Home |  Archives  |  Write On! |  Dossiers |  Search |  Boutique | Donate

An unpublished book by Fernando Ortiz shatters still existing prejudices on African-Cuban pagan rites

Brujas e inquisidores
Fernando Ortiz
Editorial: Fundacin Fernado Ortiz, 2003
1ra. Edicin
Prólogo: Jos Antonio Matos Arvalos
Idioma: Espaol
14 x 21 cm, 216 pginas.
Encuadernacin: cartulina ilustrada
$22.00 USD

HAVANA - THE publication of Brujas e inquisidores (Witches and Inquisitors) from the Fernando Ortiz collection by the learned Cuban of the same name is first-hand news of great importance.

Fernando Ortiz began to write this work in the 1920s; never published, it remained in the archives of the Cuban Literature and Linguistics Institute. The Fernando Ortiz Foundation, headed by poet and ethnologist - among other academic attributes - Miguel Barnet, has now launched this erudite and clarifying work for Cuban and universal readers. Its compilation and prologue was undertaken by José Antonio Matos Arévalos in a patient and meticulous reading of the original to make this volume a reality.

The argument of this revealing work - in the sense that it puts many things in their place - reflects a counterpoint of opinions that emerged in a religious drama that took place in the community of Remedios (pictured) between José González de la Cruz, a cleric, and a black woman slave named Leonarda.

This episode afforded Fernando Ortiz an opportunity to introduce us to a squalid world of white-born beliefs and religions dating back many centuries prior to Columbus' arrival in what is now the Americas.

To that world of Europe - of witchcraft, demons, the rampant sabbats, the killing of babies to spice spells and the infamous situations in convents and communities.

In other words, the profusion of facts described with Fernando Ortiz' exceptional elegance and precision, which firstly openly exposes our origins, demolishes a host of still-existing prejudices assigned to the pagan and even brutal rites of black Cubans by the champions of ideological power. Dating back to the introduction of slavery in Cuba, this prejudice led to the fierce persecution of African Cubans in the early years of the republic, and did much damage to their favorable development after the triumph of the Revolution.

Spain was always the cradle of demons, spells and witches, and much of that was transmitted to the culture of the New World
Approaching the sphere of Ortiz, Matos Arevalo places the following with exactitude: "The encounter with the theme of witchcraft is not a casual one. Spain was always the cradle of demons, spells and witches, and much of that was transmitted to the culture of the New World." Later he notes: "With the publication for the first time of Brujas e inquisidores, we offer the lesson of a sage who always went beyond his own limits."

A close reading of the book, with the orgiastic European sabbat masterly described, as one would imagine, offers a whole geographical spectrum of the phenomenon and credulity on the part of venerated saints in the Catholic calendar in terms of the curses and the cunning of Satan, which did not escape the perspective and pen of Fernando Ortiz, who died in the last century.

The "Holy Office" of the Inquisition

The Holy Office of the Inquisition - described by Ortiz as an act of terrorism that was even implanted in the Americas - did not manifest itself (in Cuba) with such force, or was not very perceptible, due to Cubans' personal qualities - the sons of the earth in the distant island (ours). But that was not the case, for example, with the demoniacal terror sown in Cartagena de las Indias and other American territories.

Reading this book dwarfs the atrocities recorded by history on the customs of those born in the so-called New Spain in relation to the sacrifice of human beings, including babies, which proliferated in Europe.

Torture by a fire. Illustration to the M.V.de Fereal's "History of Inquisition."
According to Ortiz' unfailing data: "The inquisition of Calahorra demanded the burning of 30-plus women for witchcraft and sorcery in the year 1507," but the people of Calahorra had not even heard of the existence of one sole human pyre of Aztecs or other American Indian groups. Ortiz relates how the invasion of witches suffered by Spain was greater precisely in the regions with the most preachers and clerics. But neither was Germany safe, or other regions of white and "civilized" Europe.

Black mass; Europe's royal families

Among many other historical cases, Fernando Ortiz refers to one known as the black mass "with criminal abominations that went as far as human sacrifice that took place during the reign of Louis XIV of France (pictured)" in order that the spurned Madame de Montespan (pictured) could win back his elusive love. According to the procedures and accounts (1679-81), it was officiated by a priest, Abbot Guibourg, who slaughtered a baby boy for the sacrilegious mass, spilled his blood into a chalice and consecrated it together with the host."

He relates how the Austrian court: "That of an empire as lavish as it was miserable, was dour and fanatical, always thinking of death, the devil and miracle workers, when not dissipating itself in libertine orgies."

Poor Carlos II (pictured), the bewitched and sexually impotent king whose infirmity was attributed by the clergy to a spell was, not left behind. "Signor Rocabertu, the general inquisitor and father confessor, in consultation with the curate Camgas, went every day to the palace," Ortiz writes, "and after the day had dawned and his Majesty had just awoken, they made him breakfast on a large horn o
f 'blessed' oil, naked as the day that he was born and, rubbing his head very thoroughly with the same oil, then proceeded to anoint his whole body... without leaving any nook or cranny unblessed, and also using the dust of the bones of martyrs and soil from the Holy Sepulchre." Not even that aided him to procreate. Naturally, they attributed his misfortune to "a curse put on him by his mother, Mariana of Austria."

According to Montagure Summers, an English cleric, witches' and wizards' coitus with demons were both a fact and effective.

Details and data on all kinds of witchcraft without any element of fiction, so forceful because they were written down and can be consulted, certainly diminish the believers of that century.

To return to the case of Remedios, Fernando Ortiz gives his judgement in Brujas e inquisidores: "It does not appear then, that the Cuban priest José González de la Cruz should be blamed for believing in and making others believe in the demonizing of the black woman Leonarda. Both the cleric and the slave believed in 'the evil enemy'." The slave Leonarda "was possessed by a saint whom the priest believed was Lucifer."

Doctor Daysi Rivero, president of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country, which together with the Foundation and the Institute of Literature and Linguistics, made the publication of this impressive work possible, stated at the launch:

"As the author notes in his brief foreword, the book is dedicated to the black magic of the white practicants of witchcraft and is thus a complement to La Santería y la brujería de los blancos (The Santeria and Witchcraft of the Whites), also published as a collaboration between the three institutions."

Without any doubt, this offering is imbued with the tenacity, intellectual valor and Cuban identity of Miguel Barnet, who personally immersed himself in editing this work that contributes to interpreting the universality of culture, and his own culture.

20 January 2004


La Fundación Fernando Ortiz (Fernando Ortiz Foundation)

*Special for Granma International. Edited slightly by Shunpiking Online

      Home |  Archives  |  Write On! |  Dossiers |  Search |  Boutique | Donate

Comments to : shunpike@shunpiking.org Copyright New Media Services Inc. © 2007. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of shunpiking magazine or New Media Publications. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. Copyright of written and photographic and art work remains with the creators.