The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson

LaVerne Seales
California Lutheran University

Overview of Negritude

Negritude is a literary and ideological movement of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, influenced by various styles and art movements, including surrealism and the Harlem Renaissance. It began with Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, and Léopold Sédar Senghor –who were all French-speaking African and Caribbean students living in Paris– as a form of protest against French colonial rule and assimilation policies.

Negritude, as a specific term, appeared for the first time in an article written by Aimé Césaire for L’Étudiant Noir. However, the word Negritude went unnoticed until 1947, when Césaire’s first poetic collection, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, was republished with a prologue by André Breton (Jones 15). In an interview conducted with Aimé Césaire by Lilyan Kesteloot in June 1959, Césaire defined Negritude as “the awareness of being black, the simple acknowledgment of a fact which implies the acceptance of it, a taking charge of one’s destiny as a black man, of one’s history and culture” (105). In a speech to the Parliament of Ghana in 1961, Léopold Sédar Senghor also explained the concept of Negritude by stating that “Négritude is the awareness, defense, and development of African cultural values” (Reed 97). As we consider the definitions given by Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor, we better understand Césaire’s words when, in a 1967 interview, he commented: “everyone has his own negritude” (Césaire Discourse 75). Césaire and Senghor defined Negritude according to their experience. For Césaire, being from Martinique and given the racial circumstances of the island and its history with France, the recognition of belonging to the black race was fundamental. For Senghor, who was Senegalese, the meaning of Negritude was instead an effort to recover the culture of Black Africa in opposition to the French.

While Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor’s ideas are often the center of discussions about Negritude, Léon-Gontran Damas’s perspective helped underscore the African diaspora’s diversity and promote a more inclusive understanding of Negritude. For Damas, Negritude wasn’t just about a shared racial identity but the diversity of cultures and traditions within people of African descent. His emphasis on multiculturalism within Negritude added depth to the movement, further recognizing the complexities of identity and heritage.

Some of the general recurring themes in literary works stemming from the concept of Negritude are 1) the manifestation of pride in belonging to the black race; 2) the firm intention of social criticism coupled with the condemnation of Black oppressors; 3) the remembrance of the horrendous history of slavery; 4) an anti-colonial belief; 5) rejection of assimilated white culture; 6) deeper knowledge of Africa at all levels; 7) manifestation of solidarity with Black people around the world.


Negritude in Latin America

Latin America’s diversity of human groups, races, ethnicities, histories, cultures, and literature reflects the region’s characteristics and multiple perspectives. Through literature that includes and describes the experiences of the different races that inhabit these areas, it is possible to observe the importance given to specific minority groups. Regarding people of color, the most significant literary and social movements of 20th-century Latin America have been about Native Americans through concepts such as indianismo and indigenismo. Comparatively, including people of African descent in Latin American literature as authors or characters is hardly researched. Except for a few writers—poets from the Caribbean and a handful in South America—authors of African descent in Latin America have yet to receive the attention they deserve. Negritude, as a literary tool, examines the Black experience in Latin America from a much-needed lens: one of celebration and affirmation of the value of Black people on the world stage. However, when studying Negritude as a concept, it is necessary to consider the differences among regions, their relationships to colonialism, African slavery, and their unique development (Jackson 921).

Since colonial times, Europe has imposed norms and literary trends on Latin America, which generally excluded Black people. Finally, at the beginning of the 20th century, when the interest in African culture arose in Europe, the same could also be observed in the New World, especially in the Caribbean. A relevant example of this change in attitude is the Puerto Rican writer Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959), one of the first Latin American writers who effectively incorporated African themes and rhythms into his poetry. But it was not until the 1930s, with the publication of Nicolás Guillén’s works, that we could formally speak of literature written by people of African descent in Latin America about their experiences. The success and the popularity of Guillén’s poetry favored the dissemination of the works of other writers with African roots in Latin America, such as Nelson Estupiñán Bass, Manuel Zapata Olivella, Pilar Barrios, Adalberto Ortiz, Nancy Morejón, Quince Duncan, Nicomedes Santa Cruz, and Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson.

When approaching the concept of Negritude in Latin America, one cannot speak of an origin but a concept that slowly developed across various locations. Césaire and Senghor wrote from a specific perspective because the fundamental influence in their movement came from the rejection of French culture. The nuances of the relationship between the centralizing force of Paris and the various local powers and influences in the colonies provide insight into the complexities of French colonial history. Latin American writers of African descent were exposed to the influence of various powers and cultures, including the Native American, Spanish, Portuguese, and Anglo-Saxon. Those influences made cultural and racial situations much more complex in the Americas, especially as they related to people of African descent and their identity. Thus, when interpreting Negritude in Latin America, it is necessary to regard the importance of the racial and ethnic mixing of different racial groups in that region. Richard L. Jackson explains that Negritude in Latin America can be understood as a higher form of cultural and racial miscegenation (928). As writers of African descent in Latin America proclaim their African heritage, they also recognize the need to include their other cultural and racial heritages.

