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Masters’ on Santa Lujuria in Madrid, 8/01

Marta Rojas´ Santa Lujuria and the Transformation of Cuban History into Mythic Fiction, by Miriam DeCosta-Willis, 6/00

Literary criticism, Novel by Marta Rojas SANTA LUJURIA (HOLY LUST), 2/99, by Silvana Garriga (Editor and literary critic, Cuba)

Review of Marta Rojas’s novel, Santa Lujuria

Santa Lujuria - Holy Lust
a novel by Marta Rojas

"[Santa Lujuria] is unique in the corpus of Afro-Hispanic literature because it is one of only two novels (both by Rojas) by a Cuban woman of African descent and because this literary work... focuses on the role of the African-descended woman in the transformation of Spanish American history. The novel is also important because it participates in the contemporary scholarly and literary discourse on slavery that was initated in the 1970s and ´80s by Black writers throughout the Americas (1). Santa Lujuria is a subversive and iconoclastic text, which serves as a counterdiscourse to the "oficial" story, written by the founding fathers whose master texts created and preserved the disinformation that undergirded Cuban colonial history: to wit, the benevolence of slavery in the colonies, the mitigating influence of the Roman Catholic Church, the licentiousness of Africans, and the pure blood (pureza de sangre) of the Creole elite. Rojas inverts that history, demostrating though a fictional text based on meticulous archival research, the violence of slavery, the complicity of the Church, the sexual depravity of the slaveowners, and the nappy roots of the Creoles." - Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Congreso de Cultura y Literatura Afrohispánica 2000, dedicated to Marta Roja

INTERRACIAL - Sobre "Santa Lujuria", novela de Marta Rojas por Victor Fowler

Santa Lujuria (Blessed Lechery), novel by Marta Rojas by Daniel García Santos, 12/99



Miriam DeCosta-Willis

The novel Santa Lujuria o papeles de blanco by award-winning Cuban writer and journalist Marta Rojas is significant for several reason. First, it is unique in the corpus of Afro-Hispanic literature because it is one of only two novels (both by Rojas) by a Cuban woman of African descent and because this literary work, like Nancy Morejón's epic poem "Mujer negra", Cristina Cabaral's powerfult lyric "Memoria y resistencia" and Argentina Chiriboga´s historical novel Jonatás y Manuela, focuses on the role of the African-descended woman in the transformation of Spanish American history. The novel es also important because it participates in the contemporary scholarly and literary discourse on slavery that was initated in the 1970s and ´80s by Black writers throughout the Americas (1). Santa Lujuria is a subversive and iconoclastic text, which serves as a counterdiscourse to the "oficial" story, written by the founding fathers whose master texts created and preserved the disinformation that undergirded Cuban colonial history: to wit, the benevolence of slavery in the colonies, the mitigating influence of the Roman Catholic Church, the licentiousness of Africans, and the pure blood (pureza de sangre) of the Creole elite. Rojas inverts that history, demostrating though a fictional text based on meticulous archival research, the violence of slavery, the complicity of the Church, the sexual depravity of the slaveowners, and the nappy roots of the Creoles.

Rojas has explained in numerous letter, interviews, and memoirs the significance of history in her personal, intellectual, and professional develoment as a writer. Her knowledge of history comes from various sources, including academic courses, research in libraries and archives, journalististic training and--equally important--the oral testimony of family members, including her maternal grandmother Cecilia (1886--1958) the grand-daughter of slaves brought over from Africa. (2) While Rojas was a student at Havana´s School of Journalism, taking courses in Cuban and Latin America history, she had a formative experience that shaped the direction on her writing: she conducted research at the Biblioteca Nacional, where she transcribed 18th--and19th--century documents for Manuel Moreno Fraginal, who was writing El ingenio: complejo económico social cubano del azúcar, a major work on Cuban´s sugar industry. Ten years ago, she began research at the Archivo de Indias on 18th-century institution and laws, particularly the law that gave male colonists the right to land and women. This research formed the basis for Santa Lujuria, a study of slavery´s legacy in the politics of property and identity. While in Madrid in 1999, Rojas conducted additional excavatory research at the Tribunal Supremo on Esteban Santa Cruz de Oviedo, the protagonist of her thrird novel, El harén de Oviedo.

The writer's love of history, however, began at home, where her parents and grandparents discussed slavery, Cuban history, and their forebears´ participation in the wars of independence. "Mi abuelo," Rojas explains, "hablaba siempre de que por aquellas calles (las de Santiago de Cuba donde nació ella) habia caminado Maceo" (Elizalde 3), and one of her first published articles. at age fourteeen, was entitled "Antonio Maceo, héroe epónimo" (Suardías 3). The question of the validity of oral testimony --particularly that by and about African people--as a source of historical truth is raised by one of the characters in Santa Lujuria, who maintains that "La Historia (con "H" mayúscula) tiene que ser escrita... sin omisiones sospechosas, ni tratándose de infelices esclavos (39 emphasis added) As this statement indicates, conservative historiography, in both Cuba and the United States, has traditionaly rejected nonscribal testimony, especially that of Blacks, as history. (3)

Drawing upon oral and written history, including maps, photographs, chronicles, and legal documents, Marta Rojas has created a work of fiction thet examines the archetype, historical events, and institutions that have shaped colonial Cuba Santa lujuria, with its genesis in scholarly research, is an historical novel that reinterprets the past, demonstrating the effect of history. The novel exhibits many of the characteristics of the historical romance a genre that Jane Campbell calls a radical literary modo "in which heroes and heroines depict values that run counter to those of an oppressive culture "(x-xi). In the romance novel, historical events such as slave rebellions and wars of inpependence acquire a symbolic or mythic significance, characters, such as Lucila Mendes and her brother José, are archetypal figures designed in counter negative stereotypes; the inflated language of the text, with its stylized diction and complex figures of speech, depicts an idealized reality; and the narrative is complicated by numerous sub--plots, intercalatios, and constantly--shifting scenes. Because of its theme--the legacy of slavery in Cuban history--Santa Lujuria also belongs to the genre of the contemporary neo--slave narrative, a genre that, according to recent studies by Elizabeth Anna Beaulieu and Ashrat H. A. Rushdy, has beeen a major develoment in African American fiction of the past three decades. Ashrat writes " Having fictional slave characters as narrators, subjects, or ancestral presences, the neo--slave narratives' major unifying feature is that they represent slavery as a historical phenomenon that has lasting cultural meaning and enduring social consequences" ( Oxford 533). In this paper, I shall analyze Marta Rojas' text as an historical novel that, like the neo--slave narrative, depicts the effect of chattel slavery on the social, cultural, and demographic develoment of Cuba, and that like the generic romance, deconstructs and tranforms Cuban history through the creation of originary myths that convey a trascendent vision of historical truths.

Santa lujuria o Papeles de blanco, the second in the trilogy that examines the racial construction of Cuban society, is set in Cuba and Florida between the 1770s and 1820s, when the Spanish colony was undergoing a rapid social and economic transformation to a plantation society dependent upon slave labor. The cast of characters, including slaves, free Blacks, Creoles, Spanish noblemen, and European immigrants, reflects the racial tensions. The action of the novel focuses on the quest of the female protagonist, a woman of African descent, for greater social and economic mobility--both for herself and her biracial son--in an oppresive society that validates white skin color and European family lineage. The protagonist`s quest for self--realization is set against a traumatic social and historical background: the burgeoning of Cuba’s Black population , gender imbalance in the colony, sexual violence against Black women, revolutions in Saint Domingue, fear of a Hatian--style revolution, slave rebelllions in Cuba , and retaliatory violence against rebel leaders. Among the political and philosophical issues interrogated by Rojas in her fictional treatment of slavery are the social construction of race, class divisions, gender relations, European colonialism, and a market economy built on human exploitation.

