The First Bards of the Amazon

Luis Hernán Ramírez

Translated by R. Kelly Washbourne

In the open debate over the modern process of Spanish-language Amazonian literature as a chapter of Peruvian literature, the so-called "First Bards of the Amazon" play a vital role. This essay makes the first complete survey of them, contributing new information on the life and poetic work of authors that have long escaped attention or been forgotten. The study also clarifies some biographical and critical aspects that have been erroneously perpetuated up to this time.

Trampled since the Hispanic conquistadors' presence in sixteenth-century Peru, evangelized by the Catholic missionaries in the seventeenth century, scrutinized by scientists and explorers since the eighteenth, exploited and devastated by the rubber tappers of the last century, sacked by transnational corporations in our century and criminally and unlawfully venalized by cocaine traffickers, the Amazon jungle is today a part of the country's development, not only with the enormity of its increasingly plundered natural resources, depleted by the voracity and short-sightedness of state-sponsored and foreign capitalism, but also with the cultural baggage of a literature of its own, diligently wrought, free of both grafted imports and mimicry of foreign models. The Amazon's is a literature which finds its best expression in lyrical speeches that exalt and sing of the jungle's magic ornamentation and in narrative texts that unveil the jungle's mysteries as well as translate the agonizing undertaking that the river basin country settler ventured on, struggling for his liberation against a hostile, wild nature, and against all manner of human domination.

In the development of this Amazonian literature, the group of poets, folkloristic narrators and journalists native to and/or residing in the cities of eastern Peru who in the latter two decades of the XIXth century and the first ones of the XXth gave birth to and nurtured the emergence of the new Amazonian literature in Spanish, play a crucial role. Their works included descriptive poems on the nature of the tropics, stories that illustrate rain forest customs and traditions, monographs, reports and expositions on the region. In this early group of writers, the founders of contemporary Amazonian literature, we herein highlight the so-called "First Bards of the Amazon."


Contemporary Amazonian literature has as its genesis the year 1868, when Fabriciano Hernàndez composed his Hymn to the Amazon (the first with this title and inspiration), twenty- two years before Carlos German Amezaga (1862-1906) was to write his famous Hymn to Brazil ( 1890)(1) as an homage to the first anniversary of the establishment of the Republic in that country, and which turned out to be a tribute to the Amazon River on the strength of these well-known verses in currency among the people:

A regal, ruling river there exists,
unique, and vast, of loveliness unmatched,
lowly-born amidst cold summit mists
then haughty, snubbing oceans, when dispatched.

Many of our literature's critics and essayists have taken this as the first manifestation of the Amazon jungle in modern Peruvian verse.

Jose Maria Arroyo, in his panoramic outline of jungle poetry (1982), attempted a chronology--not the most rigorous, but methodological--of the lyrical output of the Peruvian Amazon(2). In it he includes under the apt sobriquet of "lyrical singers of the Amazon" a group of obscure and almost forgotten writers native to or residing in the region whose poetry is fundamentally inspired by the Amazon's grandeur and beauty. The names of these writers should be inscribed among the initiators and founders of Amazonian literature in the course of Peruvian letters.

Extending Jose Maria Arroyo's initial survey, in this group we will consider Fabriciano Hernaández (1844-1890); Antonio del Carmen Sotelo ( ); Miguel A. Rojas (1862-1949); Felipe Documet Silva (1894-1974) and the brothers Manuel Pasion Zegarra (1983- ) and Alcibiades Zegarra (1895-1958). We would do well to add the names of two well-known writers from our jungle, Jenaro Herrera (1862-1941), who belongs to the early generation of writers born in eastern Peru, and Romulo Paredes (1877-1958), a journalist, native of Chiclayo and long-time resident of Iquitos, whose protest canticle, To Samaren, the indomitable chief of the Huambisa nation of Marañón and the Alto Mayo, we cannot omit from this Amazonian cycle.


Juan Fabriciano Hernàndez Bustamante was born in the city of Chachapoyas in 1844. He moved to Lima in 1855 and studied at the Santo Toribio Seminary and in the Carolino Student Quarters. In the Republic's capital he took an active role in various literary societies, while newspapers and journals of the day accepted a few of his articles and poems. Upon his return to his native city, he became involved in various offices and occupations: Secretary of the Local Town-Council, professor and director of educational academies and representative of his province to the National Parliament.

