colonial tradition. This fact, which was the starting point of a more just treatment of indigenous majorities in the country, initiated at the same time a broader process: the acknowledgement of the multicultural nature of Peru. These were the first steps toward a recognition of indigenous culture which in turn caused the recognition of other cultural communities. Although these communities could not be considered majorities, they were also part of what we could call "peruanidad" (Peruvianess).

The debate over national integration and the recognition of diverse Peruvian cultural voices had been substantially elevated by the most lucid intellectuals of the day. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the discussion was no more than an intellectual polemic. A genuine literary canon, in which every form of "peruanidad" enjoyed equal respect, was still in the distant future.

We must remember, first, that the Pre-columbian chapter in the history of Peruvian literature primarily served to define a historical period that could explain how a "mestizo" culture came about in the Andean region. And secondly, that the zenith of indigenism was only understandable to the extent that it was a novel project within post-World War I intellectual currents; in its essence it remained imbued with its traditional western and paternalistic perspective. With certain exceptions, such as Josh Maria Arguedas, indigenists, writers and intellectuals were more concerned with the struggle for legal reforms than with a genuine and broad-based participation by indigenous people in the national life. The struggle to construct a canon from the diversity of Peruvian literatures was an endeavor that would take shape much later, which continues even to this day. This construction would be a constant and careful labor, initiated by new generations of critics and writers who were forged by the jarring events of the second half-century, and propelled by post-World War II intellectual and political forces.

It is this context that gave rise to the artistic works of Nicomedes Santa Cruz. The publication of his books and the popular reception of his poetry began to bear fruit during the nineteen sixties. Like the rest of Latin America, Peru was affected by such events as the intensification of the Cold War, the Cuban revolution, independence movements in Africa, the Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle in the United States and, in general, by a universal movement for radical social change which was driven by the younger generation.

Santa Cruz, in this sense, is in complete conformity with this new intellectual spirit. There was no place in his literary vision for well-intentioned but ineffective "indigenismo" and "negrismo". Nor was he concerned with being included in the official literary canons by winning the acceptance of intellectuals and critics. …

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