In the same way that the neo--slave narratives of African American writers such as Ishmael Reer, Sherley Anne Wiliams, and Charles Johnson are shaped by their participation in the Black Power and Black movement of the 1960, so Marta Rojas’ vision of history is forged by her personal professional involvement in the Cuban Revolution of 1960, which challenged scholars and creative writers to deconstruct pre--revolutionary historiography--a cultural production that seldom acknowledged the contribution of Afro--Cubans to the forging of national identity and the creation of a revoluctionay ideology and praxis through the strugge for liberation and independence. If Santa lujuria has its genesis in historical texts, it is also indebted to nineteenth--and early twentieth--century Cuban literary works, including such antislavery narrative as Cirilo Villaverde’ Cecilia Valdés (1879), Martín Morúa Delgado’ Sofía (1891), Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo (1933), and Rinaldo Arenas’s La loma del Angel (1987) because Rojas’s novel enters into intertextual dialogue with these earlier woks, interrogating challenging and transforming them through her own unique vision, style, and perspective.

One of the strengths of Rojas’ novel is the delineation of character, which is central to the development of the theme of Cuban identity, an identity that is symbolized by the protagonist Lucila Mendes, who effects, though her roles as mother, religious leader, and culture bearer, the feminization of Cuban history. Her role in articulating the social and political significance of cubanidad is apparent in her response to her son and his half--brother, who suggest that Cuba should be aligned, culturally and politically, with Europe or North America. Lucila protests, "[Y]o creo que como ustedes nacieron en Cuba y sus padres también, aquella es su tierra" (278). Intelligent, courageous, and resouceful, this biracial woman rises above her circumstances--her race, gender, and class--to take control of her life, to become the agent of her own destiny, and to reinvent herself as Doña Isabel de Flandes, a powerful, wealthy, and respected woman. Ironically, an act of dispossession--of her name and identity--facilitates her social mobiñity. After seducing and impregnating the sixteen--year--old Lucila, Don Antonio, a Creole slaveowner, changes her name from Lucila to Isabel and her identity from mother to nursemaid. As I explained in the essay "Name It and Claim It", nomination of the act of naming permits the name--giver to claim and to possess the territory of others, including the bodies of the enslaved. Don Antonio is fully aware of the relationship between nomination and possession. When his slave concubine objects to being called by the name of this former mistress, saying "Yo no soy Isabel de Flandes, yo soy Caridad", he responds, arrogantly and contemptuously, "Eres lo que yo desee" (18) Although Lucila permitted herself to be renamed (" Se dejó nombrar por el marqués Isabel de Flandes" [31] ,hers is not a passive act of submission, because she literally becomes Doña Isabel: the poor, illiterate, mulatto mistress becomes the wealthy, literate, white wife, partly through the efforts of men: her son taught her to read and write, and her husband bought the papeles de blanco that whitened her. A sign of her vertical mobility--from parda to blanca, from mistress to wife--is her horizontal movement from one geographic area to another. Born in Santiago de Cuba, she lives in Havana but moves to St. Agustine, Florida, where she becomes a successful jewelry designer and merchant This fictional representation of Lucila as an indepent and financially--secure woman is historically valid, as Jane Landers points out in Black Society in Spanish Florida : "Once free, women of African descent in Florida...managed plantations, operated small Businesses, litigated in the court, and bought and sold property, including slaves" (144). Using her spiritual gifts and the knowledge obtained from her mother, Lucila also becomes a powerful leader in the Afro--Cuban community.

Lucila/ Isabel is an idealized figure whose characterization emanates from the Genteel Tradition, which depicts women os gentle, feminine, and lady--like, she has the regal bearing and courtly manners of a queen, as noted by one of the male characters: "[N]o era igual a las demás mujeres, a ninguna.`’ ¡Es una reina! Esa bendita dueña" (238) She is a messianic figure of considerable secular and spiritual power, as revealed in two significant episodes: first, as queen of the cofradía or Afro--Cuban socio--religious society, she leads the community in its celebration of the Fiesta del Día de Reyes, second, she conducts the santería ceremonies (ritual baths sacred meals, and rites of purification) that will raise her son the raks of the Spanish nobility. Like her historic prototypes, María de la Luz Sánchez and Graciana Grajales, Lucila is committed to social and political reform, she manumited slaves, taught them to read and write, and harbored rebel leaders. Although she passes from one racial category to another, thus gaining social respectability, Lucila’s birth relegates her to an ambiguous status in colonial society: "era y no era una señora según el canon social" (278). She cannot attain the status an power of her son, now a Spanish grandee, but Lucila is the figurative Founding Mother of Cuba’s upper class, for it is from her body that future generatons of natonal leaders--the writers, municipal judges, and goverment officials--emerge. Through her characterizatons of Lucila/Isabel, Marta Rojas creates a countermythology of Cuba’s origin, for the myth of the Black Founding Mother offers a different version of reality, one that subverts "official" history, according to which Cuba was founded by White, male Europeans whose social, economic, and political values shaped the new country.

While Lucila Mendes is, perhaps, the most complex and dynamic character in Santa Lujuria, she, like most characters in historical romances, is a static figure who does not evolve psychologically. Indeed many of the characters are archetypes who represent various aspects of Cuban identity: Lucila’s slave mother, "la negra Aborboleta", for example, is an ancestral figure who represents the personal and familial legacy of slavery, while Aborboleta’s son José is a cultural hero (like Machandal, Nat Turner, and Cinque) who proposes a revolutionary overthrow of the existing social and political order. The villain Don Antonio epitomizes the worst traits of the Cuban Creole slaveocracy, its greed, arrogance and lust. Both he and his son are fictional representations of historical figures, whom Marta Rojas discovered in books of Cuban genealogy; she even found the registration document that consigned Francisco Filomeno, the son of free Black woman and Antonio Ponce de León, to an orphanage (Castañeda 11)... The fictional Filomeno, however, does not end up in an orphanage, instead, he inherits his father`s fortune and titles. Don Antonio`s acts of sexual license and perversion--rape, adultery, pseudo--necrophilia, and semi--incest (sex with his wife´s hermana de leche)--underscore the meaning of the novel`s title. Indeed, the theme of unbridled male sexuality serves to unify the episodic novel: the theme is explicit in graphic descriptions of bacchanalia and in the use of religious language as sexual metaphor ( thus, the adjective Holy Lust) ; it is also apparent in the book`s title and cover --a painting-- "Vasallo a Caballo", by Santiago Armada, which depicts, according to the novelist, a phallus--man who represents the erotic conquest of the Americas was which effected, in part, upon the bodies of African woman who gave birth to the Bastard Son, women such as Aborboleta, Lucila, Caridad, María Luz, and the two valetsas impregnated by Filomeno. Like the biblical Prodigal Son or Joseph Cambell`s mystic Hero, the Bastard Son--of African and European descent--is a figure who embodies the decadent values, institutions, and history of his society. Francisco Filomeno, the birracial son of Lucila and Don Antonio, known as the ·marquesito de color quebrado" represent that figure. A brillant judge, linguist, and writer whose memoirs serve as a contrapuntal narrative within the fictional text, Filomeno seeks whiteness for self--validation. According to Cuban critic Daniel García Sántos, he is the Michael Jackson on the 19th Century (6). After the deaths of his White wife and son, Don Antonio, now without an heir, decides to whiten and legitimize his natural son through the purchase of paper that will change the boy`s racial classification from pardo to blanco, allow him to inherit wealth and titles, and facilitate his ascension in colonial society.

