38 - Historical Women
Manuela Sáenz was born into an era of revolutions, independence, civil wars, and patriarchy, despite that she dared to challenge social conventions. Guided by her convictions, she contributed to the formation of new Latin American nations.
She was rebellious and intelligent She walked towards the edge To end oppression And to give America, a new front She diligently introduced A brilliant strategy Because she was a militant And she helped to break the lock That was crushing the continent I gaze at her, joyful.
This translation appeared in the book The Cambridge Companion to Latin American Poetry, edited by Stephen M. Hart, published by Cambridge University Press (2018). Originally the poem was an extract from the book Capitanas de la Historia (2003) by Ecuadorian writer Luz Argentina Chiriboga, translated by Martha Ojeda.
Hello old friends and new listeners of Tres Cuentos, the podcast dedicated to the literary narratives of Latin America. The previous poem was originally written in Spanish by the Ecuadorian writer Luz Argentina Chiriboga as a tribute to the memory of the Ecuadorian revolutionary Manuelita Sáenz.
Since the end of last year, we have welcomed the collaboration of Leo Quiron, whose profession is an avid reader!
About a month ago, Leo Quiron sent me a photo of a letter apparently written by the famous Manuela Saénz to her husband James Thorne. I told him; we should present this on the show!
However, as I was already in the preparations for the upcoming seasons of Afro-descendant literature and Science Fiction, I thought we could present the letter in a special program.
Leo Quiron has written today’s comments about the marvelous woman known in Latin America’s history as the “liberator of the liberator.” But since Leo is a bit English-shy, he has asked me to read his comments for you. However, you will hear his voice in the Spanish episode.
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Before I present to you the famous letter that she wrote to her husband sometime between 1823-1828, let’s talk a bit about the life of Manuela Saénz.
Manuela was a woman who, despite being born into an era of revolutions, independence, civil wars, and patriarchy, dared to challenge social conventions. Guided by her convictions, she contributed to the formation of new Latin American nations.
Early this year, Leo Quiron found on social media a letter written by Manuela Saénz, and sent me a picture of it. Immediately, we both were greatly surprised by the progressive ideas this courageous heroine had and decided to present it in the program.
Manuela Sáenz was born in 1797 and died in 1856. Her life was influenced by the ideas of freedom. The letter addressed to her ex-husband James Thorne demonstrates her intelligence, sincerity, bravery, and desire for self-determination.
She was born into a Creole family. Her parents were Simón Sáenz and Joaquina Aizpuru. Manuela’s Spanish father was Quito’s town councilor. Her Ecuadorian mother died shortly after Manuela was born.
After this tragedy, Don Simón delivered the infant Manuela to the custody at the Monastery of Santa Catalina. She spent some difficult years there until her father decided to bring her back to his home. Soon, the girl earned the affection of her stepmother, who welcomed her to stay in the house.
Manuela received a Catholic education, and thanks to her dedication to study, in time she attained a high cultural level.
Manuelita, as she was affectionately called by her friends, recounts in her diary, that her first encounter with Simón Bolivar was a duel of the minds, focused on quoting the classic Greek and Latin authors. Similarly, the many letters she wrote to diplomats, presidents are a sign of her intellectual preparation.
It should be noted that Manuela spent much of her childhood and adolescence in the Catahuango estate, owned by her uncle Domingo Aizpuru, a clergyman of Yaruquí (an Ecuadorian village), and one of her main distractions was riding.
She stood out for the charisma and intelligence that allowed her to handle herself in society. These skills were important for her later participation in the revolution led by Simón Bolívar.
It is well known that Manuela was a committed political activist and combatant in many of the liberator’s campaigns. In his liberation campaign, she was a committed political activist and fighter. But even before she met him, she participated in several campaigns.
Ultimately, she reached the rank of Colonel in the Colombian army and was recognized for her skills on the battlefield. She served until the final battle of Ayacucho in 1824 where she served alongside General Sucre.
But let’s step a few years back in Manuela’s life. In 1816, Simon Saenz introduced his daughter Manuela to Mr. James Thorne, during a trip to Panama. The Englishman was so taken by her singular beauty that, without much thought, Thorne asked her father for Manuela’s hand in marriage. According to the custom of the time, she agreed.
The ceremony took place in Lima (Peru) on June 27, 1817, when Manuela was 21 years old, and James was 42.
Living in Lima, Manuela refined her revolutionary ideas, and began to participate in the movement for the liberation of the Spanish colonies. One of her first decisive actions was to persuade the Numancia battalion, which was royalist, to change sides and join the liberation campaign. It is worth mentioning that the Numancia battalion was led by Manuelita’s stepbrother José.
More and more, Manuela attended meetings with Peruvian patriots, keeping alive the flame of revolution. In time, her bravery was recognized with the honorable distinction of the St. Martin’s "Order of Cavalry of the Sun".
