Monday, August 19, 2013

El Burro de Baynoa

The town of Santa María de Baynoa was founded in 1767 by Manuel GARCIA Barreras on the site of his finca called "Manajay." In 1820, his grandson Francisco GARCIA-Barrera y Montero de Espinosa was granted the title of Count de Baynoa by Fernando VII primarily on the basis of this achievement. In four years, Baynoa will commemorate the 250th anniversary of its founding.

One would think that Manuel GARCIA Barreras and his descendants the Counts de Baynoa would be the centerpiece of Baynoan history. But, no, we are quite forgotten: absentee landlords who last collected their rents 100 years ago and never again concerned themselves with the wellspring of their nobility. Perhaps we deserve our anonymity, but we certainly don't deserve to lose our preeminence to a donkey. Yet such has been our unlucky fate.

The coat of arms of the Garcías granted to the Condes de Baynoa consists of a red field on which a silver heron is about to take flight. The association of the heron (or garza) to the surname García is mock etymological; there is no derivation of García from garza, nor, for that matter, does the surname Garza itself derive from the identically named bird.  Nevertheless, by its presence on our family escutcheon, the heron is the symbol of our family, or by rights should be, anyway. It is not, however, the heron which is associated with Baynoa and by extension our family.

The most famous inhabitant of Baynoa, biped or quadriped, is the "Burro de Baynoa." No town in Cuba can boast of a more legendary mascot. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Baynoa owes its fame to its burro, not the other way around. As surely as Calabaras County itself became celebrated because of its "Celebrated Jumping Frog" did Baynoa enter the national consciousness thanks to its native donkey. Other nearby towns tried to wrest the burro from her or attempted to rear rival burros without success. Folklore is not something that can be fabricated or improvised: it is a fruit of slow growth which blooms before our eyes without catching our notice till the day when it does, and then it seems as if it had always existed.

The legend of the "Burro de Baynoa" dates to the early 1900s. The most interesting thing about this burro is that he was an ordinary burro. No great feat of strength or of intuition separated him from his race. He was a burro of temperate habits, and never courted the type of cheap fame which some of his kind achieved by guzzling beer from bottles or going door to door begging alms like a capuchin (the monk, not the monkey). The real "Burro de Baynoa" had his pride, and, dare we say, his dignity. What he didn't have was much of a back story. He was not the "Wandering Burro" as he's often depicted. He had an owner, the Arenas family, and was its faithful servant. He worked at the railroad depot hauling wood and was seen by thousands of train goers on the way from Havana to Matanzas and back. When they spotted the donkey, they knew that they had arrived at Baynoa, or, in most cases, were that much closer to their destination, since few actually got off there, the coldest spot in all Cuba. (Baynoa holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in Cuba, 6 degrees Celsius). All that wood the donkey was hauling was used to feed the wood-burning stoves on the trains. So that's all there is to the story of Baynoa's famous inhabitant.

How the "Burro de Baynoa" has impacted the lives of the human inhabitants of Baynoa is another story. Baynoa probably has the fewest inhabitants of any town in Cuba. This is not actually the case, but it's the effect anyway. Most Baynoans, when asked where they are from, will answer "Jaruco," the "big" town 50km away. If they say "Baynoa," the long-dead donkey will be trotted out again (do donkeys trot?). The suggestion, of course, is that the townspeople of Santa María de Baynoa are themselves like donkeys, or to make my meaning clearer, like asses. It is no different for counts than it is for commoners, or, rather, it's much worse: the dignity of the title is demolished at once by its denomination, as if a donkey's head had been somehow grafted onto the family coat-of-arms, stomping and drowning the silver heron. But there's nothing to be done about it: the donkey that would have been the last straggler in the Count's retinue now leads the parade. Sic transit gloria mundi.

1 comment:

  1. Dear friend:

    I thought I had read all the posts, but alas at work with 3g sometimes I don't get everything posted.

    I loved reading of your ancestors, and the donkey gave me a hearty laugh.

    Do you think that perhaps the reason your great grandfather favored Macho was because his wife died at childbirth having Alberto? And maybe to some extent held a grudge against him? of course this is just speculation on my part, it seems he was a tolerant man having married a woman from the Casa de Beneficiencia, as you say something unheard of in those days. By the way was the one in Havana the only Casa? I lived so close to it.

    I see from what you wrote that you left Cuba in the mid sixties, somehow I thought you left earlier, because of your Grandad having a position in Batistas goverment, thankfully it seems your immediate family was spared the wrath of the regime, at least I hope so.

    This was a big treat for me reading all these wonderful stories, please my friend write some more, I so adore the way you write.

    Thanks Manuel