Marvin Lewis pointed out, “Throughout the Americas, Negritude had the impact of revitalizing interest in and placing positive emphasis upon the African cultural heritage in societies that quite often denied its value” (4). An essential characteristic of Negritude in Latin America is combining a universal vision with accepting a heritage of African descent within the specific Latin American environment; Negritude in Latin America embraces that concept, leading to a push for anti-racist culture.

Born April 1st, 1941, in Panama City, Panama, Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson is among the most significant 20th-century Afro-Panamanian poets, short story writers, and novelists—an advocate of Afro-Carribbean people and culture. In an article written by Carlos Guillermo Wilson entitled “The Role of the Afro-Latino Writer and the Quincentenary (1492-1992),” Wilson identifies three main themes in the work of the writers of African descent in Latin America: identity, justice, and the recognition of the values ​​of their African cultural heritage (Wilson 69). Thus, for Wilson, acknowledging and celebrating African origin is crucial to his identity. Also, Negritude in Latin America focuses on justice, as there is an attitude of protest towards all forms of oppression. Generally, the objection is towards those who oppress and exploit all people, regardless of race. The exaltation of brotherhood and solidarity are also necessary when considering Negritude in Latin America, as racial and ethnic mixing has produced a complex understanding of what it means to be Latin American.

Finally, there is a sense of awareness by writers of African descent of the responsibility writers have as most of them work to present a positive image of Black people in their work. As a literary scholar, Carlos Guillermo Wilson clearly explains these topics; as an author, Cubena exemplifies them in his poetry.


Brief History of People of African Descent in Panama 

The arrival of Black people in Panama did not occur at once; it happened through various migratory movements from multiple places, first directly from Africa and later from the Caribbean. Thus, Panama has two distinct groups of Black people: the negros coloniales and Afro-Caribbean people. The negros coloniales arrived as slaves on the isthmus with the Spanish conquistadors to assist in the colonization and conquering of America. The Afro-Caribbean people arrived at various points, mainly in the second half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, specifically to work on banana plantations, build a railroad, and construct the canal. As a result, the extent of assimilation to Panamanian culture differed between the negros coloniales and the Afro-Caribbean people, based on when and why they came to Panama; the degree of assimilation to the mestizo, white, and Native American populations also differed.

The negros coloniales were brought as enslaved people directly from Africa and, over the centuries, mixed with various ethnic groups. They adopted the religion, language, customs, and traditions of their masters, just as the Native Americans did after the conquest. The Afro-Carribbean people, on the other hand, had a different experience in the Caribbean, as they were under the rule of the British crown. In the 1880s, as the French initially attempted to build a canal in Panama, they recruited Black workers from the Caribbean. When the Afro-Caribbeans arrived in Panama, their religion and language differed from the negros coloniales, as Afro-Caribbean people adopted the British language and religion.

Eventually, the French attempt at building a canal failed due to engineering difficulties, financial challenges, harsh tropical weather, disease (notably malaria and yellow fever), and rugged terrain. After the French abandoned the project in 1889, the US continued constructing the Panama Canal in the early 20th century and completed it successfully. The construction of the Panama Canal under US management also involved significant labor, including the employment of thousands of workers from the Caribbean, mainly from Jamaica and Barbados. These workers faced challenges similar to their predecessors; nevertheless, they played a crucial role in the eventual completion of the canal, which opened in 1914. The US was interested in recruiting Afro-Caribbean workers specifically for their ability to communicate in English, and perhaps the most important reason was the perception that being foreigners, they would be more loyal to the US, as opposed to Panama. During the beginning of the 1800s, when Panama was a colony of Spain and later became a province of Colombia, Afro-Caribbean people “perceived themselves and were perceived by other Panamanians as temporary migrants” (Guerrón Montero 48), but many ended up staying in Panama.

After the Panama Railroad and the Panama Canal construction, Afro-Caribbean people worked mainly in the waterway’s maintenance and operation. Afro-Caribbean people lived in the Canal Zone, away from Panamanians, and although they earned much less than the Americans, they earned higher wages than Panamanians. Afro-Caribbean people were separated from Panamanians by geography, wages, race, language, and religion, which forged a racially complex country; as a result, there was great resentment and class distinction in the country. The faith of Afro-Caribbean people was directly tied to the political and economic changes in the country, and so was their sense of citizenship and belonging (Seales Soley “A Panamanian” 138).

