Arrate: Comparison between the Penninsular and the Creole
Between approximately 1510 and 1550 the economy of the Island of Cuba was based on mining and the forced labor of the Aborigines. From that date on and to the end of the XVII Century, cattle raising and the military maritime prevailed, a period in which the development of the city of Havana was based in the maritime and construction services. In that context the figure of Jose Martin Felix de Arrate y Acosta (1701-1764), first ideologist of the Havana Oligarchy, emerged.
That sector of society, integrated by families with similar origins and common interests, adopted a sense of identity and destiny that needed a voice to represent it. Of that necessity Felix de Arrate, author of “Llave del Nuevo Mundo Antemural de las Indias Occidentales” (Key to the New World, Fort of the West Indies) emerged. It is here where he narrates the history of Havana, where his status as a citizen allowed him certain political participation that at the same time excluded the Blacks, Mulattoes and also the Whites engaged in manual labor. Here, he also revealed the demand for the expansion for power of his own social class.
“La Llave del Nuevo Mundo” gathers the history of Havana, beginning with the fundamental events that shaped it. It deals with a civic memory in which the social sector that it represents, appears as an agent of what is being remembered. In it, the identity of a person living in Havana as a man with a history of citizenship was defined. It also contained a discourse that, having been pronounced from the Colony, could not be considered other than subversive. Concluding a bit before the invasion of Havana by the British, Arrate’s work ends in an era where the historic values of the nobility started to be replaced by a Bourgeoisie that from the point of the plantation’s economy, concentrates its ascent in the production process of goods for the international market.
History is not there by accident, says Moreno Fraginals, it is there to uphold the country’s history. In other words, Havana’s history. Its purpose is to ascertain the continuity of the greatness of those born in it: Havana’s Creole, a history that stands out and praises the virtues of the Creole Spanish in relation to those in the Peninsula. With the word “Country,” he evokes the love for the city, the chunk of earth in which one is born, emphasizes the characteristics of the climate, the geography, the vegetative ambiance, the superiority of Havana’s wood, the best in the world, used in doors, windows and the carving of El Escorial, the fruits of delicate taste and splendid aromas. It is also here that he associates the term “Country” with the family, the society, with and happiness, an exaltation through which he introduces the conclusive idea that the Creole can only be distinguished from the Castilian by the place where he was born. In that exaltation of the Natural Medium and the Spanish born in Cuba, the fundamentals for the comparison of rights between the Peninsulars and Creoles are found.
In praising the native Havanan, Arrate generated a subversive discourse by exalting all the natives, including Indians and Blacks. Nevertheless, as a member of the Havana’s White Oligarchy inserted in the metropolitan culture, his sense of comparison did not imply a rupture. It was not the moment to oppose the established social order and its scale of values. What was arguable was the place that the Creole Oligarchy occupied in the hierarchical scale. The Spanish Creole was at the service of the Empire and his merits flowed precisely from those services. It was a contradiction-claim. For that reason, Moreno Fraginals said that there are only complaints and claims, because it is that from the comparison of merits that the equivalence of positions emerge.
Arrates’ concepts reveal the double character of the contradictions of the Havana oligarchy. In the first place, because of the Creole/Peninsular position at the top of society. Second, at the base, the antagonism between Whites and Blacks, rich and poor. The values of the nobility are fed from both negations, they proclaim to be equals to the Peninsular Spanish and for that reason they have the right to occupy the highest official positions. At the same time, being men of pure blood, they have the right to demand submission from Indians, Blacks and poor Whites. These are the contradictions for which solutions were sought in the century following the wars for independence.
His praise and commendation of Havana and all that is born in it: Indians, Blacks, fruits, trees, swine, generate a Creolism which, even if limited in the social aspect, contained values that were accepted in the surging Cuba and recognized by the dominated classes themselves. The virtues of the earth which he praises in his work are found later in the Creole poetry: “Oda a la Pina” (“Ode to the Pineapple”), of Manuel de Zequeiera y Arango (1764-1846); “La Silva Cubana” (The Cuban Silva) of Manuel Justo de Rubalcava (1769-1805) [Silva is a metric composition without method or order]; “La Flor de la Cana y del Cafe” (The Sugarcane and Coffe Flowers) of Placido (1808-1844); and “Rufina. Segunda Invitacion”, del Cucalambe” (“Rufina. Second Invitation”, of the Cucalambe” (1829-1862), just to cite some examples of the thematic affinity between the Arate’s Creole and the song to nature in the Cuban poetry.
The validity of Arrate’s work became evident starting in the decade of 1760, when the Oligarchy in Havana was in the process of attaining a new objective: making Cuba the world’s leading producer of sugar and coffee. At that time, the Friends of the Country Economic Society, dominated by the new native intelligentsia, founded a history committee, and edited his work and published everything useful about their heritage. His work was the first major political argument that only Cuban criollismo could be at that time and those conditions: aristocratic, colonialism, slavery and racism. It was an attempt at class comparison combined with the exclusion of the rest of society which is the first link in the Cuban political history, a story that holds important keys to the interpretation of the present.
TRANSLATED BY DAVID FERNANDEZ