martin fierro

On Sunday we celebrated the Day of Tradition (officially, 10th November) in church, as well as Music Day (22nd November). These came together in a fiesta of traditional melodies and criolla stories.

At the time of sharing of bread and wine, we spoke in local dialects:
El pan hecho Dios me cambia
a otra vida santa y güena
como el soplo de una quena
se cambia en música y copla
porque es Dios mesmo que sopla
su propio aliento en mis venas.

By baked bread God transforms me
into another life, holy and good -
just as a blast on a quena*
becomes music and verse.
Because it is God, yes God, who blows
heavenly breath through my veins.**

The Day of Tradition is linked to José Hernández, the author of Martín Fierro, an epic poem about gaucho life and the founding text of modern Argentine identity (published 1872-9). So it was fitting that Eunhye and I found ourselves at the local multiplex Sunday afternoon, watching the latest animated adaptation of the work.

My motivation for seeing the film was to save myself having to read the book. Two years in Argentina, and no Martin Fierro? It's a bit like never having seen or read Shakesphere. I knew I needed catch up. Armed with some vague ideas about bar-brawls, the struggle between an emerging nation and loyalties to the old ways of el campo, and a horse-riding, guitar-swinging hero, I settled down to watch the film.
But if things go on
like they have up to now
it can be that all at once
we'll see the country side bare,
except for the bleachin'
bones of the ones who didn't make it.
(Martin Fierro, stanza 2120)

The story deals with the many conflicts over the land here. It recognises the brutality of the army against both the small land owners and gauchos, and the original peoples. Fierro participates in destruction of the original communities and denial of their rights to the land; yet at times he empathizes with them against the sterile, dislocated and violent army mentality. And in the second part of the epic, which wasn't included in the film, Fierro goes to live with a native community - although that also ends in tragedy. In another episode, distraught over the loss of his family, Fierro harasses a black woman in a bar, picking a fight with her compañero whom he then kills. But again, in part II, he encounters the man's brother, in some kind of atoning scene.

For many Argentines, Fierro represents fierce loyalty and a simpler times when every man had his farm and independence. A century later, and Argentines are unfortunately still justified in regarding with suspicion and anger: unjust landowners, judges, generals, politicians and speculators. A century later, and a clearer condemnation of the racism and violence bound up in the establishment of this nation - and many others - is need.

For a plot summary click here, and for an online version in Spanish here.

*A quena is an andean flute.
** Spanish by Pablo Sosa and others (I think), attempt at translation by me.