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The Nabori Indian: A centenary with a magnifying glass

indio-nabori-580x321Today, Friday, September 30, the Naborí Indian would be one hundred years old. But it happens that matters related to this poet are not easy for me. Let’s say that my word is absorbed by the force of an intensely clean love full of memories.

A dilemma? Yes, a dilemma, perhaps half resolved when I put into practice a kind of distancing where the close image is replaced by words that little by little allow me to develop some themes. What a Borgesian paradox!, since later those same issues must be addressed with rigor, coherence and knowledge of the cause.

For example, from my condition as a son, it is very complex for me to say Nabori Indian. Nabori Indian? No, if I called him daddy, old man, old man, how can I call him something else now? Nothing, that’s how things are: one comes to life and hears voices from here, from there, from this one, from that one, from everyone… However, there is so much external noise that the voice of any person can be silenced. What must I do then to listen to the sound of my most intimate echo?

Perhaps, and in the first place, to understand or unravel the resonances of a man named Jesús Orta Ruiz, for which, inevitably, I have to resort to the aforementioned distancing.

Here is a small detail: the person who signs these lines has already published several books of narrative, poetry and essay. As if that were not enough, he has also ventured into the cinema and leads an intense academic life, giving conferences, workshops and literature classes in the most diverse places in the world. However, the person who signs these lines continues to be, for a large majority, the son of the Naborí Indian, only the son of the Naborí Indian.

Perhaps an honorary title that will accompany me for life? This is the acoustics of a personal reality where the following response resonates daily: welcome to the honorary title! Among other things, because I will always wear it with great pride.

The three preceding paragraphs briefly explain the title that identifies this essay approach. El Indio Naborí: a centenarian with a magnifying glass, since we are facing a poet whose work is an essential ingredient of the national imagination. Mentioning his pseudonym, anywhere on the Island, first becomes synonymous with identity, and then ends up becoming history, legend or fascination of obligatory reference; a truth that, in a clear way, explains the socio-cultural event that has been taking place with the celebration of his Centenary.

Although of course, if it is a matter of remembering it, I could have started my analysis with a tone more or less like this: “…Jesús Orta Ruiz, better known as the Naborí Indian, born in Havana, Cuba, on September 30, 1922. Poet, essayist and journalist. National Prize for Literature and National Hero of Labor of the Republic of Cuba. He is considered by literary critics as one of the most outstanding figures of Cuban letters…”.

In those words, everything is true, but aren’t they foreign? Believe me I feel too distant. Anyway, I already said it: matters related to this poet are not easy for me. What I feel is anguish? I don’t know, I really don’t know.

Then the magic detachment reaches my brain, responsible for driving away the dark cloud and bringing back a dawn where the father and son keep their faces out of the gloom. Why remember the Nabori Indian from sadness? Today is a great day. Enough of complaints! And he must be remembered from poetry, since she was the cardinal axis of his life.

Logically, it is not a matter of sewing and singing, because we are dealing with a poet highly committed to the historical moment in which he lived, with a poet who had an intensely creative life, with a highly atypical poet. In the same person, the revolutionary and the intellectual, the journalist and the folklorist, are united, but the cultured poet and the popular poet are also united, and so are the poet who writes and the poet who sings or improvises tenths; For this reason, it is very complex to carry out an independent analysis of each part without ultimately becoming accomplices of its significant whole.

Nothing more like this man than his own poetry, which is why he had no need to write his memoirs. Whoever really wants to know him, inside and out, only has to approach his work, both written and oral, having as an analysis premise that between his minstrel alter ego and his lyrics alter ego there never existed no contradiction, because both were complementary.

There is a detail that I must not overlook: what is Cuban, let’s say that what is most authentically Cuban, is not in the words or strophic forms that the poet uses, nor in the themes that he develops. Nope! Here what is most authentically Cuban is in the experience, in the immaterial sense exhibited by his loyal belonging to Cuba. The Naborí Indian did not sing to sing, he did not write to write. Quite the contrary. His verses, from the first to the last, were always remembered emotion, shared emotion, something that exploded in his voice from a lived and vivid experience.

Eusebio Leal explained it this way:

“… Cuban as the royal palms, he never used his word to serve a cause other than social justice. For this reason, peasants and workers saw in the song of Jesús Orta Ruiz the most legitimate expression of their own feelings…The Naborí Indian searched -until he found- the traces of the first spilled blood…”.

What happens in practice? I say it without embellishments of any kind: the best of the poetry of the Naborí Indian, despite the passage of time, refuses to die. It is a poetic event that transcends the borders of exact times and reaches our days. Read and study thoroughly the titles that I now mention: Peninsular traveler, Intimate eviction, Through a smell, To my father, Elegy of the pencil, Elegy of the knife, My death will come, Work, Madrigal of the mist, Triumphal March of the Army Rebel, It was the morning of Santa Ana and Elegy of the white shoes, just to mention a few poems.

