José Martí: A Quiet Solemnity 127 Years after His Death

By Alejandra Garcia on May 19, 2022, from Havana

Jose Marti, photo: Bill Hackwell

One hundred and twenty-seven years ago, Cuba lost its most illustrious son, José Martí. He lived, thought, wrote, and was inspired by his country. Martí was devoted to the struggle for Cuba’s independence from the Spanish regime and lost his life a few days after the beginning of the second -and definitive- stage of the war for independence from the Spanish colony, a period that he prepared for after spending months joining forces and raising funds for the cause.

His remains rest in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Those who visit the mausoleum that honors him perceive that it preserves the solemn silence of the ‘Manigua’ (Cuban forest) in the hours that followed his death on May 19, 1895. Today it is only interrupted by the chords of the Elegy to José Martí, composed by the Commander of the Revolution, Juan Almeida Bosque.

His remains are guarded around the clock by an honor guard; white flowers are always present; the Cuban flag rests on his grave, and the sun falls over him throughout the day.

This space, one of the most intimate of the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, placed at the foot of the Sierra Maestra, honors the life and work of the most universal of the Cubans in a silence that resembles the one told by witnesses of his death, and that historians and journalists have repeated for 127 years.

Cuban journalist Manuel Lagarde recalled,” Silence prevailed just a few hours after Martí’s murder. It was as if everything had ended right there,”

Marti had arrived in the Dos Ríos region a few days before the bullets hit his body. He was staying at an insurgent camp after days of long walks through the mountains. In spite of his small stature, he surprised his comrades by the skill with which he managed on the terrain of the steep trails, carrying his rifle and a backpack with few belongings.

“Until today, I have not felt like a man. I have lived ashamed, dragging the chain of my homeland all my life. The divine clarity of the soul lightens my body. Now I understand the constancy and joy felt by men who offer themselves to sacrifice,” he told his fellow emigrants in a letter written on the field shortly before his death.

He was not as weak as people thought. He was a lively man who gave a jump here and fell there. He endured like the best and saw more than anyone else. “It was as if one were blind, and he was the only one who could see, reminisced Dominican Marcos del Rosario, Martí’s friend, who accompanied him during the days of the war.

His comrades in the Manigua admired him for his strength and sensitivity. Historians say that when the troops stopped on their way to Dos Ríos, he spent his time writing. He would put two or three words on a blank sheet of paper, look at the mountain and then trace some other letters.

Although he was a man who had many illnesses, “he kept attending to the wounded until the wee hours of the morning, working incessantly in the organization of the newly born war, all in his scarce hours of rest,” researcher Roberto Pérez Rivero has said.

Our National Hero died on the banks of the Contramaestre river amid the buzzing of the Spanish army’s gunfire. The shots hit his body, the zenithal light bathed him, and his loosened body went to lie on his beloved Cuban soil. Not even a cartridge was missing from his revolver, tied to his neck by a cord.

The discharge of rifles silenced the Manigua. Today, the quiet solemnity of those mountains prevails along with his sensibility, ideals, and love for Cuba.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English