For many years, Afro-Caribbean people and their descendants were not considered Panamanians; the worst display of Panamanians’ rejection of Afro-Caribbean people and their descendants in Panama appears in a series of anti-Afro-Caribbean laws, the worst was the constitution of 1941, which denied Panamanian nationality to the descendants of English-speaking Afro-Caribbean people. Over the years, the problems between Panamanians and Afro-Caribbean people and their descendants have decreased but have not entirely disappeared. Today, most of the population still live in the provinces of Colón and Panama, in the Canal area, and on the northeast of the Atlantic coast in Bocas del Toro, once home to banana plantations. In addition, many Afro-Caribbean people have emigrated to the US recently.

The works of writers like Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson are essential as they openly challenge the history of outsiders vs. insiders that for decades shaped the experiences of people of African descent, Indigenous peoples, and migrants of color in Panama as well as other parts of the Americas (Corinealdi 3). Through Negritude, we can see how Cubena creates a diversity of perspectives on the racially complex lives of people of African descent in the Americas as he focuses on Panama.


Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson: Afro-Panamanian Writer of Afro-Caribbean Descent

Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson (1941-2016) was an Afro-Panamanian poet, writer, professor, and literary critic; he is regarded as one of the most important Panamanian writers of the century. From an early age, Wilson witnessed the injustices people of African descent suffered in Panama. In 1959, he emigrated to the US, living through many inequities and injustices, building deep bitterness towards the US.

Cubena is Carlos Guillermo Wilson’s pseudonym; it is the Hispanization of Kwabena, which means Tuesday in the Twi language, of the Ashanti culture in Ghana, Africa. In the explanation that the writer offers at the beginning of his books, Cubena explains that in the Ashanti culture, it is customary to name the boys by the name of the day they were born (Pensamiento 3); Cubena was born on the first Tuesday of April 1941.

In a 1997 interview LaVerne M. Seales Soley had with Carlos Guillermo Wilson, he clearly articulated his beliefs. When asked why he writes, Cubena expressed that he writes to condemn the international attitude of disdain, rejection, and hatred towards those of African descent. (Seales Soley “Interview” 68). When asked what is more important to him, the literary technique or the message? Wilson shared that for him, the most important thing is not the experimentation but the highlighted message regarding the heritage of Africa in Latin America during the first five hundred years, 1492-1992. (Seales Soley “Interview” 69). In an interview conducted with Elba Birmingham-Pokorny, Cubena said that his mission as a writer is “to denounce racial injustice in Latin America, to attack the dehumanization brought about by these practices and, above all, to expose the insincerity, the hypocrisy and the complacence of all those who deny the experience of racial discrimination in Latin America” (Birmingham-Pokorny 129).

Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson is the author of several novels, short stories, and a collection of 56 poems titled Pensamientos del negro Cubena (1977). The lyrics in these poems are simple and concise; the simplicity of the poems is their greatest strength. In “Big Rage and Big Romance: Discovering a New Panamanian Author,” Ian I. Smart commented that “In a good poem, especially in the short poems that Cubena prefers, every line has to be charged with poetic intensity. Every line has to be a ‘punch line’” (Smart 36). The collection of poems is divided into three parts: “The Americas,” “Africa,” and “Love.” The titles give the reader an insight into the topics developed in each section. Thomas Wayne Edison has noted that Cubena “adds names and faces and personal responses to documented historical events” (133); this is on full display in his poetry.


Elements of Negritude in “Pensamientos del Negro Cubena”

Using the concept of Negritude to frame the poetic work of Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson, two themes that, according to Susan Frutkin, are among the most important in Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (17-18) are present. One affirms black identity; the other expresses a belief in a future of universal brotherhood. Both themes are developed and related to Cubena’s ideas in Pensamientos del negro Cubena. Cubena’s works are important because they present key moments of the Black experience, which “help to complete the tapestry of Afro-Caribbean history” (Edison 134). Moreover, Cubena makes the central ideas of Negritude his own by developing his ideas in the context of Panama as he emphasizes the multiracial and multicultural origins of Afro-Caribbean people and their descendants. Cubena presents a unique perspective on Negritude as an Afro-Panamanian man; his concept of race and ethnicity is inclusive and aligns with Damas’s, which underscores the multicultural and multiracial aspects of Negritude. As for any group, the identity construction for Afro-Panamanians is complex and multifaceted; it is influenced by historical, social, economic, and cultural factors developed in Cuban writings.

The title of Cubena’s collection of poems, Pensamientos del negro Cubena, is explicit regarding the author’s perspective and his assertion of his genealogy. With this title, Carlos Guillermo Wilson specifies his authorship; he writes as “Cubena,” his African pseudonym. Cubena affirms his race as “Black” and indicates the ideological tone of his texts: Pensamientos ‘thoughts,’ meaning his ideas, opinions, and experiences about various topics. These are critical factors as they set the tone for the content of the collection of poems before the reader opens the book.