The antithesis of Filomeno and Antonio and the most compelling male character is Lucila`s slave brother José. Also an idealized and messianic figure, he is a revolutionary hero, an ogboni or religious leader, and a tricster who feigns madness to avoid execution. He is modeled after the historial José Antonio Aponte, member of a lucumi secret society and an Oni--Shangó with secular and spiritual powers, who led a Haitian--inspired conspiracy to abolish slavery and the slave trade in Cuba. The language of both José and Lucila reveals their conceptualization as idealized archetypes. They are bilingual: in their daily lives, they speak an elegant and graceful "castellano castizo", but in the rituals of the regla, they chant a pure ancient lucumí, derived from the Yoruba people of West Africa. Ther knowledge of lucumi language and customs--an example of what Robert Stepto calls "tribal literacy"--demostrates the significance of African culture in the formation of Cuban identity. As fictional characters, Lucila and José bear witness to the profound relationship between religion and language , a relationship that William W. Megenne skillfully analyzes in the chapter " El lenguaje Bozal y su Papel en as Religiones Afrocubanas y Afrocaribeñas" from his book on Cuban and Brazil (37--46) In the novel, el lenguaje bozal, but he disparages knowledge of a code that despises: "La traducción la hice yo, pues el trato obligado con ellos me permitió entender ese lenguaje salvaje de tan mal gusto (86 emphasis added). José reveals his dexterity in both languages in a long first--person narrative in which he recounsts the story of his capture an trial:

"Emo ya okua-ana kaaroso (castigo sin compasión, mato al que se atreva a faltarme)", con voz de chirrido y falsete. Y más estridente aún, y a todo lo que daban sus pulmones: "¡Egua mi laki! ¿Egua mi laki! ( Háblame, Háblame" (249)

Although an unlettered slave, his facility in Spanish is evident in this vocabulary (word such as "chirrido" and "estridente") and in his flawless use of the subjunctive and imperative modes ("se atreva" and "háblame") Significantly, none of the Afro--Cuban characters speack the demotic language of the folk-- dialect of Nicolás Guillén´s Vito Manué, or Alejo Carpentier´s Menegildo. The only example of the vernacular language is the anonymous ditty sung by a slave: "Centella que bá bené/ yo sube arriba palo" (91). Thus, unlike the characters often depicted by the negrista and afro--criollo writers of the ´30s and ‘40s, there is nothing quaint, folksy, or picturesque about the free and slaved Blacks in Rojas´s novel. Their stylized diction and inflated language suggest that these humanized and civilized characters, like those in other historical romances, depict abstract conceps and ideal states of consciousness.

Although Creoles and Europeans are prominent in the cast of characters, Rojas¨s novel clear focuses on Cubans of color, who are described by language (bozales and ladinos), by degree of blackness and/or Whiteness (negros, pardos, morenos, mulatos, chinados, mestizos, and mestizos de negro e india) and, finally, by status ( esclavos, cimarrones, coartados and libertos). Rojas´s fictional depiction of Black Cuban society is corroborated by historical studies. As Franklin W.Knight points out in Slave Society in Cuba , Blacks were subjected to a strict caste system that privileged free people of color over slaves, and urban over plantation slaves; slaves were further divided into bozales or "negros de nación", who spoke only their native African languages; ladinos, includind peninsulares who spoke some Castillant; and criollos, who were born and raised in Cuba. Among the latter, Knight adds, status depended on color, position, and weelth, but status could be enhanced through marriage or the purchase of prestigeous social or military positions. The multiplicity of racial categories attests to the widespread bastardization of Cuban society, a society in which el derecho de bragueta (law of the fly) was sanctioned by royal decree and was widely practised by the planter elite. Because there were fewer White women than men in the colonies.(5), as Rojas`s novel indicates (for Antonio´s dead wife Mercedes Criloche is the sole example), Creole aristocrats took--by law or force--Black women as slave concubines or mistresses of color. When Antonio´s slave Caridad refuses to have sex whih him in his wife`s bed, he notes that it is an "acto de insumisión y franca rebeldía contra el derecho de bragueta" (15), and he threatens to take her child--his property, he says--away from her. In Santa lujuria, such unions produce many birracial offspring, incluuding Lucila, Filomeno, Paloma, Graciano, and Juana, all of whom are examples of what scholars call the bastardization of Cuban colonial society.

From a historical point of view, one of the most interesting features of the novel is its portrait of the Afro--Cuban community, particulary those free, urban Blacks who worked as teachers, carpenters, musicans, tailors, masons, and blaksmiths in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and St. Augustine, Florida. Rojas´s depiction of this group, their customs and lifestyles, is realistic and historical, but individuals become mythic representations of the values and aspirations of their community. Such individuals include Lucila´s lover Miguel Villavicencio, the organist of Santiago´s Cathedral; the mulato teacher and poet Nicolás; painter Vicente Escovar, and Salvador Hierro, a negro criollo, whose papeles de blanco accord him a position in the Batallón de las Milicias Disciplinadas de Pardos y Morenos de la Habana, a position that gives him the right to wear a military uniform, to carry arms, and to be buried in church. These fictional characters have historical prototypes, whose lives have been documented by scholars. In his article on Blacks in Cuban education, for example, Salvador García Agüero discusses the contributions of seventeenth--century, Afro--Cuban teachers such as Lorenzo Menéndez and poet Juana Pastor. The population of free people of color increased substantially as a result of miscegenation. According to Knight, there were acout 36, 000 free people of color in Cuba in 1774, but that number more than tripled to 153, 000 by 1841 (22). During that period, the number and porcentage of Blacks (both slave and free) in the Cuban Population increases rapidly; they made up 44% of the Cuban population in 1775, but that percentage increased to 60% by 1844, acording to García Agúero (358).

Another phenomenon--the slave trade--contributed to what Knight calls the Africanization of Cuba during the colonial period. The historian estimates that between 1790 and 1820--roughly, the period of Rojas´s novel--more than 385, 000 slaves were brought to Cuba. In Chapter Five, Rojas captures the violence of that trade in human flesh by recounting the story of 15-year- old Jackin, an enslaved African princess, who was raped, impregnated , shared with another man, sold naked in Havana´s slave market, and finally, ripped apart by dogs when she tried to escape. Ironically, her story is told, through flashbacks, in the voice and from the point of view of her rapist, the pilot Froncisco Cortés de Navia, ironically called the "Good Angel." This is one of the most graphic, dramatic, and skillfully--crafted episodes in the novel, because it individualizes the horrss of the Middle Passage, as these are experienced by an African woman.

The story of Jackin reveals the way in which Marta Rojas contextualizes in Santa Lujuria by creating complex, representative characters or archetypes, such as la esclava and el negrero, who enact their personal dramas against an historical background. The author creates the background or context though precise and detailed setting; descriptions of laws and customs of the period; and allusions to historical figures, dates, and events. Several scenes underscore the skill with which the novelist conveys a sense of time and place, while creating very different tones: the joy of the fiesta with its music, dances, and chants; the plaintive lament of the Georgia fugitives, whose slave song convey their pain; and the humor of Isabel´s first sexual encounter with her younger lover. In such scenes, Rojas uses wit, irony, word play, hyperbole, double entendres, and figures of speech for dramatic effect (6). One of the most humorous chapers in the book deals with Juana, a young beautiful, and sexually--inexperienced mulatto nun who nurses Filomeno back to health and, in the proces, discovers the use of the male organ. Tongue in cheek, Rojas writes that both the nurse and her patient that she had a talent: " esa bendita disposición para el alivio del hombre" (97). Like Reinaldo Arenas, she juxtaposes a 20th-century sensual and irreverent attitude toward sex against prudish, conservative, nineteenth--century, sensibilities, to great humorous effet.