In 1868, Fabriciano Hernandez composed Hymn to the Amazon, which is incontrovertibly the first lyrical manifestation in verse in our literature to be inspired by our jungle's Great River. With it, poetic production in the Peruvian Amazon begins, furthered later by a great many poets native to the region or those who passed through it celebrating its glory and grandeur.
Fabriciano Hernandez' Hymn is written in more or less broad hendecasyllables in which some heptasyllables are interspersed, its consonantal rhymes very freely arranged. With exorbitant Romantic bywords and classical allusions, the exalted inspiration of Fabriciano Hernandez spills over into a sensitive and heart-felt expression of the sensation, both incomparable and profound, that contemplating the turbulent course of the mighty river awakens in him:

Neither whisper, sweetest, soft
from the peaceful springs
that slip away across the meadow fair;
nor the howl a forest downpour brings,
those through the thickness to the ear supplied;
nor starlight splendorsl vivid flair,
beacons hanging up on high
when sparkling, beauteous, in midair,
amidst the mists of dark night's sky,
have not ever terrible deep marks produced,
those unnameable impressiones in me loosed
like when I gaze upon your course's pitch and roll
Oh! I feel you, sacred river! in my soul.

Fabriciano Hernandez is also the author of a Monographic History of the Amazon Province, which give rise to exploratory and reconnaissance journeys to the Amazon River and its tributaries, Potro and Cahuapanas, on the right bank.

Seduced, like many of his time and land, by the black gold rush, Hernandez for a time was devoted to extracting rubber on the Marañon River plantations. When he returned to his rubber plant adventure in 1890, while navigating the waters of the High Marañon, he shipwrecked and drowned, his remains eluding recovery. The river forever retained the minstrel just as it does with the rich treasures below its mighty currents, as these verses by Fabriciano Hernandez himself attest:

and metals rich and precious
you hoard in your miserly virgin breast.

The tragic accident claimed the life of the poet on February 13, 1890. Six months later, on August 23rd of the same year, a memorial to him was held at the Chachapoyas General Cemetery, where Dr. Miguel A. Rojas delivered a requiem and read a sonnet, To the Marañon, in which he poetically takes the river to task for the poet's tragic death.(4)


Another bard of the Amazon, the second chronologically, is the poet Antonio del Carmen Sotelo, an unknown and nearly forgotten author who in 1888 wrote the long panegyric, To the Amazon, of which there are two versions. The first of these appears in the book Hospital de Iquitos, published in 1888 without any publishing information. The composition commemorates the act of placing the First Stone for building a hospital in the Loreto capital. This composition was delivered at a public music and art event held in the old Variedades Theater in honor of said stone-placing. The poem is dated April 1, 1888, Iquitos.

Sotelo's poem is a silva(5) that adheres to the model, structure and emphatic tones used by the Hispanic Neoclassical writers in their laudatory odes. Combining this imitation with biblical concerns, Sotelo attempts an epic canto to our jungle's Great River. He begins by invoking the Supreme Creator to intone his song, which is a veritable elegy to South American nature and the vast Amazonian country in whose soil the powerful river irrigates "a new paradise." The poem in this version concludes with an allegorical chorus of the voices of the world's major rivers: the Ganges, the Nile, the Tiber, and the Tamar, all of which pay homage to the "king of the rivers".

The second version, dated in the same year of 1888 in the city of Moyobamba, is included in the anonymous pamphlet Biografia del ilustre moyobambino y esclarecido peruano Manuel del Aguila ["Biography of the Illustrious Moyobamban and Distinguished Peruvian Manuel del Aguila"] (1898)(6). This version modifies some verses, deletes or adds others, and combines the initial silva with other hendecasyllabic verse stanzas: tercets, quartets and masculine-rhyme octaves, which the author maneuvers with great knowledge of Spanish versification, especially with respect to rhyme. The poet leaves out here the final part of the first version published in Iquitos, wherein the other rivers come to pay tribute to the mighty Amazon's endowments; moreover, as a clear indication of his Catholic faith, he takes up the topos of contemplation for developing in the Amazon jungle setting the Biblical battle between the spirit of evil, the Devil, who yet reigns over the unbaptized tribes, and a cherub from heaven, who stands for the future exaltation of the rain forest by Catholic evangelists. The allegorical and poetic clash ends with the triumph of the angel under the sign of a great cross, which the burning spirit has formed with the leaves of an Amazonian palm tree. In the two versions, from Iquitos and from Moyobamba both, the topic of the waters of the Amazon River rejecting the Atlantic Ocean is repeated, a motif already present in Fabriciano Hernandez (1868) and one that would appear in Carlos German Amezaga (1890) and other latter-day authors. The most valuable part of Sotelo's To the Amazon is the stanza that surely ranks in our literature as the greatest poetic elegy to the mighty river as a marvelous, divinely created work:

Our Lord in diamond riverbed He placed you,
in banks of hope then you He clad;
and imparted majesty and drive, He had,
all to you, great Amazon!
Many are the marvels Mother Nature holds:
beautiful, to be admired,
you run ever on, unflappable, untired,
and set upon, while boastful, stately, strident,
the throne until Atlantis wild has faced you,
who then, cast down, surrenders up his trident
. (7)

We are familiar with two other poetic works this bard of the Amazon has published; one is an untitled piece dated May 20, 1888, Iquitos, forming part of the above-mentioned commemorative tome, Hospital de Iquitos ( 1888). That composition is an occasional poem that begins by alluding to a biblical issue, the first divinely created couple's loss of Eden, then refers to charity, the virtue that governs the generous action of proposing to build an infirmary in a jungle city.

The other lyrical composition by this author, entitled El triunfo del genio [ "Genius's Triumph"] is included in Biografia del ilustre moyobambino ( 1898) ["Biography of the Illustrious Moyobamban"]. In that untitled poem, Sotelo conjures up an emotional vision of the Amazon with biblical and theological allusions, repeating some of the stanzas and verses in the untitled poem published ten years earlier in Iquitos.

Very little or nearly nothing is known of the life of Antonio del Carmen Sotelo, the founder of our Amazonian literature. He was possibly Moyobamban or residing in that city and Iquitos at the turn of the last century. In the aforementioned pamphlet from 1898 he is introduced as "a young Peruvian educated in Italy and extremely well-versed." On July 28, 1888, Antonio del Carmen Sotelo gave a speech in the city of Moyobamba for a public reception of Don Manuel del Aguila, a Senator in the Loreto area, who returned that year to Lima with the foundation of the "San Jose" School (now the "Serafin Filomeno" School). The verses of the final stanza in his poem To the Amazon --in the Iquitos version--: "Here under this sky / which saw you kiss my humble cradle, " lead us to the same conclusion vis a vis his kinship to Loreto.(8)

4. MIGUEL A. ROJAS (1862-1949)

Miguel A. Rojas is the author of the previously mentioned sonnet, To the Marañon,(9) where he gives that river a lyrical scolding for the tragic death of the poet Fabriciano Hernandez. This sonnet was published in the Review Trocha 5, (Iquitos, 1942) as an "anonymous contribution and a "literary oddity."

To the Marañon

Oh, Marañon, sovereign in outpouring motion
who in the summits of the Ande you are crowned
and flow on, lapping up our nectar, then are bound
from here to sweet'ning the Atlantic Ocean

Wherefore in your heinous gullet you've ingested
the troubadour so tender, of the Amazon?
Did you wish him your hoarded gold thus dropped upon,
a fitting tomb, where the gallant bard be rested?

Hail, O giant, your majesty torrential
you who swell as through Andean peaks you wend
and your kisses bathe my fatherland's terrains!

Of the precious poet of your brawn's potential,
of Fabriciano Hernandez, our inspired friend,
miser that you are! you're hoarding the remains!

Thirty three years later, in 1975, Izquierdo Rios himself, in his volume Pueblo y bosquel(10) ["People and Forest"] brought to light, without any other information, the name of the sonnet's author, the doctor and poet Miguel A. Rojas. Rios reprinted the poem with variations in some verses and in the final tercet, taking it from an original that an acquaintance of Dr. Rojas had given him.

The variants of the new version of this sonnet are the following: in the second verse it reads "up yonder midst the summits you are crowned"; in the tenth verse the singular "Ande" is used; and the last tercet has been exchanged for "Of he who admired your push and power / of he who praised your queenly glory grand / miserly you hoard the precious

Miguel A. Rojas, the son of Tomas Rojas and Carmen Mesia, was born in Chachapoyas on February 17, 1862. He received his primary schooling in his native city and secondary education at the "Porvenir de la juventud" ["The Future of Youth"] private school in Lima, headed by clergyman Juan de la Cruz Rolando, where he was sent by his parents at the age of eleven.

He enrolled in the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos to study medicine, and when still a student at San Fernando he enlisted in the service to defend the capital from the threat of Chilean occupation. On that occasion he was assigned to the San Bartolome hospital as an emergency- service surgical assistant for the war-wounded from the battles of Chorrillos, San Juan and Miraflores.(11) He took his degree in medicine in 1886 and hardly having graduated, he was called to practice his profession in an Asian worker camp on the Chicama estate in Trujillo. In 1887 he went to Chachapoyas as a full-time physician. There in 1890, the tragic death of poet Fabriciano Hernandez, a first bard of the Amazon, moved Rojas to write the above-mentioned sonnet, To the Marañòn, which is of special interest in the development of Amazonian literature.