One of the fundamental elements of Negritude is the recognition, acceptance, and assertion of African roots. Referring to Négritude in Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Susan Frutkin says: “The first of these themes is the cornerstone of négritude: the acceptance of oneself as black and the deep-seated belief in the inherent worth of the black people” (18). Given the dilemma of the negros coloniales versus the Afro-Caribbeans, acknowledging, admitting, and proclaiming one’s African descent is crucial concerning identity in Panama as negros coloniales focus on being Panamanians rather than of African descent.

On the first page of his book of poems, Cubena presents what he calls the “Cubena Coat of Arms,” which is related to his African identity. A coat of arms represents a specific family or person. Initially, coats of arms appeared on flags or shields and were used to differentiate one knight from another on a battlefield. However, a shield is also used as protection against blows, and Cubena heads his with the Twi words EBEYIYE, which means “The future will be better” (Pensamiento 3).

The symbols represented on the coat of arms also point to Cubena’s African identity, and he explains them. The six-link chain represents the main groups of Africans enslaved in the Americas: “YORUBA, FANTI, ASHANTI, CONGO, BANTU, and DAHOMEY” (3). With the chain symbol, Cubena conveys the image of the suffering of African groups under the chains of slavery. But on the other hand, the series of linked chains suggests the united solidarity of the black race, the diaspora that suffers together. The three stars symbolize Africa, Jamaica, and Panama, the motherlands of Cubena’s lineage. Cubena recognizes that his ancestors were taken out of Africa, brought to Jamaica, and went to Panama from Jamaica. In addition, each star also symbolizes the success of Cubena’s ancestors at each stage in the history of the Americas, from slavery to the author’s present. Cubena’s coat of arms and the careful explanation offered by the author indicate that Wilson used the attributes of his African descent as his shield and as a source of inspiration for his poems.


Affirmation, Recognition, and Celebration of African Roots

Recognizing African origin is one of Negritude’s critical elements, and Cubena opens his book of poems with just that and expresses this repeatedly throughout the collection. Six poems where Cubena affirms, recognizes, and celebrates his African roots are: “In Exilium,” “Africano cimarrón,” “Carifesta 1976,” “ Desarraigado,” “Chimurenga,” and “Usutu.”

In the poem “In Exilium” (Pensamientos 8), the writer proclaims that he is “ASHANTI,” “CONGO,” and “YORUBA;” Cubena identifies with three of the African groups from which many of the enslaved in the Americas are descendants. Also, in contrast, each of the three stanzas of this poem dramatically begins with a negative exclamation “¡Qué desgracia!”, “¡Qué insulto!” and “¡Qué infamia!” (Pensamientos 8). Using these exclamations, the writer expresses dissatisfaction with the assimilation imposed through his name. Cubena also juxtaposes the African denominations to the name of Carlos Guillermo Wilson. Finally, the use of capital letters for African names and lowercase for “carlos guillermo wilson,” again highlights the importance and respect for Africanness and contempt for all that is Spanish and English.

Similarly, in the first and last stanza of “Africano cimarrón,” the poet announces in capital letters his African roots “Soy/ YORUBA/ CONGO Y ASHANTI” and “Soy/ FANTI/ BANTU Y DAHOMEY” (Pensamiento 13). The affirmation of his African roots opens and closes the poem, pointing to the essence of who he is. By the title of “Áfricano cimarrón,” it is known that the epicenter of the poem will be an enslaved African or prisoner who flees or rebels in search of freedom. In this poem, freedom will be both physical and cultural. Cubena writes “mis ancestros arrancados/ del África negra/ COBA/ YANGA/ GANGA ZUMBA” (Pensamiento 13); with this statement, he makes it clear that he is of African descent and that his ancestors did not choose to leave Africa but were forced to do so. Although now the descendants of those enslaved people are free, Cubena expresses that he is “peregrinando por las Américas,” meaning that he is still traveling through foreign lands in search of new or expanded meaning and understanding about himself. Cubena hopes this journey leads to a personal transformation, after which, as a pilgrim, he will return home to Africa. He ends the poem by reminding us that the American continent is “donde me niegan dignidad,” where he is not respected; Cubena is referring to Latin America and the United States. Thus, it is clear how Cubena merges his experiences with his race. Concerning this topic, Jorge J. Rodríguez-Florido commented that in this poem, Cubena contrasts his African origin with his status as a nomad who is unable to find a place to recognize him for who he is (39).

