Women as Protagonists in West African Plays Translated in Cuba

Rocío Anguiano Pérez

University of Valladolid, Spain


The translation of African literature into Spanish, both in Spain and in Latin America, was almost non-existent until the end of the twentieth century. In the case of Spain, Valero et al. (2004) state that, in the early 1990s, the existing bibliography of African literature (in any African language) amounted to barely 30 titles. Most were works by award-winning authors such as Nobel prize-winners Wole Soyinka, Naguib Mahfuz and Nadine Gordimer, and the prestigious Booker Prize winner Ben Okri. In this context, Cuba is an exception, as it was one of the first countries to translate African literature into Spanish. A systematic review carried out in various bibliographic sources reveals that between 1960 and 1999 more than 50 works by writers originating from Africa were translated into Spanish on the island; most of them had not been translated into Spanish before (Anguiano 2012). This interest in disseminating literature from African countries is closely related to the historical and sociopolitical circumstances of a country marked by colonisation and struggles for independence, and where thousands of men and women from the African continent who arrived on the island as victims of the slave trade have left a deep impression (Castellanos and Castellanos 1988).

From this perspective, any theoretical approach to the translation of Black African literature in Cuba should consider the various factors that determine the reception of the texts, and that therefore have an impact not only on the selection of the works but also on the strategies adopted in the translation process. Thus aspects such as the African roots of the Cuban people, and the long tradition of struggle against colonisation and neo-colonialism, are essential to understanding the characteristics and scope of this translation activity.

In this regard, the data obtained in our bibliographic search is quite significant, since it links the translation of African literature to what is known as the revolutionary period. In fact, there appear to be no Cuban translations of works by African authors before 1959 (Anguiano 2012), the year of the triumph of the Revolution which brought about a radical change in the political, economic and cultural landscape of the island (Pérez-Stable 2012). Thus the first title that features in the catalogue of the Cuban National Library is the anthology of Yoruba poetry compiled and translated by Rogelio Martínez Furé (1963). Thereafter, there was a significant increase in the publication of African works, which was promoted by State institutions, particularly the Instituto Cubano del Libro (ICL), which through the Arte y Literatura publishing agency began a far-reaching mission to disseminate African literature. Founded in 1967 with the purpose of centralising and standardising the book industry, the ICL has among its main objectives the adoption and dissemination of a decolonising vision opposed to dominant discourses and practices, which was born and consolidated from the principles and goals of the Cuban Revolution and acts in favour of the recognition and reaffirmation of national, Latin American and third world identity and culture (ICL 2009). Therefore, the patronage as conceived by Lefevere (1992)— the powers (persons, institutions) that can further or hinder the reading, writing or rewriting of literature, and that act as a regulatory mechanism of the role of literature in a society—are vested in the Government, whose ideology is clearly manifested in the principles that govern the establishment of the ICL. This purpose is also reflected in the main areas of action of the publishing house Arte y Literatura, which, under the slogan “Lo mejor del arte y la literatura universals” [The best of universal art and literature], assumes the task of disseminating literature from the most diverse places in the word.

Research Framework

This chapter explores ideological considerations in the selection of dramatic texts by analysing the repertoire of works of African dramaturgy published in Cuba in the second half of the twentieth century, and, in particular, in the anthology Teatro africano, whose title reflects the intention to illustrate African dramatic creation through the selection of a set of texts from different countries and authors. The chapter arises from the work of the Afriqana research group (www.afriqana.es) headed by Juan Miguel Zarandona, whose objectives are the study and dissemination of African culture, literature, translation and linguistics, and the cataloguing of Spanish translations of African literature (Zarandona 2011). To explore which African works had been translated into Spanish in Cuba, I consulted many archival and bibliographic sources, including the archive of the Cuban National Library, the virtual catalogue of Arte y Literatura, the information provided by email by the Cuban Book Institute (ICL), the catalogue of the National Library of Spain, and the ISBN database.

The historical circumstances surrounding the Cuban translations motivate approaching their study from the framework of ‘the aesthetics of reception’ and the Manipulation School. The aesthetics of reception

Women as Protagonists in West African Plays Translated in Cuba 211 posits the historical, dynamic and open nature of literary works, whose function, meaning and aesthetic value are determined by the context into which they are integrated, either in their original form or through translation (Jauss 2000). The theorists of the Manipulation School conceive of translated literature as a dynamic and hierarchically structured system, in which texts occupy a precise place and fulfil a specific purpose (Even-Zohar 1990), governed by norms and rules that affect the different phases of the translation process (Toury 2012), and where ideology and power influence the translation activity (Lefevere 1992). Thus a close relationship is established between translation and reception, which determines both the selection of the works to be translated and the choice of translation method.

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