In his native city he was also professor of the Seminary School, where Horacio Urteaga, who went on to became a notable historian and Dean of the School of Letters in San Marcos, was his student. In 1891 he was elected deputy Representative by the province of Bongara. He then resided for eight years in Cajmarca, practicing his medical profession (1891-1898). A sonnet of his, written in 1896 and transcribed by Carlos E. Paz Soldan in La Reforma Medica (1946), dates from this period. The poem's tercets contain an accomplished metaphor of human life and destiny:

Man is not the water drop unsullied, pure,
that comes falling down from up above on high
to plunge headlong in the lowly filth of swamp;

he is the drop, turned mist, that from slime endures,
up ever higher, pure, crystalline will fly
to the cloud that thunderclaps in booming pomp

Before putting down roots in Iquitos around 1900, Miguel A. Rojas practiced his profession, en passant, in the cities of Moyobamba, Tarapoto and Yurimaguas. Once in Iquitos, he was elected Municipal Alderman, eventually assuming the complete mayoral duties in that city. His name appears among those in attendance at a farewell banquet that the Iquitos community held on March 23, 1906(13) for the Department Prefect, Don Hildebrando Fuentes.

In 1907, elected by popular vote, he occupied a seat in the Senate of the Republic, representing Loreto. Important public works in the city of Iquitos are tied to Manuel A. Rojas' municipal and parliamentary endeavors, including the installation of wireless telegraph communication services, city sanitation, the establishment of an experimental agricultural station and an industrial school, the paving of the first block of Raimondi Street with imported stones, and the construction of the Santa Rosa hospital and Matriz Church.

In the intellectual milieu of the Loreto capital, Miguel A. Rojas made known his oratorical and lyrical gifts by celebrating with rhetorical gallantry in the public forums he took part in, capturing both the heroic and noble soul of the native men and the exotic beauty of the jungle woman. There is a brief journalistic chronicle and a comic poem by Monsieur Treville (Romulo Paredes) that celebrate this intellectual quality of Miguel A. Rojas (l4). Some writings by this doctor-poet are published in Iquitos' El oriente under the nom de plume of "Mar", an acronym of his name. In a long composition of a romantic and celebratory bent, Flor de la selva [ "Flower of the Jungle"], Miguel A. Rojas set down in words an elegy to the Amazonian woman, waxing epithetic and metaphoric, as we can see in this passage:

Like a bud enfolded midst brocades,
thus were you born, o chimeric flower!
mid the sky's red blushes, fleshed,
and the gilded clouds that tint
these exultant junqles' sky.
In these abounding forests of plenty,
here you were born, prodigious flower;
here, under this luciferous vault,
where in hymns of vibratory strophes
and a sun sparkling at the gentle touch,
from resplendent, fertile Nature,
bursts out in blooming song to life

After many years of residence in Iquitos, Miguel A. Rojas was in Mollendo and Arequipa, where he made the social rounds and shared in literary activities with Jorge Polar and Juan Jose Reynoso. In 1924 he took up permanent residence in Lima. On June 6, 1934, he became a member of the National Academy of Medicine with a first-rate speech, "Reflections on the Medical Ideal", which he expanded into a book, El ideal medico y el medico ideal [ "The Medical Ideal and the Ideal Doctor"], published in 1943, wherein he offers a series of essays expanding on his own reflections, and confrontations between his book learning and his knowledge gained from the experience of a long, sixty-year professional career.

On March 10, 1946, Miguel A. Rojas paid tribute publicly to another great physician of his generation, Leonidas Avendano, who died that year. This homage is published in a pamphlet(l6). In September of that same year, the Peruvian History of Medicine Society in turn honored Rojas in a public meeting. The speeches from this tribute are published in the review La Reforma Medica, 483 (1946)(17). Miguel A. Rojas died in Lima on December 6, 1949, leaving an unfinished book, Elogio de la sordera ["In Praise of Deafness"], though it tortured him in his waning days. To commemorate and memorialize his passing, Carlos Enrique Paz Soldan published an article in La Crònica (12.11.49)(18). A selection of the speeches, poems and thoughts of Miguel A. Rojas was put out in 1974 by Gustavo Collantes Pizarro (l9). Hernàn Monzante Rubio has also issued an homage to this Amazonian author.