In “Carifesta 1976” (Pensamiento 27-28), the poet references his ancestors by again capitalizing the tribes for them to stand out “YORUBA-FANTI-ASHANTI/ CONGO-DAHOMEY-BANTU” (27). As the author explained at the beginning of the book of poems, these are the six main African groups enslaved in the Americas (3), symbolized in Cubena’s coat of arms by the six-chain links. “Encadenados llegaron a/ MoBay/ mis antepasados/ sí, encadenados llegaron” –Cubena remembers his ancestors who arrived chained to Mobay, which refers to Montego Bay in Jamaica, one of the main ports where enslaved people were brought in from Africa. “Como sardinas en lata/ encadenados/ en navíos negreros/ encadenados/ sobre un mar pusilánte/ teñido de sangre africana/ encadenados/ mis antepasados/ arrancados de la cuna/ encadenados” (Pensamiento 27-28)– the image of people packed like sardines in a can is a reference to slave ships that were extremely crowded; we have the sensation that they could barely breathe. The references to chains and blood direct us to the suffering and humiliation of slavery, and the violence of being ripped from their place of birth reminds us of the reckless manner in which his ancestors were taken from Africa. In Negritude as a Theme in the Poetry of the Portuguese-Speaking World, Richard A. Preto-Rhodes comments that “The first level of Negritude, an awareness of shared humiliation, is basic to the work of any poet who subscribes to its tenets” (3). Preto-Rhodes also points out that there is an undercurrent of bitter lament in Césaire and subsequent poets as they dwell upon the suffering of their people (3); we see the same in Cubena.

The suffering that Richard A. Preto-Rodas refers to is present in the poem “Caritesta 1976” with the repetition of the word encadenados. The repetition of ‘enchained’ also recalls the African rhythm and the swaying of the waves of the slave ships. The poem continues, “llegaron encadenados/ sí, encadenados/ más CUBENA/ el orgulloso tataranieto/ regresó a Xaymaca/ DOCTORADO/ en un lujoso 747/ clamando, a voz en cuello/ EBEYIYE!/ EBEYIYE!/ EBEYIYE!” (Pensamientos 28). We observe the leading presence of Cubena and his autobiographical references; he acknowledges that he is the great-great-grandson of enslaved Africans who were taken to the Americas. However, he also states that he is the “proud” great-great-grandson who embodies the EBEYIYE (“the future will be better”) because he has received the highest academic degree, a doctorate, and returns to Xaymaca on a luxurious 747 airliner as opposed to a slave ship. This poem embodies Cubena’s hope for a better tomorrow. Xaymaca refers to the island’s name, Jamaica, derived from the Arawak word Xaymaca, effectively incorporating the language of the Arawak.

In his poem “Desarraigado” (Pensamiento 9), Cubena declares his African roots by referring to the past but juxtaposing it with the present. Uprooted means pulled away; it is usually used to refer to a tree or plant pulled out of the ground; this poem expresses that the poetic character has been removed by force from their homeland. Here, Cubena talks directly to his African grandmother, “Abuelita africana,/ porqué no me reconoces?” (Pensamiento 9), which points to the fact that he has another grandmother, which is later implied to be Spanish. Like many in the Americas, he can trace his ancestors to different cultures. Furthermore, the poet expresses frustration toward his African grandmother for not recognizing him as her grandson. Cubena’s first question is a closed question, where he solicits a yes or no answer, “no me reconoces” (Pensamiento 9). Next, the author lets his African grandmother know that although he has assimilated into the Spanish culture by speaking Luis de Góngora’s Spanish, praying to Jesus of Nazaret, and dancing Andalusian dances, he is aware that he is her grandson and wants her to accept him as such. Finally, the poem ends with Cubena asking his African grandmother the same question “por qué no me reconoces?” The question demands an explanation, a much more detailed answer from the grandmother, one that goes unanswered. The question implies that the “Abuelita Africana” has not seen him in a long time and that his appearance has changed. Cubena also plays on the word’s ‘recognize’ meaning as he questions why she does not accept or admit his existence and recognizes him as her genuine grandchild. In this poem, Cubena points to the fact that people of African descent in Latin America have been forced to leave their land and have had to adopt the Spanish language, religion, and music, but after several generations, they are still not accepted, so they reach out to their “Abuelita africana,” clearly the personification of Africa.

Another critical characteristic of Negritude that Cubena effectively incorporates in his poems is the use of African words with the force of his direct verbal expression, such as those that appear in the second part of the collection of poems titled “Africa.” Cubena finds it necessary to translate or explain many of the words. For example, in the poem titled “Chimurenga,” Cubena explains that “*Chimurenga” is a word from the Shona, a Bantu language in Rhodesian that means ‘liberation war’ (Pensamientos 33). Africa is the focus of the poem “Chimurenga,” and it is centered on the continent’s historical, contemporary, and future development.

