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Nicaragua’s Unknown Ruben Dario

Nicaragua’s debt in this centennial anniversary



The full work of Ruben Dario, our greatest literary figure and one of the greats of the Spanish language, is still largely unknown in the country, stated writers and academics interviewed by “Confidencial”.

Roberto Aguilar, chair of the Spanish department at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua (UNAN-Managua) feels that the lack of knowledge about the author at the pinnacle of our literature stems from the monotonous way in which he’s taught. “Although the student is indoctrinated with adulation for Dario, that we’re Dario’s children, we don’t delve deeply enough to enjoy his work and we limit ourselves to the same territory: Azul (Blue, a collection of stories and poems) in eighth grade, Azul in ninth grade (…) and that’s barely a tiny fraction of Dario,” he stated.

According to Aguilar, in order to really know the author we have to understand the historical period he lived in, and the significance of the complete revolution he represented in the Spanish language. This language, according to Professor Aguilar, was at its last gasp in that last third of the nineteenth century, and couldn’t compete with other universal languages such as English, French or Italian. “It was Dario and the modernist movement that revived the language and gave it the polish that it currently possesses,” Aguilar assured us.

Estela Calderon, writer and organizer of the Cultural Promoters of Leon, agrees that the repetitive teaching model is nothing new, reflecting the neglect of the Ministry of Education down through the years. “Within the school curriculum, there’s been nothing but repetition since the time that I was in elementary school. The very same things are taught: the poem “Caupolicán”, the poem “To Margarita Debayle,” that kind of thing,” Calderon said.

Ortega’s decree

These days the figure of Ruben Dario resonates greatly, as different groups and organizations commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the writer’s death in 1916. The government of Daniel Ortega has published a decree instructing the State institutions to celebrate the poet. As part of the official directive, Ortega urges them to use “phrases and images that reflect his Grandeur,” and proclaims 2016 as the year to celebrate Dario as the “sun that lights the New Victories.”

To Carlos Tunnermann, a scholar of Dario and ex-Minister of Education, that phrase clearly demonstrates a political manipulation of the writer’s figure. “That decree, that slogan that they’ve put out, “Dario who lights the sun of the new victories”, really has a partisan political connotation. They forget that Dario denounced and rejected politicking. That outlook is pure politicking, which he used to term “sludgy politics,” Tunnerman stated. “The politicians treat Ruben Darío as if he were a boxer, and they grant themselves the luxury of comparing themselves to him,” added the poet Calderón.

The centennial of his birth in 1967

In contrast with Ortega’s decree, published just one month before the 6th of February, the centennial of Dario’s birth in 1967 was prepared and organized more than two years prior. In 1964, the government of René Schick emitted a decree in celebration of the hundred-year anniversary of the writer’s birth. A commission was set up to coordinate all of the commemoration activities, led by José Sansón Terán, then Minister of Education, and including the rectors of the UCA (University of Central America) and of the UNAN-Leon, respectively father Leon Pallais and Carlos Tunnerman. Pablo Antonio Cuadra, president of the Academy of the Spanish Language at the time, also participated.

For the literary scholar Erick Blandon, the organization of that celebration marked a milestone in Nicaraguan history, since the Schick government managed to bring together all sectors of the country; which, in turn, were willing to put aside their political differences and come together around the figure of Ruben Dario.

“That celebration was held in the spirit of “pax Dario” as Ernesto Mejia Sanchez termed it, ending on January 22, 1967. It was also a year of many important studies in which high level intellectuals participated, all of them exalting the universal nature of Dario’s figure,” Blandón assured.

This commission also had a budget granted by the National Assembly with which they organized activities and published several of the author’s works. Professor Aguilar notes that this manner of celebrating Dario has not been repeated for other important dates – not for the centennial commemoration of Azul, nor for the centennial of Prosas Profanas and now again with the centennial of his demise. For reasons unknown, what we’ve seen have been literary skirmishes, each one unrelated to the other,” Aguilar declared.

Celebrating Dario in León

Leon, Nicaragua is the cradle of Darian studies. Darío spent his earliest years in that city, although he was born January 18, 1867 in Metapa, now known as Ciudad Dario [Darío City]. He returned to Leon when he was dying, after living in France, Argentina and Chile, and his grave is located there.

