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  • Introduction to Nicomedes Santa Cruz
  • Martha Ojeda

Nicomedes Santa Cruz (1925-1992) is notably one of the most important Afro-Peruvian poets of the twentieth century. He is the best representative of negritude in Peru by being the first poet in treating blackness from an Afro-centric perspective highlighting the important and unmistakable participation of the Afro-Peruvian in the shaping of national history. It is worth mentioning his important contributions to literature not only by the preservation, renewal, and continuation of the décima but also by the incorporation of a new voice that reflects the multicultural reality of Peru. Santa Cruz rescued the decimista tradition compiling and setting the décimas that circulated orally. Furthermore, from the middle of the twentieth century, he was the most important representative of that tradition and wrote décimas and other poems in significant numbers; nevertheless, his contribution to national literature is modestly known and rarely studied.

Though it is certain that Santa Cruz had a notable artistic career, his essays and journalistic work cannot be ignored. He published hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines of greater circulation in Lima (El Comercio, Caretas, and El Expreso) in which he brought to light the influences of the African culture in popular customs, history, sports, education, language, culinary art, dance, and religion. Among his journalistic works, "Ensayo sobre la marinera" (1958), "La décima en el Perú" (1961), "Cumanana" (1964), "El festejo" (1964), "El negro en el Perú" (1965), "Racismo en el Perú" (1967), and "De Senegal y Malambo" (1973) stand out. His more important essays are: "Aportes de las civilizaciones africanas al folklore del Perú" (1978), "Racismo, discriminación racial y etnocentrismo" (1980) and "El negro en Iberoamérica" (1988). These journalistic articles and essays are a substantial contribution to the knowledge of the Afro-Peruvian cultural legacy, and they served as a way to raise consciousness of the social situation of Blacks in Peru and in the Americas.

In addition, Santa Cruz had a leading role in the reconstruction of Afro-Peruvian music and dance. During the 1950s, with his sister Victoria Santa Cruz, he played an important role in recovering and preserving these musical and dance traditions. Both Victoria and Nicomedes compiled, performed, and recorded forgotten Afro-Peruvian rhythms such as festejo, zaña, landó, samba-malato, panalivio and socabón. Many of these dances and songs were carefully studied and described in his journalistic articles published in Expreso and El Comercio between the 1950s and 1960s. Likewise he compiled and recorded a total of sixteen musical albums among which Cumanana (1964) and Socabón (1975) stand out by underlining the contributions of the Afro-descendants to Peruvian traditional folklore.

Santa Cruz disseminated his African cultural legacy through a series of newspaper columns such as: "Folklore costeño" ("Coastal Folklore"), where he published essays [End Page 266] describing in detail some of the instruments used to perform traditional Afro-Peruvian music such as el cajón, la quijada de burro, el guiro, and la carrasca among other instruments. He also wrote about Afro-Peruvian dances such as el son de los diablos, el festejo, el alcatraz, and el ingá. Much of what we know and have maintained of Afro-Peruvian coastal folklore is possible because of the contributions of Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz. G. Martinez and F. Jarque comment on the contribution of Santa Cruz to the Renaissance of Afro-Peruvian music: "One of the undisputed pillars of the Afro-Peruvian musical resurgence was poet, composer and musicologist Nicomedes Santa Cruz. In the 1950s, he began compiling and rejuvenating Afro-Peruvian cultural forms; later, as a student and a supporter of the black consciousness movement, he used radio and television as forums for bringing many unknown Afro-Peruvian musicians to public attention."

Between the 1960s and 1970s Santa Cruz published four poetry collections, various short stories, and two anthologies: Décimas (1960), Cumanana (1964), Canto a mi Perú (Song to Peru) (1966), Ritmos Negros del Perú (Black Rhythms of Peru) (1971), Antología: décimas y poemas (Anthology: Decimas and Poems) (1971), and Rimactampu: rimas al Rimac (Rimactampu: Rhymes to the River Rimac) (1972). His poetic and ideological evolution...


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