The sonnet To the Maranon was read by its author following his prayer In Memoriam, delivered on August 24, 1890, at the memorial for Fabriciano Hernandez. The poem and speech prompted the high ecclesiastical authority, the Bishop of Chachapoyas, Fray Francisco Solano Risco, to attempto to excommunicate him. The bishop's unwonted attitude piqued the people/s curiosity and the poem began to circulate from hand to hand, which explains the two versions that reached Francisco Izquierdo Rìos, the former in 1942, published in Trocha 5, and the latter in 1975, appearing in Pueblo y bosque.

5. FELIPE R. DOCUMET SILVA (1892-1974)

Felipe Ramon Documet Silva was born in Moyobamba in 1892, reared in his native city of Iquitos, and he spent the majority of his life in Lima teaching and cultivating a life of letters. A pedagogue, he went to various cities in the jungle region, eventually heading the Centro Escolar No. 164 in Nauta. As a journalist he wrote in Iquitos dailies and journals, a city where he was also Editor of El Eco for a time and a correspondent for El Comercio. Many of his journalistic works appeared under the pseudonym of Fradoc, an anagram of his given name and surnames. Felipe Documet Silva authored an emotive Hymn to the Amazon, which garnered a prize, the Floral Games Silver Orchid, at an event held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the National School of Iquitos. The poem is a lyrical postmodernist song written in octosyllables, forming nine-verse stanzas with even-line rhymes. Each stanza ends in masculine-rhymed blank verse following an AA BB CC DD E rhyme scheme. The poem showcases, successively, the many and varied marvels of the Amazon River and the rain forest through which it runs. Thus, present in the Canto are: the power of the mighty river's waters, the romantic charm of its red-hot beaches, the placid beauty of its shores where the planted fields lie, and the fury of the tropical storms with their lightning and hurricanes and other extraordinary and unusual wonders of the Amazonian landscape. Documet's poem makes constant reference to typical plants and animals of our jungle, alluding also to legends and well-known myths of the region .

Comparison and simile are the most frequent and effective techniques in Documet Silva's poem, a work that brings to us an exaltation of the jungle and the river, together with the author's soulful impressions born of contemplating an awe-inspiring natural presence:

Thus do I sing of your currents,
of the urges that you feel
to overspill your shores
as if you only were anxious
to grow as wide as infinity,
for you cleave, and rend and steal away
the lands that are your bed
like he who takes one into his confidence
to broaden his ambition.

Felipe Documet Silva wrote a three-act drama in prose, Huiracocha, or the Conqueror of the Chancas, which takes issues and characters from national history and recreates the life and customs of our Incan forebears. The drama opened at the Teatro Alhambra in Iquitos on January 14, 1937, and was published in 1939 at La Razon Press in the same city. Two of Documet's poem's, A la luz de la luna ["By the Light of the Moon"] and Una ilusiòn ["An Illusion"] are included in the review Trocha in issues 7 and 9, respectively. This journal--a valuable resource for the study of Amazonian letters--contains in its Children's Supplement a children's story, "Periquìn's Punishment", which appears serialized in issues 6, 7 and 8 in 1942.

Felipe Documet died in Lima in 1974, leaving an unpublished volume, Narraciones folklòricas de la selva ["Folkloristic Narratives From the Jungle"]. In 1981 Manuel Pantigoso devoted a eulogistic newspaper article to him, stressing his work as a teacher and poet. It was published in Cronica Cultural on October 18th of that year.(20)

Manuel Pasion Zegarra, born in Celendin in 1893, lived many years in Iquitos given to journalism and the bohemian life. He brought his lyrical compositions to light in El Eco and other journals of the Loreto capital, achieving renown as a popular and extemporaneous poet. His most well-known poem, A Orillas del Amazonas ( "On the Banks of the Amazon") was published in Trocha 5, and is a beautiful and accomplished composition, a true lyric canticle to the immense and arrogant panorama that is our jungle, the quintessence "of Nature's creative power." The poem foregrounds the author's descriptive skill:

Like a burnished cloak of crystals
the giant Amazon, its current
gently churns
overtaking the grass on the banks
and then, away off, the clouds
that the sun imbues with its dimming remains in a flighty whim
steep the celestial sphere in scarlet.

Manuel Pasion Zegarra, a "sentimental bard with shades of the people's poet"--as Francisco Izquierdo Rìos(21) dubs him --after an intense and fruitful intellectual life in Iquitos, left the city, leaving behind friends and kin, and made for a far-flown abandoned hut in the interior of the jungle, from which he never returned. Since his taking up residence there, nothing is known of his life.

Most likely he died in complete oblivion, drunk on sun and solitude in some area of the rain forest he so dearly loved and of which he so often sung. Manuel Pasion Zegarra left behind the following unpublished volumes of poetry: Paginas libres ("Free Pages"), Recuerdos de maynas ("Memories of Maynas"), Memorias de Loreto ("Memories of Loreto") and Ultimas rimas ("Final Rhymes"); and of tales: El fruto de un adulterio("The Fruit of an Adultery"), Suenos de Teofila ("Theophila's Dreams") and Escenas de un viaje ("Travel Scenes").


