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Carnival and National Identity in the Poetry of Afrocubanismo

Thomas F. Anderson

Publication Year: 2011

The poetry associated with Afrocubanismo has been of great interest to academics since the movement began in the late 1920s. Thomas Anderson’s detailed analysis infuses new life into the study of these remarkable works. Focusing on the representations of carnival and its comparsas (carnival bands and music), Carnival and National Identity in the Poetry of Afrocubanismo offers thought-provoking new readings of poems by seminal Cuban poets, demonstrating how their writings on and about these traditions both contributed to and detracted from the development of a recognizable Afro-Cuban identity.

This volume is the first to examine, from a literary perspective, the long-running debate between the proponents of Afro-Cuban cultural manifestations and the predominantly white Cuban intelligentsia who viewed these traditions as “backward” and counter to the interests of the young Republic. Including analyses of the work of Felipe Pichardo Moya, Alejo Carpentier, Nicolás Guillén, Emilio Ballagas, José Zacarías Tallet, Felix B. Caignet, Marcelino Arozarena, and Alfonso Camín, this rigorous, interdisciplinary volume offers a fresh look at the canon of Afrocubanismo and offers surprising insights into Cuban culture during the early years of the Republic.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Since beginning my research for this book over five years ago, I have enjoyed the constant support, encouragement, and patience of my wife, friend, and colleague, Marisel Moreno. I am surprised how often I am met with quizzical looks from fellow academics when they learn that I work in a similar field...

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Introduction. Comparsas, Congas, and Chambelonas: Carnival and National Identity in Cuba

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pp. 1-24

As early as the sixteenth century, African slaves in Cuba formed small ensembles on various occasions throughout the year, whose members would dance, sing, and perform sacred rites in the streets of the nation’s towns and cities (Feliú Herrera, Fiestas 137–38). However, it was not until the 1840s that...

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1. Felipe Pichardo Moya’s “La comparsa”: Afro-Cuban Carnival as Sinister Spectacle

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pp. 25-48

The publication of Felipe Pichardo Moya’s “La comparsa” in the Cuban magazine Gráfico in March 1916 corresponded to a period during which racial tensions in Cuba were especially acute. Memories of the Racist Massacre of 1912 were still fresh, and many whites lived in fear of Afro-Cubans, their...

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2. Carnival and Ñáñiguismo: Poetic Syncretism in Alejo Carpentier’s “Juego santo”

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pp. 49-78

Alejo Carpentier’s fame as a novelist, essayist, and short story writer has largely overshadowed the handful of poems inspired by African-derived cultural traditions that he wrote during the early years of his career. These foundational—though by now nearly forgotten—texts testify to Carpentier’s early...

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3. Carnival and Afro-Cuban Ritual in Nicolás Guillén’s “Sensemayá: canto para matar una culebra”

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pp. 79-107

A study of representations of Afro-Cuban carnival traditions in Cuban poetry would be incomplete without a thorough examination of Nicolás Guillén’s widely read and anthologized “Sensemayá: canto para matar una culebra” (1934). I will begin this chapter with a discussion of past readings of the poem...

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4. “Comparsa habanera,” Emilio Ballagas’s Emblematic Contribution to Afrocubanismo

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pp. 108-139

Since its first appearance in Cuaderno de poesía negra (1934), Emilio Ballagas’s “Comparsa habanera” has been one of the most widely celebrated and anthologized poems of Afrocubanismo. To this day it is considered by many critics to be emblematic of this important cultural and literary movement...

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5. Drumming Up the Black Vote: Chambelonas and Cuban Electoral Politics in José Zacarías Tallet’s “Quintín Barahona”

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pp. 140-159

From a political standpoint, the concerted efforts made by Cuban politicians to ban or eliminate supposedly backward Afro-Cuban customs and traditions presented them with a significant conundrum: how to uproot or contain African cultural influences while at the same time courting the support...

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6. “La conga prohibida”: Felix B. Caignet’s Response to Carnival Controversy in Santiago de Cuba

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pp. 160-180

Though Felix B. Caignet (1892–1976) is not well known among modern students and critics of Afrocubanismo, his poems were very familiar to audiences throughout Latin America during the height of the movement thanks in large part to Eusebia Cosme (1911–1976), the famed...

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7. Representations of Afro-Cuban Carnival in Three Poems by Marcelino Arozarena

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pp. 181-212

In a 1971 interview with Adolfo Suárez, the Afro-Cuban poet Marcelino Arozarena (1912–1996) noted that since the early years of his literary career he had been turned off by the tendency among the poets of Afrocubanismo to present images of Cubans of color that seemed more like caricatures...

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8. An Outsider on the Inside: Alfonso Camín’s “Carnaval en la Habana”

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pp. 213-252

Some readers might question the inclusion of Spanish poet Alfonso Camín (1890–1982) in this study of representations of carnival traditions in Cuban poetry. It is important, therefore, to clarify from the outset of this chapter dedicated to his “Carnaval en la Habana” that despite having been...

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Epilogue. Carnival and Cultural Essence

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pp. 253-276

The initial inspiration for this project came from my classes on Hispanic Caribbean literature and culture, in which I routinely dedicate considerable time to the poetry of Afrocubanismo. In preparation for my lectures I have read many books and essays on the poetry of this important artistic...

Appendix. A Brief Anthology of Poems Inspired by Afro-Cuban Carnival

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pp. 277-298


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pp. 299-312

Works Cited

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pp. 313-325


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pp. 327-341

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045283
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813035581
Print-ISBN-10: 0813035589

Page Count: 350
Illustrations: 39 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 801842413
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Carnival and National Identity in the Poetry of Afrocubanismo

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cuban poetry -- Black authors -- History and criticism.
  • Cuban poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Carnival in literature.
  • Blacks in literature.
  • National characteristics, Cuban, in literature.
  • Cuba -- In literature.
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