Despite Manuela's great contributions to the emancipation of the Spanish territories that are now Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru, her current image seems to be more focused on her relationship with General Simón Bolivar.
After consulting various letters and newspapers, two caught our attention. First was the biography by Carlos Alvarez Saa, Manuela, Biography and Imaginary Interview. The text is a biography that covers the most important aspects of Manuela's life. It provides historical information such as letters and documents showing the strong contribution of Manuelita’s actions and ideas to the libertarian ideal.
Alvarez’s Imaginary Interview allows him to “talk” with Manuela and discover more of her character. This text is similar to Raul Serrano’s Manuela Saenz: Time will Justify Me. Published by the Ministry of Education of Ecuador. Of course, you can the references in the transcripts.
Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Manuela’s life are her letters to Simón Bolívar. In many ways her military and political activism has been underplayed, giving more importance to her romantic affair with the liberator. It is worth noting that Manuela was quite rebellious for the time. She chose to be the General’s lover. The notoriety of this relationship has overshadowed much of her military and political work.
On this occasion we want to highlight Manuela's heroism and intelligence by dealing with what was perhaps her own fight for self-determination and emancipation from her husband.
Well, it is time for our listeners to find out about the content of Manuelita’s letter. A fragment of the letter translated in English can be found in the book Faces & Masks, Memory of Fire, Volume 2, by Eduardo Galeano, translated by Cedric Belfrage, published by Nation Books, New York (2010).
Gather strength friends, that if a woman was able to think and express herself with confidence two hundred years ago, despite the times in which she lived, you can do it too!
Manuela Sáenz’s letter to her husband James Thorne
No, no, not again, man, for God’s sake! Why do you make me write back to you, and so break my resolution? Look, what good are you doing, by giving me the pain of telling you a thousand times no? Mister, you are excellent, you are one of a kind. I will never say anything different about you. But, my friend, leaving you for General Bolívar is something. Leaving another husband without your qualities would be nothing. And so, you think that after being the General’s favorite for seven years, and with the certainty that I have his heart, I would rather be someone else’s wife, the lord’s, the son’s, the holy spirit’s o the Holly Trinity’s wife? …I know very well that nothing can unite me to him under the auspices of what you call honor. Do you think me less honorable for having him as my lover and not my husband? Oh, I do not live by the social concerns invented for mutual torture! Leave me alone, my dear Englishman. Let’s do something else. In heaven we will be married again, but on earth no . . . Do you find this agreement wrong? If so, I would say that you are hard to please. In the celestial homeland, we will enjoy an angelical life, a spiritual one (because you as a man, are very heavy). There, in heaven, everything will be English style, because a life of monotony is reserved for your nation (in love, I mean, because in other ways . . .who is more clever in trade and navies than the English?). They take love without pleasure, conversation without humor, and walks without vigor; they greet with bows and curtsies, get up and sit down with caution, joke without laughing. These are divine formalities; but I, a wretched mortal, who laugh at myself, at you, and at these English solemnities, how badly I would do in heaven! It would be as bad as if I would go live in England or Constantinople, because I feel that in these places’ men are tyrants towards their women, although you were the exception. Yet, you were very jealous. I do not want that! Now, do you dare to say that I do not have good taste? But no more joking. Formally and without a laugh, in all sincerity, purity and seriousness of an English woman, I declare that I will never live with you again. You are Anglican, I am an atheist, Consider that a strong religious contradiction for our union. Yet, the strongest impediment is that I love another man. Don’t you see the formality of my thinking? Your constant friend, Manuelita
And with the candor of a woman who lived in the revolutionary times that gave shape to much of the northern South America map; and with the courage that few women dared to show two centuries ago, we end today's special program.
Certainly, Manuelita Saénz deserves more than this humble and short tribute, but we will leave that for another episode.
On the other hand, as I had announced before, we will return with the beginnings of Science Fiction in Latin America. So, prepare yourself, because we will travel in the future with Miguel Unamuno, Santiago Dabove and Amado Nervo.
Until the next cuento, or story, adiós, adiós.
The Cambridge Companion to Latin American Poetry, edited by Stephen M. Hart, published by Cambridge University Press (2018). Originally the poem is an extract from the book Capitanas la Historia (2003) by Ecuadorian writer Luz Argentina Chiriboga, translated by Martha Ojeda.
Faces & Masks, Memory of Fire, Volume 2 by Eduardo Galeano, translated by Cedric Belfrage, published by Nation Books, New York (2010).
Manuela Biografía, Entrevista Imaginaria (Manuela, Biography and Imaginary Interview) by Carlos Alvarez Saa. Editor: Rodrigo Villacís. Imprenta Mariscal. Enero 1995.
Manuela Sáenz: el tiempo me justificará (Manuela Saénz, time will justify me), editor Raúl Serrano. Primera edición. Quito: Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador, 2010.
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