Juan Alcibiades Zegarra, Manuel Pasion's brother, was born in Celendin in 1895 and lived in Iquitos from 1910 until his death in 1958. Department Prefecture Archivist for many (20) years, he started writing engaging and good-humored critical and satirical newspaper pieces in 1920, popularizing the pseudonym Amicus Plato. In the cultural weekly La Juventud (1940), for which Juan Ramlrez Rios was editor-in-chief, he used this pseudonym for a shrewd humor column with the caption "Views from the Street." Alcibiades Zegarra was also, like his brother, a self- taught light versifier. Neither poets nor writers of his day were spared from his sharp-edged, ingenious satire, as the verses from his well-known poem Por retaguardia, ["Lagging Behind"] cited and analyzed by Jose Maria Arroyo(22) in a special issue of Trocha 5, will confirm. In the first issues of this review, Alcibiades Zegarra oversaw a light and humorous verse section under the heading "The Smiling Muse" in it, three of his own poems from this genre appear: Las victimas del minutero [ "The Victims of the Minute- hand"](Trocha, 2); Quiromancia y folklorismo ["Palmistry and Folklore Studies" ] ( Trocha, 3), and El diagnostico ["The Diagnosis"]( Trocha, 4).

Alcibiades Zegarra closes the cycle of the First Bards of the Amazon with a poem full of humor and corrosive scorn. Los estribos de Orellana ["Orellana's Spurs"] (in Trocha, 5), which comments bemusedly on the odd donation the head of Casa Astoria don Jose O'Neill made of some bronze spurs, allegedly once belonging to Francisco de Orellana, to the Discovery of the Amazon Pro-Centenary Committee.

JOSE O'NEILL, born in Puerto Rico and of North American citizenship, lived thirty years in Iquitos (1928-l958) as the General Head of Astoria Negotiation. A financier and contractor with the soul of a poet, O'Neill added much to the industrial development of our Amazon region. Enthralled with the jungle, he wrote a Hymn to The Amazon in which he makes a flowing description of the Great River from its formation in the Andean snows all the way to the end of its course in the waters of the Atlantic. The poem was published in the journal Amazonia (Lima, February 1983), No. 46, edited by Jorge Zegarra Obando. The lines that follow were excerpted from said source.

Majestic runs the river snaking through the plains
with its cyclops-trees
hard by emerald forests
vivifying all things with its currents of greenwood
it runs and, wearied now, reaches the vast sea
who has been waiting for it with open arms.
It holds mysteries, the river, and is a teacher
from its birth in the sierras to its death in the oceans;
and we listen to its waves, in its rhythms and its tunes,
a magic spell in the nights like a song of hope.

No other production from Jose O'Neill is known. He died in

JENARO HERRERA (1861-1941)

Jenaro Herrera was born in Moyobamba in 1861. Chronologically he was the first storyteller native to the jungle. A graduate of the Universidad de San Marcos with a doctorate in Literature, he joined the Geographic Society, the Historical Institute and the Lima Athenaeum. His first articles and essays are collected in the reviews El Ateneo, El Derecho and in the capitalist newspapers El Comercio, El Diario and La Ilustracion Peruana.

In 1903 in Iquitos he founded Loreto Comercial, in the editorials of which he critically and controversially took on the city's most significant problems and issues, pointing out flaws and attacking the vices of local government in the name of the well-being and progress of Loreto's citizens. Jenaro Herrera penned many historical and geographical works about the old Maynas Commander's Headquarters and was in his day one of the leading intellectuals of the Peruvian Amazon. Aside from being a learned historian, Jenaro Herrera excelled as a dexterous and talented teller of tales, endowed with extraordinary tools for composing plots, developing theme, expressing ideas and for describing and depicting character.

In this genre he wrote Leyendas y tradiciones de Loreto ["Legends and Traditions of Loreto"] (1918), evoking old myths and legends with the historian's vocation but with a deeply creative spirit. This book marks the birth of Amazonian literature as such, and is the point of departure for a new vein of the short story developed and continued by several generations of storytellers from the Amazon who have taken the history, legends, folklore, and worries and anxieties of an emerging people to a degree of aesthetic expression with the modern advent of marvelous realism. Jenaro Herrera died in Lima in 1941. Well-known and widely circulated for his narrative and historical dimensions, Manuel Marticorena Quintanilla (23), professor of literature at the Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana, has done diligent research toward introducing us to a new side of Jenaro Herrera's work: poetry.

