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155 seven Afterlife En Paita preguntamos por ella, la Difunta. Tocar, tocar la tierra de la bella Enterrada. No sabían. after her death, Manuela Sáenz’s remains slipped anonymously into the dry earth on the outskirts of Paita.1 Local tradition has it that, along with other victims of the 1856 diphtheria epidemic, the Libertadora was buried in a common grave south of town instead of in the parish cemetery, the normal burial ground for town residents. Despite a Peruvian government–sponsored investigation into the matter in the late 1980s, her exact resting place—the site of her bones—remains uncertain.2 Public interest in where she is buried, however, is telling. Reflected in the pilgrimages made to Paita in the many years since her death, such interest has coincided with a growing awareness of Paita’s history and folk memory, including Paiteños’ recollection of the close bonds Sáenz had with local families, including ties of compadrazgo with some of the women who worked in her home and helped her earn a living.3 Yet, Sáenz has transcended memory. In recent decades, thanks to the work of scores of writers, journalists, novelists, and others (including filmmakers) in Spanish America, she has become a mythic, even iconic, figure.4 Her iconic status owes much to Alfonso Rumazo’s Manuela Sáenz: La Libertadora del Libertador. T4770.indb 155 T4770.indb 155 8/12/08 11:19:34 AM 8/12/08 11:19:34 AM View of contemporary Paita. Photograph by author. House in Paita believed to have been Sáenz’s home. The brass plaque next to the doorway reads: “En esta casa vivió y murió Manuelita Sáenz, ‘La Libertadora del Libertador Bolívar,’ Homenaje del Rotary Club de Paita, Paita, 29 de Julio de 1970.” Photograph by author. T4770.indb 156 T4770.indb 156 8/12/08 11:19:34 AM 8/12/08 11:19:34 AM afterlife 157 This book was the first to offer a compelling portrait of the Libertadora; unlike most earlier writings, it shows her to have been less a stereotype or sensational character than a dynamic, complex, flesh-and-blood woman. It also dismisses the moralistic assessments of earlier authors, noting, for example, that Sáenz’s “original sin [of illicit love] has been cleansed in the dew of the liberty that she herself helped uncover.”5 As this assessment illustrates, moreover, Rumazo cast his protagonist as an epic heroine. Indeed, reflecting the nationalist (and Pan-American) sensibility among writers of his generation, he cast her as a key participant in the continentwide anticolonial war led by Bolívar. He thus highlighted Sáenz’s role in the final, Peruvian, stages of that war, including, as noted earlier, the Andean Campaign and important Battle of Ayacucho. He characterized Sáenz overall as a patriot and freedom fighter—in effect, an Amazon-like “founding mother.” In Rumazo’s view, the Libertadora was “not only a lover worthy of the Libertador but an American soldier who battled heroically . . . for the independence of the continent.”6 The broad appeal of this portrayal may be gauged from the fact that, since 1944, Rumazo’s biography has appeared in at least ten Spanishlanguage editions published in Spain and four Spanish American countries: the most recent edition was published in 2003 in Quito.7 Rumazo’s dashing, freedom-fighting heroine, moreover, has captivated a wide range of readers. She has inspired authors of left-wing ideological inclination , for example. The most famous of these, no doubt, is Chilean-born poet Pablo Neruda. In his haunting and lyrical “La insepulta de Paita: Elegía dedicada a la memoria de Manuela Sáenz, amante de Simón Bolívar” (The Unburied Woman of Paita: Elegy Dedicated to the Memory of Manuela Sáenz, Lover of Simón Bolívar), Neruda celebrated the Libertadora as a passionate revolutionary , a militant in the ranks of a guerilla-style insurgency. The poem’s third stanza refers to her as “the siren of rifles, the widow of nets, the tiny creole merchant of honey, doves, pineapples, and pistols [who] slept among the casks, familiar with the insurgent gunpowder.” Subsequent lines recall the “lost commander” with her “turbulent eyes [and] short hands like iron.” The poem later characterizes Saenz as a “pure smuggler” and “guerilla fighter” as well as a “wounded woman . . . [who] had victory in her dreams [and] a sword for a lover.”8 Such phrases...


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