In “Chimurenga” Cubena speaks of the Africa of the past as a place of great empires “Afrika/ ayer/ GHANA/ MALI/ SONGHAY/ paraíso de mis nanas” (Pensamiento 32-33). This ‘paradise’ is contrasted with the places in 1970s Africa where injustice and racial discrimination persist “Afrika/ hoy/ Rhodesia/ Namibia/ Sudáfrica/ infierno de mis primos” (Pensamiento 32). The paradise of his grandmothers today has become his cousin’s “hell.” Cubena stops at the Africa of today, hell, and mentions John Vorster and Ian Smith, both defenders of racial segregation, then demands their death, “Que se derrame en el Limpopo/ la sangre de los Ian Smith./ A los John Vorster/ que la muerte les dé/ un fuerte abrazo en los Sowetos” (Pensamiento 32). The poet demands death for ‘the’ Ian Smiths and ‘the’ John Vorsters, both politicians symbolically referring to all those who used their political power to enforce racist laws and harmful practices towards black Africans. Before ending the poem, the author returns to the Africa of the past “Afrika/ ayer/ KUMBI/ TIMBUCTU/ GAO” (Pensamiento 32); however, this time, he contrasts it with what he hopes will be future Africa “Afrika/ mañana/ ZIMBABWE/ NAMIBIA/ AZANIA” (Pensamiento 33), a continent of free Black African nations liberated by Chimurenga.

The use of African words is also seen in the second poem of this section entitled “Usutu.” In “Usutu” (34), Cubena incorporates African words that he explains at the poem’s end. The first thing that stands out in this poem is the insistent repetition of the word “usutu,” a phrase used by Zulú warriors to encourage others to join the fight, marking the poem’s warrior tone. In “Usutu,” the poet is presented as a warrior who addresses the white man who has victimized black Africans. Cubena refers to this man as contemptuously albino, which points to his very light skin, hair, and eyes and tells him to run because the Shaka, a legendary Zulú African warrior, has been reborn, has returned to Africa furious and is in search of  JUSTICIA (“JUSTICE”). This ‘JUSTICE’ “es un noble deber,” (34) Shaka’s ‘noble responsibility’ that assumes the “albino’s” violent death. The poet paints an image of Shaka with a machete in the left hand and Shrapnel in the right; the capitalization of BULALA (“death”) and ‘JUSTICE’ emphasizes the idea of ​​justice through a violent death.

Except for the poem’s last three lines, the spacing of the word “usutu” on the page recalls the sound of the cutting blow of the machete: dry and accurate. On the other hand, the last three lines are associated with sounds and the use of shrapnel. Shrapnel is a set of small pieces of iron, copper, or other metals with which specific explosive devices are loaded to injure several people with a single shot. Unlike the machete, which produces only a shock sound, the sound produced by the shrapnel is repetitive, thus the use of  “usutuusutuusutuusutuusutusutu” by the poet. Most of the African words mentioned in the poem’s second section are related to bloody battles and wars; Cubena uses those words as weapons of liberation as he affirms, recognizes, and celebrates his African roots.


Solidarity and brotherhood

Following Susan Frutkin’s outlines of the Negritude themes in Aimé Césaire’s collection of poems (17-18), the belief in a future of universal brotherhood is also relevant when discussing Negritude in Latin America. These themes can be observed in Pensamientos del Negro Cubena. Cubena’s poems distinguish three types of relations: the first is solidarity and fraternity with Latin Americans and Afro-Latin Americans; the second is a feeling of kinship and solidarity of the poet with Black Africa; the third centers on human solidarity.

“Triangulispanoamericano,” “Invitación,” “Empatia,” “Cabanga africana,” and “Mi raza” all develop the theme of solidarity and fraternity with Latin Americans and Afro-Latin Americans. “Triangulispanoamericano” (Pensamientos 14) raises the concept of a racial trinity that manifests itself in the poetic voice. The poet draws a racial triangle by saying he is “ASHANTI / ARAUACO/ CELTÍBERO,” (Pensamientos 14) both at the poem’s beginning and end. In “Triangulispanoamericano,” the poet declares his triple heritage, connected equally to all sides; the equilateral triangle symbolizes harmony (Becker 308-09).  Rather than using skin color to refer to blacks, Native Americans, and whites, Cubena uses the names of places representative of the three major racial groups related to the ethnic composition of the American continent. The Ashanti were known to be fierce fighters and were one of the tribes from West Africa from which enslaved people came to America; the Arawaks were one of the bravest groups of Native Americans in the New World who occupied the Antilles before the Caribs. The Celtiberians were one of the primitive peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. 

By mentioning these three groups in “Triangulispanoamericano,” Cubena points to his mixed heritage, confirming his connection with all Latin Americans; he also examines the consequences of the mixture of races in Latin America for people of African descent. Cubena writes “El negro me sospecha./ El mestizo me odia./ Y el blanco,/ ese me desdeña” (Pensamientos 14). Although Cubena declares that he is Ashanti, Arawak, and Celtiberian, implying that he is Black, Native-American-mestizo, and white, he also points out that those three groups reject him. At the same time, Cubena boosts the integration of the three races embodied in himself to explain his solidarity with all of them; he also reveals the confusion and conflicts that racial mixing has caused as he admits that neither group accepts him.