Marticorena has found in Loreto newspapers from early in this century a wide-ranging and varied sample of Herrera's poetic output. In this sampling we find a forgotten sonnet, To the Amazon, published in El Imparcial in Iquitos on November 12, 1899 (transcribed in No. 205 of the Amazonia review that Jorge Zegarra Obando(24) directs and promotes). Said sonnet, as well as his poem To Moyobamba, also published in El Imparcial (2/26/99), compel us to place Jenaro Herrera among the authors in the cycle termed "The First Bards of the Amazon."

11. ROMULO PAREDES (1877-1958)

Finally we include in this cycle of Amazonian literature the author of the well-known poem, To Samaren, Romulo Paredes, a lawyer and journalist initially tied to the Lima- based(24) reviews Prisma and Variedades and the writing of Monos
y monadas
["Monkeys and Monkey Business"] by Leonidas Yerovi.

In the city of Iquitos, where he opened his legal office, he achieved solid and well-earned prestige by taking an active role in journalism and in political life, fields in which his name was the banner of just and popular causes identified with the Amazonian region. Romulo Paredes devoted to these lands part of his life and much of his work.

Aside from being a newspaperman and dramatic author, Romulo Paredes was an inspired lyricist. There are many poems signed "Monsieur Treville" in the newspapers and journals that circulated in eastern Peru during the nineteen tens. These poems sing of the jungle and river's majesty while exalting the beauty of the women in the Amazonian countryside and the strength of the Amazonian Basin aborigines. Among these poems, To Samaren excels. Samaren is the name of a brave war-horse of a Curaca Indian, Lord of the Huambisas of the Maranon and the Alto Mayo, who lived and died defending amidst flying arrows and poisoned spears his race-brothers' freedom and ways, as well as the natives' sovereignty on their own land. The latter he fought for with exceptional bravery in the face of the aggression and abuses of the white bosses bent on exploiting the rubber in that region.

The poem To Samaren by Romulo Paredes bears out the vision of an expansive, generous rain forest, without the disgrace of exploitation and crime:

Samaren, Dearest Chief,
distinguished compatriot,
Samaren, master of the forest,
Samaren, lend an ear and weep.
Selfish and ambitious, we have lost a half century
taming boldly the most distant mountain.
A single ideal has moved our hard hearts,
one ideal: that of rubber
and in its pursuit we have coped diligently, bravely,
writing in each locale an action, beautiful and grand,
but crime, always crime, thwarted these odysseys
and pure white milk we turn to red blood.

Using exhortative, convincing, and persuasive language, and employing the device of combative and critically judgmental journalism, Paredes uses the poem to renounce the sins and flaws of modern mercantilism and foreign imitation, which are destroying the identity and essence of our jungle. Paredes is years ahead of his time in his finding inspiration in accusation and protest, which we find in Amazonian writers of today.

Samaren, master of the forest,
Samaren, breathe a sigh and shed your tears,
Don't come, ever, never come down
that traitor of a river,
may these lands always be, to you, unknown lands
which betrayal, the basest mercantilism,
lusts and laziness lash hard.
What would you find were you to come?
You would find another tribe,
inferior to the one you once lead,
a hypocrite tribe of idiots,
without morals, without conscience, just aping
the superior peoples, their evil ways and dress.

This authentic protest message levied against an abhorrent reality that we all reject, leads the poet to incite a social struggle, a true class war pitting the exploited Indians against the dominant provincial bourgeoisie:(26)

Samaren, master of the forest,
distinguished compatriot.
When you come, come proudly, to demand justice for us,
justice we deny the Indians who today are exploited
--yesterday strong, yesterday great and happy
and today slaves and exiles--
If to conquests we aspire, come, conquer us tomorrow,
come and rip out our history
whose pages are filled
with shame and defeat

The social struggle thus proposed, Paredes takes up the indigenous cause, and foresees a glimpse of their victory, the ultimate triumph of truth and justice. In other words, he leans toward the cause of the liberation of the exploited. The poet calls to rebel countrymen to oust those in power and to impose peace and progress, thereby bringing to our Amazon the "hoped-for new dawn" of a society reconstituted, with neither oppressors nor oppressed.

Governance of your arrows, may it rule over the casualties,
the powerful governance of your arms, may it be imposed,
that we may have a good fatherland, a great fatherland;
thus there may be peace and work and progress and reforms;
only thus will it rise up, beautiful, on the great heap
of ruination and disaster and waste: the hoped-for new dawn.