Rojas witty and wicked bedroom scenes, like Shakespeare´s comic interludes, leaven the more serious episodes dealing with war, independence, slavery, conspiracies, and executions. Throughout the novel, there are constant allusions to historical events of the period, including a slave rebelion in Oriente Province, a military uprising in Chile, and Frances´s annexations of Cataluña. These events are buttressed by references to historical figures such as José Antonio Aponte and Simón Bolivar, José Bonaparte and Jean Laffite, Queen María Luisa and Carlos IV of Spain. There is an even longer passage dealing with epistolary debate between Benjamín Banneker and Thomas Jefferson over the intelligence of Blacks. The specific dates of battles ,invasions, and royal decrees also give authenticity and verosimilitude to this historical romance, according to the tex, Black defended Havana against the English in 1763; there was a slave rebellion in Venezuela in 1797; and the king issued a decree on February 20, 1773 protecting fugitive slaves in Trinidad. From the point of view of its historicity, one of the most significant parts of the novel deals with Seminole Indians and fugitives slaves from Georgia. Rojas explained that this section is based on vague memories of a half--day visit to St. Augustine in the 1950s, Minnie Moore--Wilson´s The Seminoles of Florida (1909), and material (pamphlets, maps, and census reports) sent to her by friends in the United States. A meticulous researcher and an avid reader of biographies and histories, Rojas is gifted with a prodigious memory for details, which enables her to capture the sights, and rhythms of a previous era.

Through its evocation of time and place and its creation of idealized and heroic characters, Santa Lujuria o papeles de blanco transforms Cuban history into mythic fiction embodying cultural values--spirituality, independence, and desire for freedom--that are rooted in the Afro--Cuban experience. Dramatic events in the novel, such as the death of Jackin, the escape of María Luz, and beheading of Salvador--events recorded in historical documents or related through oral narratives--acquire a symbolic or ideological significance, because they demostrate the sexual and racial violence of a feudalistic society bent on the explotation of human beings.


Miriam DeCosta--Willis, 6-7-2000 in the : 11 Annual Afro--Hispanic Literature and Culture Conference, Arkansas´s University in Costa Rica´s University. San José. Conference Theme: "Songs of American Selves: Forgotten Bodies, Rescued Text(s), Subaltern Voices and Identities of Millennium.


1.- The contemporary literary discourse on slavery has produced such neo--slave narratives as Maryse Conde´s Moi, Tituba, Sorciére...Notre de Salem, Caryl Phillips´s Cambridge,, Toni Morrison´s Beloved, Manuel Zapata Olivella´s Changó el gran putas, Sherley Anne Williams´s Dessa Rose, Cubena´s Los nietos de Felicidad Dolores, and Charles Johonson´s Middle Passage.

2. In a note to the author dated 12 June 2000, Rojas explained: " En cuanto a mi abuela, ella naió libre en el vientre. Aquí los españoles dictaron una Ley de Vientres Libres, a finales del siglo y los hijos de esclavos nacían libres. Sus padres eran esclavos criollos, y los abuelos de mi abuela (eran) africanos"

3. For example, most North American historians viewed as outrageous the claim that the Hemings family--passed down, orally, from one generation to another--that they are descendants of president Thomas Jefferson...that is, until scientific evidence substantiated their claim.

4. Marta Rojas wrore to the author on June 2000: "El nombre del pintor es Santiago Armada, formaba Chago, era historietista (comic) diseñador, dibujante y pintor. Ese cuadro que se tomas para la portada de mi libro se llama ¨Vasallo a caballo´ y a mi juicio no es un hombre sobre un falo sino un falo--hombre y la idea que él representaba fue el hecho de la conquista erótica de las Indias. El leía pedazos de mi novela cuando yo la pasaba en limpio en el periódico y un día me dijo que para él se simbolizaba plásticamente así. Rl murió poco después , a los 52 años, de asma, y cuando le entregué el texto a la editora (Silvana Garriga) le enseñé el cuadro. To tenía idea de usar uno clásico Él Eros y Psoquis´, cuya reproducción compré en un Museo de España, pero ella votó por ´Vasallo a caballo´.

5. Table 8 in Knight´s Slave Society in Cuba indicates that in 1841, there were 227,144 White males but only 191,147 White women in Cuba (86) The Black male population was almost twice that of females: 281.250 males to 155,245 females. In the Biografía de un cimarrón Esteban Montejo reported that the result of the gender disparity was the appropriation of Black females by Whites males, who left Black men without mates.

Works Cited

Beaulieu, Elizabeth Ann: Blanck Women Writters and the American Neo--Slave Narrative:

Femininity Unfettered Westport, Conn. Greenwoed Press, 1999.

Campbell, Jane. Mythic Black Fiction: The Transformation of History Knosville: The

University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Castañeda, Mireya. "Lust for Identity", Granma Internacional, Abril l999,11.

De Costa--Willis, Miriam. "Name It and Claim It: Ethnic literature, Literary Criticism, and the Politics of Alterity" Keynote Addess Agro--Hispanic Literature and Culture Conference, Magnolia, Arkansas, Fall 1993.

Elizalde Rosa Miriam. "Marta Rojas, Premio Nacional José Martí. Él periodismo es algo estrictamente personal´, Granma Internacional 30 April, 1997, 3.

Moreno Fraginals, Manuel. El ingenio:complejo económico social cubano del azúcar. Havana .Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1978.

García Agúero Salvador."Lorenzo Menéndez (o Meléndez). El engro en la educación cubana" revista Bimestre Cubana (1937):347-65.

García Sántos, Daniel. " Santa Lujuria, novela de Marta Rojas". Juventud rebelde (14 July 199).6

Knight, Franklin W. Slave Society in Cuba During the Nineteenth Century. Madison: The University of Wisconsin press, 1970.

Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,1999.

Megenny, William W. Cuba y Brazil: Etnohistoria del empleo religioso del lenguaje afroamericano. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1999.

Rojas Marta. Letters to the author. Undated (ca 1998), 5 November 1999,12 June 2000,

---Santa lujuria o papeles de blanco. Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1998.

Rushdy, Ashraf H.A. "Neo--Slave Narrative" The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Eds. William L. Andrewa et al. New York: Oxford University Press,1997.

--- Neo--Slave Narratives: Studies in the Socia lLogic of a Literary Form. NewYork Oxford University Press, 1999.

Suardíaz Luis, "Marta Rojas, el trabajo es mi mejor premio" Granma, 22 february, 1997,3.