On the other hand, in both “Invitación” (Pensamientos 30) and “Empatía” (Pensamientos 35), Cubena establishes fraternal ties exclusively with other black people in the diaspora. Both poems symbolically address other people of African descent as blood relatives. The poet uses the word hermano ‘brother,’ the closest blood relationship after his parents, strategically, not only to introduce the idea of ​​people born from the same parents, even though separated in childhood, but also to relate to other people of African descent by pointing out common ties or interests.

The title “Invitación” is clear; it is a written request to participate in a gathering. At first, Cubena establishes to whom the ‘invitation’ is addressed and finally lets the reader know the purpose of the invitación. Each of the four stanzas begins the same way “Hermano negro/ en Bahía/ Palenque or Colón” (Pensamientos 30). It is important to note that in this poem, not only the noun hermano (“brother”) appears, but also the adjective negro (“black”), as he names places in Latin America: Bahía-Brazil, Palenque-Mexico, and Colon-Panama. The ‘Black brother’ he addresses is from South America, North America, and Central America.

In the first stanza, the poet tells his Afro-Latin American ‘brother’ “apaga las velas/ del afro-peruano/ y de Changó” (Pensamientos 30). Cubena uses the word vela ‘candle’ in its double capacity as a means of lighting and as a votive flame to render tribute or for worship. The fact that he asks his black brother to extinguish the light of the candle of San Martín de Porres, the first black saint of the Americas, and Changó, one of the most feared gods in Santería, is a call to stop worshiping. Instead of sources of hope, Cubena sees them as constructions in the New World that perpetuate the social order, making people devoted to them complacent. 

The last two lines of the second stanza say “evapora el guaro,/ el seco y el ron.” (Pensamientos 30). Cubena asks that the beverages evaporate; he wants them to turn from liquid into vapor. Guaro, seco, and rum are all of high alcoholic volume, derived from sugar cane; they are drinks associated with the Americas. From colonization, work in the cane fields was linked to Black people; the work on the sugar plantations was one of the main reasons enslaved Africans were taken to the New World. Moreover, alcohol is known to have highly damaging and long-lasting effects. For this reason, the poet asks his brother not to consume them; he wants them to make those drinks disappear as they have been a product that has caused suffering for their race. Instead of sources of hope, Cubena sees them as constructions in the New World that perpetuate the social order, making people devoted to them complacent.

In the third stanza, Cubena refers to elements associated with dance and music; Cubena writes: “Paraliza el esqueleto/ y deja descansar/ la cumbia, la rumba/ y el calypso” (Pensamientos 30). Cubena asks that his brothers stop wasting time on idle physical activities; the cumbia, the rumba, and the calypso are different kinds of music with strong African beats, prevalent in Latin America and the Caribbean among Blacks. For Cubena, these dances don’t help his brother accomplish anything beneficial.

Thus, in “Invitación,” we see that the religious figures, alcoholic beverages, and dances the writer references are very much present in Latin America. Cubena’s references make it clear that he considers all of them harmful for Afro-Latin Americans because they do not lead to improving or furthering the Black race. In this way, it is clear what the author is asking his black brother to stop doing, but then the question becomes, what is the purpose of the invitation? Cubena reveals it in the final stanza.

In the final four lines of the last stanza, Cubena invites his Afro-Latin American brothers to replicate “el ritmo/ GUERRILLERO/ de Bayano, Benkos/ and Cudjoe” (Pensamientos 30). He asks them to take as models the rebellions of Bayano (Panama), Benkos (Colombia), and Cudjoe (Jamaica), famous maroon leaders. Thomas Wayne Edison notes that the use of  “These important figures demonstrate a sustained history of the struggle of Blacks for cultural freedom and self-expression” (Edison 146). Cubena is asking his brother to turn to physical activities that have lasting, positive, and beneficial results for Black people.

The poem titled “Empatía” is brief but powerful. It opens with the mention of Rhodesian, Afrikaans, and Soweto, thus making it clear that the author will refer to Africans who live on the African continent in this poem. In “Empatía,” we also find an ascending scale of human relationships. The African man is a friend, cousin, and brother; in one way or another, the author relates to them, so he shares their pain “Mi pobre amigo africano/ mi corazón llora/ mi pobre primo africano/ mi corazón llora/ mi pobre hermano africano/ mi corazón llora . . .” (Pensamientos 35). The personification of the heart as the center of feelings and the act of crying, which is an emotional manifestation, is the means the poet uses to communicate his solidarity and fraternity with his black friends, cousins, and brothers. The repetition of llora ‘cry’ and “Africano” also points to how hurtful and never-ending that suffering is to the poet; there is a sense of unity and support.

