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Secrets of José Marti’s journey

By Adys Cupull y Froilán González
Source CUBARTE 12.01.2015

Jose Marti
Jose Marti

The journey of José Martí and his wife Carmen Zayas Bazán (1), from Guatemala City to the port of Trujillo in Honduras, was a historical event virtually unknown for more than one hundred and thirty years.

The disclosure of the transit through Honduran territory was due to information supplied by the Antonio Diaz Machado, a Cuban doctor who was accomplishing an internationalist service in that country. He said the grandfather of one of his patients was a student of José Martí in the city of Guatemala and that he guided him to the farm of his parents called La Herradura, in San Marcos de Ocotepeque, relatively close to Guatemala-Honduras border.

After the corresponding arrangements we headed to that remote place and from that moment on a passionate research had begun. We asked how the roads from Guatemala City to San Marcos de Ocotepeque were, and from there to the Atlantic coast of Honduras.

In Havana we verify with renowned scholars and specialists in the life of José Martí and his wife, his pass through Guatemala and Honduras. All of them confirmed that this was a land journey, but there were no accurate data on the route taken.

Dr. Aracelis Garcia Carranza, from José Martí National Library, conducted a thorough search on the backgrounds and the journey through those territories and confirmed that there is no information in the archives of that institution. There was no information either in the recollections she has personally been undertaking since 1968.

With this information on our disposal, we started tour at different stages and moments until we finish it completely. In the book there are unpublished testimonies, documents, letters, notes of newspapers and data provided by historians, journalists, writers, professors, students, farmers, teachers, and other persons living in the towns and cities of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, places transited by José Martí and his wife in 1877 and 1878.

The travel notes, allows one to feel José Martí around those roads, where there are still several sections retaining the historical and wilderness virginity. It covers his departure from Mexico City on December 26, 1877, his footstep through Acapulco, the arrival to Guatemala City, his departure on July 27, 1878, his transit through the Guatemalan and territory until the port of Trujillo, to board the New Barcelona steamboat on August 28 of that same year heading to Havana.

Among the background information we have his arrival to Guatemala, early in 1877, the return to Mexico, in December of that year, to marry Carmen Zayas Bazán, who belongs to an aristocratic and economically powerful Cuban family, with ideological and family ties with the representatives of Spanish colonialism.

Those who knew Carmen characterized her as sensitive, intelligent, cultured, delicate and tender, with her own high society manners and a great physical beauty. She faced the sacrifice that corresponded to her along with her husband. She traveled with José Martí from the Mexico City to Acapulco, some four kilometers away, at times on a stagecoach and others on mules and horseback, crossing rivers and sleeping in huts or on the floor under the stars.

José Martí, referred to his honeymoon, as a couple of errants, vagabonds, pilgrims inside the great pilgrimage. He described his wife sleeping between wild people and under the sky, spanked by the wind, illuminated by the funeral torches of ocote (a resinous pine. N. Del T.). Martí would no longer speak of the Roman valor, he would rather say Carmen’s valor.

In Acapulco, they boarded a boat to the port of San José in the Guatemalan Pacific to move on a stagecoach to the capital, some a hundred and twelve kilometers away. In that city the formed a love nest and conceived their son.

The reconstruction of that journey was difficult; almost all the data were based on legends. We found no letter written by José Martí referring to the thirty-one days they transited through mountains, large rivers, arid areas, inhospitable and dangerous places or sailing by the Honduran Atlantic coast. Maybe, as he was travelling back to Cuba he found useless to write a letter to families and friends, so that the letters during those days seem nonexistent. Additionally as it is known many documents from this stage of his life have been lost or have not been found yet..

In the first volume of his Complete Works, there is a letter addressed to Gonzalo de Quesada y Miranda, dated on April, 1, 1895, shortly before leaving to continue the struggle for the independence of Cuba where he stated that he had a lot of lost work, he mentioned newspapers in Mexico from 1875 to 1877, in the Revista Venezolana, and in newspapers from Honduras, Uruguay and Chile and that he could not precisely say how many prefaces to books he has signed. It is deplorable that the letters he sent to his mother have disappeared as she, afraid of the possibility that the letters could fall in the wrong hands, determined to break them down.