Review Marta Rojas’s Santa Lujuria, novel, 10/02top

by Miriam Da Costa--Willis

Barbara Chase--Riboud’s second novel suggests that the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson embodies the myth of origin of the American people, because our identity is rooted in the union of an enslaved, African--descended woman who bore the burden of miscegenation and a European--descendend man of wealth, power, and privilege, who never acknowledged publicily the paternity of his Black children. In her second fiction of origin, The President’s Daugther, Chase--Riboud explores the complex identity of Harriet Hemings, an identity that de rooted in disguise and performance--the act of passing for White. Other African American women novelists, such as Margaret Walker, Sherley Anne Williams, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison have explored, through their fiction, the history and myths that inform Black female subjectivity. Significantly, two African Hispanic women have now added their voices to the important discourse whit the publication of their neo--slave narratives: Ecuadorian poet and novelist Argentina Chiriboga with Jonatás y Manuela and Cuban journalist and novelist Marta Rojas with Santa lujuria o papeles de blanco. These writers explore the roots of female identity in African, Cuban, and Ecuadorian history as well as in the fictions--the myths, stories, and legends--that emerged from that history. My analysis of these two originary narratives will focus on the phenomenon of passing as a rhetorical strategy for structuring the texts and as a method of subverting social constructions of race, gender, and class. In the introduction to Nella Larsent’s second novel, Thadiouns M. Davis defines passing as "the movement of a person who is legally and socially designated black into de white racial category or white identidy" (viii), but although the rerm originally had a racial connotation, it is used contemporaneously to indicate the trangresive movement of a person from one socially--constructed subject position to another, often in defiance of social conventions.

Marta Rojas’s Santa lujuria ( Holy lust) as the title implies, is also something of a humorous and satiric "romp in the hay", where sexuality serves as metaphor of social, economic, and political conditions in Cuban colonial society. The novel focuses on the life Lucila Mendes, a beatiful brown--skinned mulata , who becomes the mistress, wife, and lover of a series of men. At age sixteen, she in seduced by the aristocratic and powerfull don Antonio Ponce de León y Morato, marqués de Aguas Claras, and gives birth to their son Filomeno. Don Antonio takes the boy away from this mother until she agree to change her name to Isabel de Flandes and to become the child’s nursemaid--without revealing at other persons that she is his mother. A cruel and perverse member of the Cuban bourgeosie, don Antonio rules through "el derecho de bragueta" or penis power, with which he terrorizes and disgusts the enslaved women of this household. For example, he forces Caridad, who has just given birth to his baby; to fornicate in his dead wife’s bed and to let him suck milk from her breats. It is poetic justice, therefore, when don Antonio dies a "natural" death--that is to say, in fraganti delicto, in the act ravishing a slave girl. Tongue in check, Rojas describes the corpse:" El difunto estaba ya rígido, sin que pudieran sus amigos (los demás fornicadores) doblegarle el cañón de sus genitales que apuntaban sin doblez directo al cielo" (186). After several more hilarious pages, the reader discovers that the surgeon has to amputate "el músculo viril", which he then wraps in a newspaper and throws to the ping (shades of Lorena Bobbit), Rojas concludes:" Como quien dice (don Antonio) se fue de este mundo con las botas puestas".

Meanwhile, Lucila falls in love with a free mulatto in Santiago de Cuba, her place of origin, before moving to Saint Augustine, wheil she becomes the mistress and then the wife of a Catalán shi captain. When he leaves to join the wars of sudamérica independence, Lucila, now a woman of fifty, begins a passionate love affair whit Lieutenant Arcángel del Puerto, a much younger man of uncertain racial origin. In the language of the church, Lucila and her "angel" experience divine rapture, and at the moment of climax. Lucila--doña Isabel--escucha una sinfonía de cuerdas y atabales sonando aleluya...(261). This novel is clearly a rewriting--from the perpective of a Cuban woman of African descent--of the ecilia Valdés myth, according to which the origin of Cuban national identity is rooted in the mulata, the birracial product of union of an African woman and a European man. The mythologized Cecilia has been described as a "lovely, sensual, frivolous woman, all sex and no brains, vain from top to toe" (AfroCuba 207). Writes, such as Nancy Morejón and Reynaldo González, have demythified this cultural icon, who embodies the racist and sexist values of a slave--owning, patriarchal society. González writes:

Cecilia Valdés crontinued to epitomize pejorative conceps of mulatez (brown--ness) that obstructed racial assimilation as a defining trait of our cultura and nationhood. From literary personage, she came to represent sexist manipulation and all that the dominant (white) culture labeled bad in mulatto women: a danger to established matrimony; the white man’s seduction and loss of sense; (and) the ability to attrac trhough sensuality..." (206- -7)

Marta Rojas continues this project of demythification by creating, in her 1998 novel, a mulata archetype, a literary figure who is proud of her Abro --Cuban origin; maintains strong kinship ties with her Black family; is connected to her barrio, knows the lucumi language, customs, and religious practices; and serves, whit her brother, as spiritual leader of their cofradía .in her characterization of José, Lucila’s Black slave brother, Rojas reveals the connection between spiritual and political leadership in the African Cuban community, because José leads a Haitian--inspired rebellios to abolish slavery and end the slave trade. Modeled after the historical José Antonio Aponte who led the 1810 conspiracy, Lucila’s brother is an ogboni , a member of a powerful secret society, who has both spiritual and civic powers.

The antitheis of these two powerfull personnages--José and Lucila--is Lucila’s birracial son Filomeno. Although his African origin is evident in his dubious skin color, the sign of a butterfly that his Blanck grandmother grafted on his skin, a protective amulet that he wears around his neck, and his knowledge of lucumí customs and language, Filomeno wants to be white.Through this character and others who aspire to pass from one socially--and--legally--defined racial position to another, Rojas examines the fictions of racial origin in Cuban colonial society. The product of extensive research by an award--winning journalist, this novel underscores the fluidity of racial boundaries, commodification of skin color, and institutionalization of whitening in a multiethnic society built on the economic of slavery. Set in Cuba and Florida during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the novel depicts the ethnic diversity of the Spanish colony, where Greek traders, Creole landowners, free mulattoes, Seminole Indians, Spanish noblemen, and fugitive slaves from Georgia form a heterogenous society. Ironically, it is also a very racist society in which white skin--a marker of race, class, and national origin--has a market value, permiting one to marry, acquire property, and accumulate welth. The Creole planter class, which was profoundly Eurocentric in its views, was haunted by what Rafael Duharte Jiménez calls the nineteenth--century blank fear: fear of a Haitian--style slave revolt in a country that was becoming increasingly colored . In a recent paper, Kim Butler described three methods of racial whitening that were officially sanctioned and practised in the America: (1) biological by means of race--,mixing, (2) mechanical resulting from European inmigration, and (3) cultural through psychological programming. While these three forms of social engineering are evident in Santa lujuria , the target of Rojas’s satiric invective is the purchase of papeles de blanco or official documents that legalize the act of passing from one racial category to another. Don Antonio, who wants to writen and legitimate his bastars son, praises Spain for making morenos out of negros, pardos or quinterones out of mulatos... and then making all of those blancos. But passing, as he points out, is expensive: to become mulato cost 700 reales, quadroon or octoroon cost 1,000, and white is 10, 000; to become legitimate is 25, 000 reales; to acquire the title of "don" is not too expensive, but the title of "hidalgo" costs 107, 000 reales. As a result of these papeles de blanco, the so--callet White population of Cuba continued to grow (and this growth was reflected in census figures) , ironically, at a time when the Black population was increasing exponentially through the African slave trade. In her scathing critique of racial whitening, Rojas demostrates, with irony, humor, and biting satire how the commodification of race and class in the colonial period created a society intent on deyning its African heritage.