The poem To Samaren is one of the most eloquent social
protest poems in early Peruvian literature, culminating and
closing the "Bards of the Amazon cycle".


The author is a Doctor of Literature, Former Chair of the Department of Linguistics at the Universidad de San Marcos. Professor Emeritus at the Universidad Nacional de San Marcos. Past President of the ANEA. Regular Member of the Peruvian Academy of Language.

(1) CARLOS GERMAN AMEZAGA. Poesìas Completas. ( Compiled and annotated by Graciela Miranda Quiroz, prologue by Luis Alberto Sanchez).
Editorial P.T.C.M Lima, 1948 (See index)

(2) JOSE MARIA ARROYO. Panorama de la Poesia en la Selva. In Shupihui,
23-4. Iquitos, July-December 1982, pp. 367-374.

(3) The poem is published in its entirety in Trocha 5. Iquitos, February 1942, pp. 62-64.

(4) Sonnet published in Trocha 5. Refer ahead to section 4 on Miguel A.

(5) Translator's note: The silva is a poem of either hendecasyllables, or more commonly, variably alternating hendecasyllables and heptasyllables, of unequal qtrophic length, and with end rhymes not strictly patterned.

(6) Biografia del ilustre moyobambino y esclarecido peruano Sr. d. Manuel
del Aguila.
Printed by El Nacional, Lima, 1898, 87 pp. (Julian del Aguila Valera reprinted it through Ediciones Continente, Buenos Aires, 1976, 125 pp.)

(7) Text of the Iquitos version. The Moyobamba version reduces the three final verses to two and concludes thus:
"And, oh! then...your current with its hellish roar
Atlantis turns away for evermore."

(8) In Biografsa del Ilustre Moyobambino. Edition cited, p. 68.

(9) See above, in this same essay, in section 3 on Fabriciano Hernàndez.

(10) FRANCISCO IZQUIERDO RIOS. Pueblo y bosque. P.L.. Villanueva. Lima, 1975, p. 303.

(11) JENARO HERRERA. La Universidad Mayor de San Marcos y la Guerra del
Pacifico. Sanmartì. Lima, 1928, p. 160.

(12) NIGUEL A. ROJAS. Soneto. In La Reforma Medica, 483. Lima, 2nd
half of September, 1946, p. 583 (included in the text of Carlos E. Paz
Soldan's tribute speech).

(13) HILDEBRANDO FUENTES. Loreto. Apuntos geograficos, hist6ricos,
estadìsticos, polìticos y sociales. Published by La Revista, Lima,
1908. Volume II, p. 216.

(14) This chronicle and poem are collected in GUSTAVO COLLANTES PIZARRO's El Dr. Miguel A. Rojas Mesfa: medico, filòsofo, orador y poeta. Lima, publishing information omitted, 1914, pp. 199-202.

(15) MIGUEL A. ROJAS. Flor de la selva. In El Oriente, Iquitos, January 12, 1935, p. 13 (collected in GUSTAVO COLLANTES PIZARRO, op. cit., p. 195-199).

(16) MIGUEL A. ROJAS. Homenaje al D. Leonidas Avendano. Ed. La Reforma Medica, Lima, 1946.

(17) Romenaje a Miguel A. Rojas de la Sociedad Peruana de Ristoria de la Medicina. In La Reforma Medica, 483, 2nd half of September, 1946, p. 1577 and ss. (includes a sonnet by Miguel A. Rojas).

(18) CARLOS E. PAZ SOLDAN. Miguel A. Rojas (1862-1949). In La Cronica.
Lima, Sunday, December 11, 1949, p. 2.

(19) GUSTAVO COLLANTES PIZARRO. Op. cit. Lima, 1974, publishing
information omitted.

(20) MANUEL PANTIGOSO. Felipe Ramòn Documet Silva, maestro y hombre de letras. In Crònica Cultural, Sunday supplement in the newspaper La Crònica, Lima, October 18, 1981, p. III

(21) FRANCISCO IZQUIERDO RIOS. Op. cit., pp. 306-7. See also Review of
FIR, Trocha, 5, p. 9.

(22) JOSE MARIA ARROYO. Op. cit., p. 371.

(23) MANUEL MARTICORENA QUINTANILLA. Jenaro Herrera, el pionero de la
Valoraciòn cultural amazónica
( I and II). In Amazonia, Lima, l991, No. 204, pp. 25-28 and No. 205, pp. 28-30.

(24) Amazonia, 205. Lima, September-October, 1991, p. 30.

(25) See LUIS HERNÁN RAMIREZ. Ròmulo Paredes in variedades. Cultural supplement in La Crònica.