The book highlights the circumstances that led him to return to Havana and the choice of this complicated and rugged road and the intense love between them, full of tenderness, passion, misunderstandings, and joys, until the marriage broke down.

Valuable were the discussions held in the Spanish city of Valencia with the relatives of José Martí, the meetings in Havana with the descendants of his sister Rita Amelia, the location and interviews in Mexico with Antonia Bruna, and with the grandson of a cousin.

Of an inestimable value are the meeting and confidences to the Cuban-Mexican Caridad Proenza, known as Cachita, the talks with Dr. Alfonso Herrera Franyutti, the descendants of Pedro Santacilia Palacios and the collaborations by Rene Ortiz and Edna Aldama, in obtaining historical documents.

To reconstruct the route we turned to old books, maps, consultations of the complete works of José Martí, and the permanent collaboration with Cuban scholars, Mexicans, Hondurans and Guatemalans who contributed to rectify names, distances, route characteristics and historical aspects.

We visited the town of Livingstone, a place where in 1877 José Martí landed on his first trip to Guatemala, Izabal, the Rio Dulce, Gualán and Zacapa, described in his travel notes, the port of San José, Masagua, Escuintla, Palin, Amatitlan, Antigua, Guatemala city, San José del Golfo, Sanarate, Guastatoya, Zacapa, Chiquimula, Esquipulas, 10 kilometers from the border with Honduras.

We held interviews with outstanding figures of the Central American country; we went to the archives, institutions and the National Library. In every meeting we check that the memory was kept as a treasure.

In San Marcos de Ocotepeque, the grandson of Cándido Mejía, a student of José Martí, who guided him to the farm of his parents, brought new information and copies of historical documents and we visited the ruins of the farm.

We made the trip from San Marcos de Ocotepeque, to Sensenti, Corquín, Santa Rosa de Copan, New Arcadia, Sula, Quimistán, Cofradía, San Pedro Sula, which according to various information was the route followed by José Martí and his wife. We visited the Port of Cortés where the married couple boarded a boat to La Ceiba and from there to the port of Trujillo and then board the New Barcelona ship to Cuba.

In the city of La Ceiba we knew that several Cuban residents in that port invited José Martí to a dinner. To precise data on them took an intensive investigation with the help of Cuban scholars, members of the National Union of Historians and Cultural Society José Martí.

The last point of Honduran geography where José Martí and Carmen Zayas Bazán had been was the port of Trujillo, some five hundred and seventy-six kilometers off Tegucigalpa, three hundred seventy six kilometers off San Pedro Sula, three hundred forty-eight off Progreso, two hundred and seventy seven off Tela and seven hundred and thirty three kilometers off La Ceiba.

It was deemed necessary to know the characteristics of the New Barcelona boat, where José Martí and Carmen Zayas Bazán sailed and we request the Argentina Lucía Álvarez de Toledo, to search in the British and Spanish archives. In Cuba an investigation was conducted in the list of passengers departing or arriving from Cuba to Honduras.

The oral history told by respectable people that narrated the transit of José Martí and his wife, called our attention. Distinguished Guatemalans, expressed that it was always that way, for otherwise the great culture, traditions, habits, dances, songs, meals and even the language of Maya Quiche, Cakchiquel, tzutuahiles, pipiles and Chortis, would have been lost forever.

The writer Julio Cesar Macias Mayora, reveals stories and legends that the natives conveyed to the Spanish-speaking descendents. He expressed that at night he listened, at home or near the bonfires, along with other native kids, story tales that seemed to be magical, they were the real life, the ancestors, their sufferings and struggles. He referred that the native traditions were preserved through the stories orally transmitted in thousands and thousands of homes and when the Spanish-speaking descendents were not present, they told them in their own native language, and the housemaids and elder women from Samayac, explained some stories of their ancestors as if they were stories or legends; and thus the mestizos unknowingly served as carriers, keepers and breeders of the native culture.