Denial of race is evidente in the thoughts, words, and action of Francisco Filomeno, called "el marquecito de color quebrado" whi is the grandson of Aborboleta, a Black slave from Bahía, Brazil. Is his memoirs, entitled Relación sobre la Cena del Día de Reyes, he confronts his racial origin, the frizzy and mottled color that identify him as a man of African descent, but he uses creams and ointments in a futile attempt to crase race. Self--centered and narcissistic, he views himself as part of a collective "we"--speaking of "nosotros los católicos" and "nosotros" los blancos (emphasis added)-- a "we" that is distinct and separate from the Afro--Cuban community. An intelligent and talented young man, he becomes a linguist, attoorney, and respeted jurist after acquiring the "white papers" that afford him an education, inheritance, and entry into the highest ranks of Cuban society. Like James Weldon Johnson’s ex--coloured man, he identifies with whites and views Blacks disparagingly: their savage language, crude customs, and pagan beliefs. Yet, he turns to his mother and uncle for help when his illegitimacy prevents him from inheriting his father’s title of nobility; ironically, the prodigal son returs home to perfiom lucumí rituals, incluiding sacrifices, purifying baths, players to the orishas, and sacred meals, under the guidance of Lucila and José. Finally, dressed in the white clothes of the initiated, he goes to Sapain to request his father’s title from the queen, and he returns to Cuba as a fully--certified White man with all of de powers and privileges to which that racial designation entitles him.

In both Santa lujuria and Jonatás y Manuela, passing is a form of masquerade that serves to destabilize socially--constructed categories such as race, class, and gender. Rojas’s more political novel is a satiric critique of passing as public policy, as an instrument of colonization, and as an officially--sanctioned system for whitening and Europeanizing a society that was becoming too Blanck Chiriboga’s novel presents passing as a bold and subversive act of race and gender crossing that permited women to achieve productive and independent lives. In their fictions of origin, both novelists return to the past, to tthat time in the history of the American when Europeans and Africans struggled to define themselves, separately and collectively.


(The paper whose extract we have reproduced was presented at the 59th Annual Convention of the U.S. Language College Association, EE.UU. where it aroused exceptional interest. Miriam Da Costa--Willis, Prof. Baltimore. 1999) Traduction:G.I.

--Publicado en Granma Internacional: Español, Inglés y Francés.,en 1999 La Habana.

Santa Lujuria (Blessed Lechery), novel by Marta Rojas
by Daniel García Santos, 12/99top

After reading Marta Rojas’ novel Santa Lujuria (Blessed Lechery), two exemplary figures remain engraved in our personal iconography, drawn with the undulating strokes and warm pigmentation that illustrate this finished work of fictional art. They are Isabel de Flandes and Francisco Filomeno. Construction of these figures is one of the triumphs of Santa Lujuria, perhaps precisely because their "lechery" gravitates on the development of the narration, infusing it from the title; and the term includes not only the excessive enjoyment of sexual desires, but also the lubricious zeal to obtain determined goals, the passion for delineating and achieving projects in life, the pressure to avoid damaging circumstances and channel them in beneficial ways. These are men and women entangled in a scheme of social relations they at once accept and ignore, using them as jewelers use their gems, to violate boundaries or at least take advantage of loopholes.

Isabel de Flandes – or Lucila Méndes, as she calls herself when she surrenders to seduction – is a figure impregnated with subversion.

She tries to overcome her social condition first as a slave, then as a free black, with the object of controlling her own destiny and protecting the son snatched from her at birth. That son, Francisco Filomeno, lives obsessed by his ambition to make himself white – a nineteenth century Michael

Jackson - in order to obtain the title of nobility, and install himself without fear of discrimination in the court of the Captain General of the Island. There are other important figures: the Marquis of Aguas Claras Antonio Ponce de León y Morato, Filomeno’s father, a slave of his female slaves in the sex act, dominated by lechery, given to the acrobatics that inspire bodily pleasure, insatiable in his search for food to fill his "hanging stomach;" pilot Cortés de Navia, Buen Angel, victim of the misfortune that has condemned his former rider Jerezano to a shameful flaccidity with his penis irremediably hanging between his legs; Captain Abor Aranda, who commits himself in mid-life to the conspiratorial maneuvers of Aponte and later to revolution in the Americas. Others, too, are presented in eloquent relief, giving life to this tapestry of the customs, social strata, interests, contrasts and frustrations of a violent and also a founding epoch.

The precise and differentiated characterization of the period is another virtue of Santa Lujuria. Research, documentation and field work sustain the artistic re-creation of people and places. The author presents a convincing picture of the geographical and temporal space in which the story of the novel evolves: Havana; Santiago de Cuba; and St. Augustine, Florida, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. With impacting fluency and great naturalness she shows us the architectonic and urbanistic charms of each villa and the customs and conventions governing the lives of the inhabitants, who express themselves at times in the idiomatic phrases of that historical moment. At the end, we are filled with the sensation of having seen these well-armed lives and situations break through the dikes of engineering and flood into the suggestive ambience of genuine creation.

Santa Lujuria is oriented toward the model exponent of the historical novel, firmly based on solid facts renovated with the aid of stylistic resources and talent. History departs avidly from consultative texts and comes to life, providing factitious action in the newly constructed pages. Moreover, the source for all the topics in this novel is life in the Spanish colonies of America, so fascinating as the provenance of this Caribbean stew. It was an epoch of inauguration, triumph, take-off without return, and the formation of an identity whose process, forever inconclusive, is a constant motive of speculation in order to explain to ourselves the eternal uncertainty about who we are.

Marta Rojas continues one of our authentic traditions: that of journalism converging with literature. Numerous and notable exponents hallow that tradition: from Hired, Varlet, Del Monte, Villaverde, and Martí to Carpentier, Marinello, Pedroso, Lezama Lima, Piñera. Marta is also a notable voice in the chorus of "feminine discourse," whose plurality has enriched Latin-American literature – although curiously, in the case of Cuba, very few women are presently cultivating it in the genre of the novel.

With El columpio de Rey Spencer (Rey Spencer’s Swing), in 1996, and now with Santa Lujuria, Marta Rojas writes with originality in contributing to the recent upsurge of the novel, with its tremendous diversity of themes, styles, tendencies, promotions, and participants coming together on the Cuban literary landscape.

To read Santa Lujuria is like galloping into the depths of our origins (God forbid, on the phallic horse that artist Chago so graphically portrays on the cover) and emerging from the protecting forest to look, with clear eyes, at contemporary sufferings.

English translation, Jane McManus

Diciembre 6 de 1999

Literary criticismNovel by Marta Rojas

By Silvana Garriga (Editor and literary critic, Cuba)

Even today few studies are available to help probe the labyrinth of aspirations, contradictions and conflicts that constituted Cuban colonial society at the turn of the nineteenth century. Hence the importance of Marta Rojas’s novel Holy Lust or White Papers, whose characters present those very aspirations, noble and base; those contradictions of class, race and gender; and the great conflicts of that period. It is a novel that escapes easy classification -- anti-slavery? historical? erotic? – but is nevertheless deeply Caribbean, not only because of the setting, mare nostrum that surrounds and typifies the action, but especially because – like all great literature of the region – it answers the need to define who we are and why. Fortunately, the author undertakes the search for our identity in an artistic rather than a didactic form, for the latter could be quite boring.

Violence, sensuality and excesses rip these people apart, bring them enjoyment and cause them frustrations that lead to multiple contradictions and very modern responses.

The oft-tasted and appreciated stew of Don Fernando Ortiz_ appears again to excite our palates: the lecherous, aristocratic and perverse Antonio Ponce de León, Marquis of Aguas Claras, pursues mulattos insatiably inside his own patriarchal household; his bastard son Francisco Filomeno lives with the obsession of whitening his documents, his skin, his soul and his way of speaking, in tragic imitation of the paradoxical Mesié Julian; he is redeemed by the love of the young lieutenant in the colonial army, born in the great Colombia of Bolivar is redeemed by love.