This past 18th of January, the fourteenth annual symposium on Darío was inaugurated with a military parade, and with participation from the diplomatic corps, the Catholic Church and invited international guests. The event’s organizer, Sandinista deputy María Manuela Sacasa, assured us that they would continue to follow the guidelines established by the presidential order.

“We aren’t engaged in political manipulation; as you can see, everyone is participating here. Logically, if the central government under comrade Daniel Ortega, has advised us to learn from Darío, well, we the people of Nicaragua should be grateful,” Sacasa told “Confidencial.”

Nevertheless, not all of the writers managed to participate. Carlos Perez Alonso, a poet from Leon, posted on social media his denunciation of a political order to boycott the book fair that had been independently organized in Leon’s central park, supposedly because that activity included books from writers who had been “banned” by the symposium’s organizers.

The poet stated: “Repeating literally her words and gesture: ‘We must remember that we are here because of the Sandinista Front.’ I then alleged that I had come for a cultural event, I didn’t come to a Party assembly. I also renounced the opportunity to offer closing remarks at the symposium as had been scheduled.”

The symposium’s keynote event took place in the Leon’s “José de la Cruz Mena” municipal theater. During this activity Darío Villanueva, head of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) gave a speech exalting the works of the Nicaraguan writer, whom he compared to Miguel de Cervantes, the giant of Spanish literature.

“I maintain that you have to read all of Darío’s works. He’s one of the most studied authors in the world, including all of the Spanish departments in universities in non-Spanish-speaking countries,” Villanueva said.

Regarding the limited program of study in Nicaragua regarding our best-known writer, the academic assured: “I’m not in a position to offer advice to the Nicaraguan universities. I just received an honorary doctorate from the Autonomous National University of León (UNAN-León) and according to my conversation with the rector, they are more dedicated to encouraging studies of a scientific-technical type,” the director of the RAE explained.

Scant research on Darío

Actual study of Darío in Nicaragua isn’t the same thing as the cult of admiration that’s surrounds the poet. Currently there is no Darío chair in any of the universities, nor is there a published set of his complete works. Although it’s true that several private cultural institutions realize activities to exalt the figure of the writer, there’s no national effort to promote research into his books.

In Professor Aguilar’s opinion, there’s a “dispersion of energies.” “What we have are various clubs or tribes that fight for the honor of studying. Each one creates their own events, something like what happened in Darío’s brain.   Darío would have wanted them to get together but they’re still scattered all over the place,” said the professor from UNAN-Managua.

For him, one of the main problems in terms of the lack of knowledge of the poet springs from the fact that the scholars don’t really take into account the need to connect with high school and university staff in order to offer them a profound examination of Darío.

“There should be a systematic program of encounters between the intellectuals and the classroom teachers. When an important author carries out a body of research and publishes a book, they first send copies to all of the country’s embassies; next it gets sent to all the important business leaders who don’t even read it; but they don’t send a single copy to the libraries in the private schools, much less to the teachers,” Aguilar expressed.

In this same vein, the researcher Blandón doesn’t see the will to study the real Darío and his work. “I don’t believe that there’s room in Nicaragua for debate, so there’s a fear of discussing Darío in depth. There’ve always been grave-keepers who take on the job of making sure he doesn’t get out of the tomb they’ve dug for him,” he assured.

The Darío that we’re missing

Darío’s works include poetry, prose, essays and journalistic chronicles. Taken together, these works offer a distilled vision of his society over the course of the 49 years that he lived. Nevertheless, the school and university programs of study go into little depth about the author’s thought.

“The Darío that we’re missing was a privileged witness to an era of changes, possibly the most important moment of change in the cultural life of Latin America, when we were passing from a quasi feudal system inherited from the colony to an urban environment,” Aguilar expressed.

For the writer Esthela Calderón, it’s important to emphasize that Darío was a man who was very critical of the society of his time and who expressed this through his chronicles, written for the “La Nación” newspaper in Argentina.

“Darío is the creator of a literature that interrogates, that questions, that proposes, not just a simple literature that doesn’t propose anything, that doesn’t discuss, that doesn’t speculate. I believe we should be trying to approach that Darío, and what his literature really does,” professor Blandón concluded.

This article has been translated from Spanish by Havana Times.