The subsequent significance of these verses is given precisely by the multiple vibration of the emotional perspective, never approached from maudlin or dramatic poetic approaches. Everything contrary. Here the verses flow naturally and dynamically, leaving in the air a spiritual resonance that at the same time is emphatic, because the heart of human beings is also emphatic: “…You are, then, an abstract child/ and you come when I invoke you / untouchable life that I touch / in an illusion of touch…”.

I also insist on the importance of language. This is where the misunderstanding of a certain poem can be. Does the above happen with the Nabori Indian? No, it does not happen at any time. See then this other finding: his poetry is first felt and then understood, leaving more than clear a wonderful verbal combination that can be summed up as follows: feel, move and understand. All this from combining themes, language, inner rhythm, materialization of the abstract, tones, stanzaic forms, emotional perspective, personified abstractions and the absence of derogatory metaphors. An essence that is even more sublimated when analyzed from the tenth, because these virtues can be felt both orally and in writing.

In summary, and this is an almost unanimous criterion, the Naborí Indian renewed the sung and written tenth, invigorated the elegy, granted an unusual range of perpetuity to social lyrics, energized free verse, pontificated the sonnet, revived the romance and left a very important mark on folk research, blending and elevating the cultured and the popular, the classic and the modern, to an aesthetic category. But to that poetic vocation we must add at all times his vocation as a Homeland, which for him was the same as saying Revolution.

Ángel Augier, in his essay Dos poetas de cubanidad raigal (referring to Nicolás Guillén and Jesús Orta Ruiz) analyzed the subject as follows:

“…Guillén and Naborí, from that popular origin of their rhythms and motifs, of their tunes and clamours, forged their Cuban, American and universal poetry, which encompasses the most diverse poetic resources and dissimilar features and themes, but which never abandons its nurturing roots of the Cuban national spirit. Both have achieved the difficult feat, already pointed out by some critic, of pleasing and even exciting, due to their poetic genius, at all levels of the cultural spectrum, from the most popular to the most elite, from the neighborhood to the salons, from the jubilant party to the severe and solemn atmosphere of the academies…”.

Today, Friday, September 30, the Naborí Indian would be one hundred years old. Until today, among other things because the date began to be celebrated in September 2021, more than one hundred events dedicated to the poet have been held in the country. It is truly impressive.

In practice what Angel Augier said is fulfilled: from the neighborhood to the halls, from the jubilant party to the severe and solemn atmosphere of the academies. I see it as a festival of national

In practice what Angel Augier said is fulfilled: from the neighborhood to the halls, from the jubilant party to the severe and solemn atmosphere of the academies. I see it as a festival of national culture, coordinated with exquisite sensitivity by the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Book Institute, but in the same way it has served to remind other Cubans that from poetry they made the same Homeland: José María Heredia, Julián del Casal, Napoles Fajardo, José Martí, Agustín Acosta, Regino E. Boti, Eugenio Florit, Emilio Ballagas, Manuel Navarro Luna, Nicolás Guillén, Regino Pedroso, Félix Pita Rodríguez, Mirta Aquirre, Samuel Feijóo, José Lezama Lima, Eliseo Diego, Cintio Vitier, Fina García Marruz, Carilda Oliver Labra, Roberto Fernández Retamar and Fayad Jamís, among other great Cuban poets.

I would like to close these lines by quoting the Spanish professor Maximiano Trapero, who looking at him from a deep vantage point, and thinking above all of the youngest, has been able to visualize the transcendence of the Naborí Indian for the future:

“…For myself, every time I reread his work, the conviction grows that his poetry is of such height that it will be “classic”, it will last forever, because he managed to catch up with the great lyricists in the Spanish language… The name of the Naborí Indian will continue to resonate in legend, like a timeless Homer, made a myth, because in his person and in his work the two most enduring human and literary types of popular literature in the Spanish language since the Middle Ages were combined: the minstrel and the troubadour…The Naborí Indian is today the most genuine representative of oral poetry in the Hispanic world…”.

The same intimate poet who wrote the famous Peasant Prints, or The Escape of the Angel, or Deep Wedding, or Come in and forgive yourself, or A conscious part of the twilight, or With your eyes of mine, was also capable of being an extremely inspired singer of the Revolution. The validity of all his poetry allows us to reaffirm that we have celebrated, and will continue to celebrate, a centenary with a magnifying glass, given that the Naborí Indian is a poet that Cuba continues to need.

(By: Fidel Antonio Orta)

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