The romantic adventurer Captain Albor Aranda flirts with the airs of liberty, equality and fraternity emanating from "diabolical France" and winds up, as Mario Benedetti has said of certain leftists, caught between "the pride of having been and the sorrow of no longer being"; the great pilot Cortés de Navia, nicknamed Good Angel, a confessed and convicted slave trader, noted violator of slave women in chains, is dominated by impotence, homosexuality and madness, tormented by the memory – or haunted by the nganga -- of an African princess; Lucila Méndes, mulatto, beautiful and proud, moves the strings in many schemes and defends her dignity and her independence, in spite of being neither white nor Catholic nor male.

Marta Rojas also pays homage to key figures of Cuban culture: the musician Villavicencio, sensual, tender and solitary, evokes Cirilo Villaverde’s José Dolores Pimienta; the figure has something of Carpentier’s Mackandal and certain descriptions seem to allude to Explosion in a Cathedral (Marta Rojas had reasons for wanting the tutelary shadows of Sofia, Esteban and Carlos to accompany her at the presentation of Holy Lust in the Carpentier Foundation headquarters), and the honorable black Creole has to be named Salvador, although his Creole and honorable nature have different causes than those of his homonym in the Mirror of Patience.

The author also seasons her stew with more contemporary figures: for instance, the illustrator of the "Middle Ages" Santiago Armada, censured by the Sacred Court of the Inquisition for his erotic behavior; or Pedro de la Hoz leading a band of mulattos and blacks -- gamblers or salsa dancers? – while one José María Vitier, the Vitier of Florida, joins his piano with drum beats, the sound of gourds and metals, flutes and vibrations of sugarcane in a recurrent baroque concert during which the reader seems to hear between the lines an enthusiastic chorus of nuns singing "large squash son, son"; and that epistle bearing ancient rumors and genealogical tangles is directed to a certain Zoila L. Becali, who can be none other than our curious and encyclopedic Zoila Lapique.

Be careful, though! This is no arbitrary or anarchic mixture. Behind the satire of the discourse, the apparent independence of the figures that sometimes seem to silence the voice of the narrator, lies a secure hand that conducts the narrative action, weaving its threads carefully and delineating its characters skillfully. Some of them are so strong they have tried to escape the guidance of the author who, with little vacillation, castigates such boldness with death. A somewhat ironic overview of the small and large miseries of our colonial past intentionally hides the careful study of the period, the checking of documents and testimonies that permits the recreation of habits, beliefs, tastes, bureaucratic mires, roguishness, flouting of the law – that respect without obedience that accompanies us even today – erotic excesses, ridiculous courtesans and the accurate tracing of currents of thought that spilled into the nineteenth century in the form of autonomy, annexation, and independence. Interesting, then, is the vision it offers of Spanish Florida, about which we know so little, settled at that time by Creoles from the Isle bearing their nostalgia and positions that ranged from incipient annexation to the imperious dream of independence, without excluding the inevitable "assimilated." The author is true to a literary tradition in which – I cite Maggi Mateo – "there is the special use of intertextuality in the marked appearance of certain variants such as parody, pastiche, homage, the propensity to juxtaposition and the counterpoint of texts of diverse origin; the burlesque glance that subverts and censures the ridiculous and grotesque with laughter; the inclination toward superabundance, exaggeration, excess…a resort to decanonization that places in doubt reigning codes and absolute truths, with a tendency toward jest and mockery…linked to certain historical, ethnic and cultural experiences of decisive influence in the formation of the Cuban nation."

Marta Rojas, product of her convulsive end-of-the-century times, deliberately accentuates certain subtleties – would she call them post-critical? – to insert herself in a natural and coherent manner in the post-modern discourse with a novel that, by deconstructing and reconstructing our history and giving voice to the eternally marginalized, moves, makes one think and entertains. Better known among us for her exceptional journalistic work, Marta Rojas ratifies with Blessed Lechery, her third work of fiction, her "papers as a novelist" earned by her own talents and not purchased or conceded by royal decree. This commits her to continue preparing her stews, soups and sauces, which is to say her future novels -- those in the mix and those añredy cooking--to delight the palades of her readers and editors with more succulent lecheries.

Finally, Y would like to close ,on beharlf of pubishing house Letras Cubanas of the Cuban Book Institute, with thanks to the Alejo Carpentier Foundation and its director Lilia Esteban for having accepted with their usual disposition the idea of presenting this book: May we invite you to read this book with the assurance that you won´t regret it.

February 4, 1999.-


Novels by Marta Rojas:

1. La cueva del muerto (Dead Man´s Cave) Historical novel.

UNEAC Publishers.

2. El columpio de Rey Spencer (Rey Spencer´s Swing) Fiction.

Cuarto propio, Chile ,1993, Letras Cubanas, 1996.

3. Santa Lujuria o Papeles de blanco ( Holy Lust or White´s Papers)

Letras Cubanas, 1998

In preparation, El harén de Oviedo ( Oviedo´s Harem)--provisional title.

Masters’ on Santa Lujuria in Madrid, 8/01top

August 21, 2001, Granma International

• Marta Rojas included on the list of authors for the upcoming course at the Autonomous University of Madrid

MADRID (SE).- An exposition of the content of the novel Santa Lujuria o Papeles de blanco (Holy Lust or White Papers), by Cuban writer and journalist Marta Rojas, reprinted by Letras Cubanas in a second edition, was presented at the Masters’ symposium on Migration and Inter-community Relations at the Autonomous University of Madrid. The analysis was directed at the novel’s study of transculturation and the emergence of Cuban culture based on Spanish and African migrations; an analysis of the languages, religion, superstitious beliefs and cruelty in the context of slavery in the Americas.

Specialist Nuria Lores, whose proposal was approved by the university courses department, undertook this Masters’ study. In the same ambit of inter-community relations, the short story "Regalo a un amigo viajero" (Gift to a Traveling Friend), on a similar theme and by the same author, was likewise presented.

In the case of the second work, Cuban-Spanish academic architect Clara Caballero de Aguilera, great-granddaughter of independence patriot Juan Gualberto Gómez, gave the exposition. Caballero referred in the plenary session to the literary work of Marta Rojas, which was initiated in fiction with El columpio de Rey Spencer (Rey Spencer’s Swing), published in 1993 by the Chilean publishing house Cuarto Propio, and in 1996 by Letras Cubanas. It is a love story based on Cuban migration in the early decades of the 19th century and cultural interweaving in Cuba, heralding a third novel.

In another session at the symposium, Professor Verena Stolcke of the Literature Faculty at the Autonomous University of Barcelona also spoke of the process of slavery with references to Santa Lujuria, which covers a little-known aspect of the subject. Given that one of her works was discussed, as is habitual in these cases Marta Rojas was included on the list of authors for the upcoming academic year in the literature department of the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Last year U.S. academic Miriam de Costa Willis of the University of Baltimore, offered a paper on Santa Lujuria at a conference traditionally organized by fellow academic Dr. Elba Birmingham-Pokorny from the Romance Languages Department of the University of Arkansas. An excerpt from that paper was published in Granma International.

Santa Lujuria, a period novel, moves between Cuba and Florida when the latter was Spanish, with its capital of San Augustín (the oldest in the United States), and governed from Cuba. This work is to be published by the Zurich 8 publishing house, translated into German by Hispanic academic Wolfgang Binder, who is also preparing a prologue for its readers.


