Foundation Date of First Cuban Villages Obscure

In the context of the celebrations for the half millennium of the first Cuban villages, the controversy surrounding their founding dates grows.

 

So far, the 500th foundation anniversary has been already celebrated in Baracoa (1511), San Salvador de Bayamo (1513), Trinidad, Camagüey, Sancti Spiritus, and the original premises of La Habana, in the southern coast of the former homonymous province (1514), while Remedios and Santiago de Cuba mark their half millennium this year, since they were founded back in 1515.

Thus, Remedios is properly considered as the eighth Cuban city to reach 500 years, although some documents and historians set its foundation in June, and that of Santiago de Cuba, in August, 1515.

THE CONTROVERSY BEGINS IN BARACOA

Even the exact foundation date of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa, First City of Cuba, is not clear, according to Doctors in History César García del Pino and Arturo Sorhegui D’Mares.

They estimate that Spaniards were present in Cuba since 1510, and that Baracoa could have been founded two years later, in 1512, yet 1511 was taken as the year for the declaration of the village by Diego Velázquez y de Cuéllar, also granted as the founder of Bayamo, Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus.

After examining thousands of documents and chronicles of the time, Carlos Gomez, master of Historical Sciences and assistant professor at the University of Pedagogical Sciences of Sancti Spiritus, says that the Cartas of Relación (reports) of the Indian distributor, the replies from the Catholic Monarchs to Diego Velázquez y de Cuellar, and the Historia de las Indias (History of the Indies), written by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, which are all mandatory reference tools when approaching the process, provide evidence on the foundation dates of the first Cuban villages, and on the priority of Sancti Spiritus over Camaguey.

The dichotomy continues when the professor quotes the Carta de Relación of April 1, 1514, also referred to by Dr. Hortensia Pichardo, in her book Documentos para la historia de Cuba (Documents for the History of Cuba): “In that report —Gómez pointed out— only three foundations are mentioned: La Baracoa, San Salvador de Bayamo, and La Trinidad”.

However, between August and October of the same year (1514), a second note was issued, which is still missing, but the reply to this note exists, and the existence of Sancti Spiritus is mentioned in it.

Professor Gómez goes on saying that “de Las Casas wrote how he was called from Jagua, where he had the encomienda, to celebrate a mass on occasion of the beginning of the Feast of Pentecost, that would be held on June 4th, 1514, which was taken as the foundational date”.

“This fact is proof of the existence of population, and a village. It’s been also proved that two months later, the friar pronounced in this place the famous Sermón del Arrepentimiento (Remorse Sermon), which is considered by many as the first historic-political speech of Latin America”.

The preaching was thus called because it accuses the Spanish armies of mistreating the Indians, and exploiting them in the gold mines, leading to the almost complete extermination of the first local inhabitants.

“Historian Pichardo — Gómez says—, notifies about the existence of a Royal Decree addressed to Diego Velázquez, unknown until very recent, in which Camagüey is subscribed for the first time, as a result of an earlier letter by the lieutenant governor, the content of which has not yet been available for us.

“If you give a careful reading to what is implicit in the Royal Decree, you can assume that Spaniards were present in the region that would later on be Puerto Principe, where there wasn’t any village at all, otherwise it would had been specified by the governor”

Although the two villages were obviously founded in 1514, according to these sources, Sancti Spiritus was established first than Santa María del Puerto del Principe. Nevertheless, the 500th anniversary of the latter was held first.

La Habana is included among the first seven villages because it is said that Pánfilo de Narváez created it in the southwestern coast, in 1514. It existed there for short time, and it was then established on its current site, where it is assumed that Diego Velázquez had already been on December 23, 1514.

However, the Cuban capital marked its 495 foundation anniversary in 2014.

According to César García del Pino and Arturo Sorhegui D’Mares, these differences “were also influenced by the nomadic nature of the Velazquez’s villas, which repeatedly changed their original sites, due to social conditionings of their rustic inhabitants, and to the fact of being in small easily movable centers”.

REMEDIOS, THE BEAUTIFUL ONE

Remedios, which is considered the eighth village founded in the island, comes next, with a difference in days with Santiago de Cuba.

It’s the only Cuban city where there are two parish churches in the main plaza, the larger of the two featuring a central cedar altarpiece laminated with 22-kt gold plates. In fact, this corresponds to a restoration made in the first half of the XX century, since the building was several times attacked by pirates and corsairs.

Remedios reached certain cultural development which led to the publication of a newspaper, thus stimulating a local intelligentsia which took to the streets the Spanish, African, and Cuban music and dances combined together.

Jorge Rafael Farto Muñiz, former historian of Remedios, explains that publications and other materials offer as many dates (1514, 1515, 1519, 1524) as authors address the issue, which leads to confusion.

The truth is that in the beginning, this territory was a fief owned by Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa, from Extremadura.

The birth of this territory, as an eminently Spanish town, occurred on a date which is very near to the one elected for the commemoration, because the church, last essence of the conversion to Catholicism, dates back to August  1515 .

Since ancient times, the inhabitants of Remedios celebrated anniversaries starting from 1514, supposed year of foundation. In 1983, the Municipal Government decided to adopt 1524 as the foundation date. However, in 1986, following several proposals, another regulation was issued, still in force despite contradictions with the consulted sources, which placed the foundation date in 1515.

WITH SANTIAGO DE CUBA THERE’S NO CONFUSION

Also in August, on the first day, in 1515, Diego Velázquez left a testimony saying that “all people gathered at the harbour of Santiago to give order to things which should be done…and they all saw that harbour of Santiago, and they were very pleased, and they found the place to be a good site for the people ( … )

That for devotion of Your Highness (V.A., in Spanish) they named that harbour of Santiago, and because the House of Trade is to be built there, it’s believed this would be the major town, so a fortress will be needed there (…)

( … ) That on the island there are seven churches, and ornaments are necessary, and V.A. is begged upon for the order that exists in La Española for releasing things”.

These letters and other remarks by Friar Bartolome de las Casas prove that, for the first time, the harbour is associated with the name of Santiago, and an acceptable place for the village, and that gold was still being melted in San Salvador (Bayamo).

And for this good fortune, the date and site of foundation of Santiago de Cuba, as well as what it means within the conquest are well defined in the Cuban historiography.

In the second most important city of Cuba, historic, scientific, economic and cultural events will take place during the whole year, to mark a date that just a few generations of people are able to celebrate over their lifetime.

Neither the native inhabitants of this regions, who were practically exterminated by the conquerors, will be forgotten.


Source: Prensa Latina. Translated by Escambray.

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