The journalist and professor Guillermo Alvarado said that in Central America and especially in Guatemala almost the entire history has been saved thanks to the oral tradition, for important passages are not included in the study books. He explained how Miguel Angel Asturias, Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote his important book Legends of Guatemala, based, among other things, on the stories told by a lullaby or Indian nursing mother, since he was five, for the sake of entertaining him. One can live on these lands a magical world of legends and anecdotes, some of them recollected by Asturias in his book Historia del Maíz (History of the Corn, unofficial translation).

On the writer Virgilio Rodriguez Macal he pointed out how in his novels La Mansión del Pájaro Serpiente and El Mundo del Misterio Verde, he describes the animal life of Petén, without having visited the region ever and that thanks to the oral tradition, the music and songs have been saved, without even having a musical sheet.

One question, began to have an explanation, the oral testimonies is one of the ways how they could preserved the historical memory of the transit of José Martí and Carmen Zayas Bazán by the roads, where many inhabitants are illiterate and the roads thousands of pilgrims take to go to the shrine of the Black Christ of Esquipulas.

The idea to publish the complete results of the investigation was to encourage the inquiries along those roads and issue to invite people to reflect, verify, check, analyze and investigate and to contribute with new information on the transit through those lands by José Martí and his wife, who was already pregnant by then. Those purposes were analyzed with Dr. Armando Hart Dávalos, director of the Programa de Estudios Martianos, for the specialists in the life of José Martí could make their suggestions, corrections and remarks they deemed necessary.

The results of this historical research was published in Mexico City in January 2010 and was presented at the José Martí Cultural Center on February 10, 135 anniversary of his arrival for the first time on Mexican soil and on the occasion of Bicentennial of the Independence of Mexico, country Martí considered he was the son of. He also was present in the cities of Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, in various institutions of the Federal District and in the Embassy of Cuba to that neighboring country.

The real path followed in Guatemala and Honduras, is totally new and unprecedented. There are even scholars who said that the departure from Guatemala City was on mules by the route of Zacapa, Rio Dulce, in a boat up to Livingstone and from there on canoe to Belize and the Honduran port of Trujillo. This route is questioned, since the trip to Livingstone takes 8 days from the city of Guatemala and what happened in the remaining 23 days would have no logical explanation.

There are other versions that said they traveled by train and narrated stories of how they made the trip. This assertion took us the Railway Museum of the City of Guatemala. In the maps and documents there is constancy that the first section of that railroad was inaugurated on July 19, 1884, six years after Marti’s departure.

In the historical research we found indisputable realities and truths; there were legends, myths, facts and circumstances that do not correspond to the historical reality, but we have decided not to remove or modify those remembrances. They are part of the culture of the Central American people. There are others that demand a further study and accuracies.

For that reason we have met with several specialists, including Carlos Manuel Marchante, Zenaida Gómez Taño Ramon Guerra, Mercedes Córdoba, Esteban Llorach, José Luis de la Tejera, Martha Fuentes, Jesus Duenas, Armando Lopez, Homero Saker, Ramiro Bouzón Mary Ruane, among others.

In a visit to Caracas in September 2011 and on the occasion of presenting the book in Pedro Gual Institute of High Diplomatic Studies, of the Ministry of People´s Power for Foreign Affairs, we met the official Graciela Aveledo, great-granddaughter of the founding director of the school of Santa Maria, where José Martí worked, and she contributed with new elements. On that trip we share with the academic and a scholar on Marti’s life, Mirela Alcibiades, author of book Venezuela in José Martí, who determined exactly the date of arrival in Caracas.

Through this book you will learn important aspects of the life and habits of the peoples of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, their histories, cultures and links with Cuba, that practically in the case of Honduras many were unknown to Cuban readers.

It is our desire that this work contributes to keep alive the transit of the National Hero of Cuba through those places and the inhabitants can come close to his thought and action in the struggle for a united and truly independent Latin America.
(1) Secretos de un viaje. Itinerario de José Martí y Carmen Zayas-Bazán por Centroamérica, published by Editora Política.

Translation: Mariana Rodriguez (Cubarte)

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