Sobre "Santa Lujuria", novela de Marta Rojas

por Victor Fowler*

Decir que la sociedad colonial cubana del siglo XIX fundó su desarrollo en el desarrollo de la institución esclavista, es verdad de todos sabida; imaginar que, en semejante esquema, el negro aparece como figura de lo abyecto, resulta natural. Si damos por lógico que a la violencia del dominador le siga el silencio sobre ella, hemos también de dar por lógica la escasa información que sobre el amor interracial nos da nuestra literatura cuando éste pretende realizarse fuera de los códigos de la dominación; es decir como movimiento mutuo y no mediante un acto de victimización o uso del dominado como objeto de placer. 

De lo segundo es suficiente ejemplo el Francisco de Anselmo Suárez Romero, escrita y publicada como acto de protesta frente a la esclavitud: el poema La mulata de Francisco Muñoz del Monte, excluido de la edición de las obras completas del autor que fuese publicada por la familia a la muerte del mismo: la Cecilia Valdés de Villaverde, que como ningún otro texto fijó el arquetipo de la mulata como ente sensual y explosivo; La mulata cubana de C. Navarro Escalpa, novela de escasa calidad, pero que continúa en 1889, este mito; y la Sofía de Martín Morúa Delgado, escrita por un negro y donde la relación sexual deja de ser censura y llega a nosotros convertida en clara violación. 

De lo primero, sobre todo a nivel de la sugerencia, nos queda el Sab de Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, cuya única edición en el siglo, vale la pena recordar, fue recogida y quemada por la familia de la escritora. Basta con lo anterior para entender que hablamos de textos rebeldes en unos casos, escritos desde la oposición a un orden que se estima debe ser combatido, o acomodados a dicho orden en otros con el residuo de algo embarazoso, irritante, arduo, línea de peligro o límite cuyo cruce nos pone siempre adentro de una experiencia dolorosa.

Mestizaje como "adelanto" de la raza (claro, negra)

No cabe duda de que, de haber sido Cecilia Valdés hija reconocida de don Cándido Gamboa, no habría habido historia en la novela homónima de Cirilo Villaverde o, cuando menos, no quedaría más solución que el incesto mutuamente aceptado, cosa que habría otorgado al material otras significaciones: dicho de otra manera, el agujero informativo en la descendencia de D. Cándido es la condición estructural para que la trama sea posible. Se trata de un silencio que viene acompañado de la sugerencia sobre las prácticas sexuales de los amos, algo que la novela Santa Lujuria, de la narradora y periodista Marta Rojas, nos regala con creces, texto que tiene por núcleo los avatares de un mestizo "reconocido" como hijo por su padre marqués.

Desde este ángulo, la novela de Rojas se instala en una sorprendente oposición con nuestra fundacional Cecilia: aquella escrita por un hombre y esta por mujer, aquella centrada en personaje femenino y esta en masculino; lo de Villaverde, una tragedia brotada del irreconocimiento, lo de Rojas un sainete nacido justo de lo contrario; la primera colocando en primer plano la pasión y los celos, la segunda la búsqueda de poder y el ascenso socio-- racial. Si los avatares de Filomeno Ponce de León, el marquesito de color quebrado, como se le conoce entre sus contemporáneos, ordena el relato como su corriente principal hay, cuando menos, otras dos líneas que continuamente lo alimentan: en la primera de ellas, tipificada por la parda Lucila Méndes (o Isabel de Flandes, cuando se le llama como dama) apreciamos los recursos del negro para oponerse a la violencia de la institución esclavista; en la segunda, dentro de una proliferación que homenajea el mestizaje, aprendemos las prácticas sexuales del amo: otro de los silencios que nos quedaba de Cecilia. Todos estos hilos se entretejen para formar la historia de Filomeno, hijo de Don Antonio Ponce de León y Morato, Marqués de Aguas Claras, y la parda Isabel que pasará su existencia haciendo cuanto resta en sus manos para disimular los signos exteriores de su origen: no se atreve siquiera a nadar (P.82), se unta a diario cremas para "quitar las manchas que oscurecen mi piel cuando la expongo al sol, los resplandores y el mar" (p.83), tampoco a salir de paseo por la playa antes de que el sol caiga (p.272). 

En este sentido la novela dispone su trama sobre las angustias del "adelanto" racial, pues todas las acciones en sociedad de su personaje central tienen como objetivo ganar la condición legal de hombre blanco a los ojos de las Cortes de España: la cantidad de combinaciones para conseguirlo van desde hacer pasar a la madre (Lucila/Isabel) como aya, hasta obtener que la certificación de nacimiento del hermano (hijo de matrimonio y blanco) muerto pase a su nombre como vivo. Toda esta acumulación de pequeñas y simpáticas trapacerías tendrá como discursos paralelo aquel que corresponde a la mitad identitaria que se desea rechazar, más sin la cual no concibe Filomeno su "adelanto": el mundo de los negros, por tal razón le vemos avanzar por el mundo con, " el resguardo (el que su abuela, la negra Aborboleta, le hizo con el zurrón al nacer), disimulado desde hacía mucho tiempo en la bolsita de un amuleto católico que tenía bordado por fuera el Corazón de Jesús" (P.198) y no sólo ello, pues en ocasión del momento más importante para sus aspiraciones, el viaje que a las Cortes hará, en busca de la sanción definitiva, le vemos aparecer en la casa de la madre para (sin atreverse a pedirlo, pero son rechazar tampoco cuanto se le propone y hace) buscar otra "limpieza" que disponga a su favor las potencias de la religión que verdaderamente respeta. ¿Que dualidad es ésta sino la misma que subyace en la raíz de la nación cubana, partida entre sus dos herencias contrapuestas africana e hispana? 

Todo lo que anterior corresponde al pasado, pero hay una interpolación en el texto que, mediante el recurso de aplicar ironía a una narración por sí irónica, actualiza su tema en la Cuba presente, la misma condición de interpolado que el fragmento tiene, pues es parte de una carta escrita por el curador de la papelería de Filomeno, obliga a que le prestemos especial atención. Dentro de tales papeles de Filomeno hay una revelación de su vida donde, con el lenguaje y la anuencia de velos que la intimidad supone, el personaje entrega un nuevo prisma para la historia narrada en la novela, historia que es su vida; no ya el punto de vista de la autora sino desde la presumible mirada de un mestizo hijo de marqués que trata de ascender a la categoría de blanco. Claro que sabemos que tales páginas confesionales no son sino un ardid de escritura para entregarnos la voz íntima del marginado, por tal razón son esenciales las palabras de la autora, nuevamente escondida tras la figura de ese borroso y fugaz curador de la papelería del personaje central del relato; la carta del curador tiene como centro una intrincada historia de "adelanto" racial ocurrido entre famosas familias del XIX cubano y aparece, imaginamos que en nuestro presente, entre los papeles de Filomeno, y ha sido dirigida a una dama especialista de nombre Zoila L.Becali. Y es aquí donde aparece otra sorpresiva interpolación, ahora sin duda alguna elaborada desde nuestra época:" con lo fácil que es hoy ponerse uno color blanco, en el carnet de identidad, eso es una revolución en el campo de la genealogía" (p.122) Leído así, podemos así , trasladar algo de la historia de Filomeno a nuestros días.

* (Del libro "Historias del Cuerpo" del poeta e importante crítico y ensayista cubano Victor Fowler)


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