‘Thanks for Putting Up with Me’

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Rogelio Martinez Fure (1997). Photo: Margaret Randall

Upon my return to Havana from vacation, I went to the forum “Libro a la Carta,” lead by the journalist and literary critic Fernando Rodriguez Sosa, who usually invites an author to comment on their books.

On this occasion he had as his guest the playwright, Doctor Honoris Causa of the Superior Institute of Art of Havana, Cuban ethnographer and Africanist researcher Rogelio Martinez Fure.

At 3:30 in the afternoon he entered the building — slowly, silently — helped by someone who guided him to a sofa, where he had to sit until the dialogue began.

There were several us already there as more people continued to file in to be present on this honored occasion.

It still wasn’t 4:00, so I was able to go up to Señor Martinez Fure and exchange a few words. Through his handshake alone I could perceive his impressive simplicity as well as his enormous spirituality.

When it struck 4:00, someone led him to a seat in front of the audience as everyone waited to hear from his own voice his poems, anecdotes or some other testimony of his trips around the world.

Rodriguez Sosa presented his guest, at which time the expert remained silent for several seconds … until in a perfectly modulated voice he began to speak about the emergence of Africa, humanity’s place of origin, the wealth of the continent, the immigration process and slave routes toward Europe, Asia and the Americas.

When asked about his poetry, he clarified that he had poor sight and had needed to learn works by heart.

He then became silent again. He took out a pen, began moving his head, approached the microphone and began the verses that were accompanied with soft taps on the table. For moments he would sing in a low voice in an African language. With the help of his pen he carried his rhythm through African codes.

At that moment he said to those present: “Thank you for putting up with me.” A big ovation was how those present thanked him, after having witnessed a spiritual journey to our roots.