Another brief but powerful poem is “Cabanga africana” (Pensamientos 9), where Cubena references the suffering of African slavery to establish solidarity with his race. In “Cabanga africana” (Pensamientos 9), his approach expresses the feelings of an enslaved African man taken from his African home; the description is both symbolically and physically. The poem opens by stating “Me arrebataste de mi/ QUERIDA AFRICA ” (Pensamientos 9), that he was taken violently and quickly from his QUERIDA AFRICA ‘MY BELOVED AFRICA’ which is in all capital letters to indicate that he is screaming or shouting. Cubena further describes both the physical and emotional pain, by poiting to African enslavement for colonial profit “con un diluvio de latigazos/ por un puñado de monedas/ y ahora una extraña cultura/ es mi triste realidad” (“with a flood of lashes/ for a handful of coins/ and now a strange culture/ is my sad reality”) (Pensamientos 11). However, he does not tell where he was taken; using no specific locations, Cubena can universalize the poetic voice of all enslaved Africans. Similarly, it is not clear who was the “Miserable culpable,” so the culprit of the suffering is generalized to all who were involved in the buying and selling of enslaved Africans. For Cubena, solidarity with other Black people derives naturally from the awareness of the common past of slavery. In the introduction to Afro-Hispanic Poetry 1940-1980: From Slavery to “Negritude” in South American Verse, Marvin A. Lewis comments that “In spite of the national cultural differences among black people in South America, there is at least one common denominator that most of their ancestors shared: the experience of slavery and the negative stigma attached to this institution” (Lewis 5). Yet, Cubena pushes the boundaries even further in “Mi raza.” 

In “Mi raza,” Cubena uses race, which is a word used to classify humans based on physical or social qualities, to manifest solidarity to all oppressed people, this time regardless of race. The poem exemplifies the union and solidarity that the author seeks, one that goes beyond the boundaries of race and place that Cubena developed in “Triangulispanoamericano,” “Invitación,” “Empatía,” and “Cabanga Africana.” On this subject, Richard L. Jackson stated that the notion that “best describes Negritude in Latin America reflects a search for an anti-racist culture and possibly a universal culture” (Jackson 921). In “Mi raza,” Cubena seeks universal culture and concern for others without regard to race or nationality.

In the first and last stanzas of “Mi raza” (Pensamientos 15), Cubena denies racial labels limited to skin color; Cubena states “Yo no soy negro/ ni blanco/ ni amarillo/ ¿Mi raza?/ ¡HUMANA!” (“I am not black/ nor white/ or yellow/ My race?/ HUMAN!”) (Pensamientos 15). Cubena also opposes nationality labels and the international borders that divide humans: “Malditas fronteras/ panameño no soy/ ¿hispanoamericano?/ tampoco/ ni norteamericano ni . . ./ malditas fronteras” (“Damn borders/ I’m not Panamanian/ Hispanic American?/ neither/ neither American nor . . ./ damn borders.”) (Pensamientos 15). The poem concludes with the question, ¿Mi raza? ‘My race’ and the answer is HUMANA ‘HUMAN.’ Using upper case to answer HUMAN emphatically, Cubena avoids referring to aspects of race or nationality and thus manages to express maximum fraternity and solidarity since it encompasses all human beings.



Negritude, which developed in Paris and quickly spread in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, was slow to find a foothold in Latin America, where the focus was generally on those areas with large Black populations: Brazil, the Caribbean, and parts of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. Although Negritude in Latin America maintains its original characteristics, there is no denying that historical, political, and social circumstances have created variations in the artistic and literary expression of people of African descent in Latin America. Therefore, Negritude’s development in Latin America must be seen in its specific context to determine its true meaning. This article does just that by analyzing the poetry of Afro-Panamanian writer Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson under the theoretical framework of Negritude to deepen understanding of poetry in Latin America.

The ideology of Negritude is evident in Cubena’s poetry; by integrating his work into the general framework of Negritude, Cubena’s poetry reveals its manifestation in Latin America. In its broadest sense, from its inception, Negritude was a new attitude toward life and a rejection of conventional norms. At its core, it is the affirmation and celebration of African roots. Under the concepts of Negritude, writers of African descent write with clear awareness and celebration of their African roots; black people move from their traditional secondary place, from decorative or exotic figures to the center. Cubena fully exemplifies both positions, that of the writer who exalts his African heritage and that of the creator of literature that represents it. On the other hand, from his Latin American platform and his place as an Afro-Panamanian writer, Carlos Guillermo “Cubena” Wilson has shed light on some of the most significant inequities, mistreatments, and challenges that afflict people of African descent on the American continent while also celebrating them.


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