Girl from Guantanamo

Some songs just seem to have a global appeal.  They spread their wings and touch hearts far beyond their own country’s borders.  Guantanamera is one such song.  It was originally written in 1929 by Jose Fernandez Diaz and was about a beauty from Guantanamo who spurns the singer’s advances.  However, it was when Julian Orbon paired the song with lyrics adapted from the first poem of the collection ” Versos Sencillos” (Simple Verses) by Cuban poet and independence hero, Jose Marti, that it rapidly rose to the status of unofficial Cuban national anthem.

Even in Malaysia, we used to learn to sing this song at schools and universities.  We sang it at gatherings, at picnics and at campfire.  This is a little surprising as most Malaysians don’t know any Spanish, let alone how to pronounce Spanish lyrics.  We have little historical contact with Spain and almost none with Cuba.  Yet most Malaysians when I was growing up knew and loved the song.

But I knew nothing about the meaning of the song or about Jose Marti until I chanced across a performance of the song by Pete Seeger on the radio.   Suddenly, the song became more than just a chant beside a campfire, it really touched the soul with its search for freedom, its yearning for peace and its willingness to forgive.  Few poems have moved me as much especially knowing that Jose Marti died shortly after, as a result of living true to his beliefs.

It took me a very, very long time to find a video of that same performance by Pete Seeger.  Hope you enjoy his rendition and his explanation of the song as well as the words below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I am a truthful man,
From the land of the palm trees.
Before dying, I want to
Share these poems of my soul.

My poems are soft green,
But they are also flaming crimson.
My poems are like a wounded fawn,
Seeking refuge in the forest.

I cultivate a white rose
In June and in January
For the sincere friend
Who gives me his hand.

And for the cruel one who would tear out
This heart with which I live.
I cultivate neither thistles nor nettles
I cultivate a white rose.

With the poor people of this earth,
I want to share my fate.
The little streams of the mountains
Pleases me more than the sea.

13 thoughts on “Girl from Guantanamo”

  1. I’ve always loved this campfire song but had no idea of it’s meaning. It is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing the video and it’s meaning.

  2. Well you continually amaze me in the fact that you are a man, – “ahem” a Squirrel with so many facets and talents! You are gifted in the arts – not excluding photography, music, nature, art… yet also contributing in the ways of teaching, science, and just plain friendliness. I truly loved this post – really, I had no idea of the meaning of that song either, though I never sang it around the campfire 🙂 I always thought it was about “one connamerra”… possibly some kind of currency? ha ha ha Thanks very much for enlightening me… and btw I LOVE Pete Seeger!

  3. Laura,
    Isn’t it strange that so many of us love this song and never thought about what it meant? As I think back, I had no idea of it’s meaning but I sang it with enthusiasm! 🙂

    I am blushing on account of your kind words but it may be more accurate to say that I am a repository of trivia. ““one connamerra”… possibly some kind of currency? ” – hahaha – I loved that. Interestingly, I had never heard of Pete Seeger until I started researching for this post – yet I know and love most of his songs, just never knew it was his songs.

  4. Better to face eternity with a clean soul shrouded in a life lived honestly and true to self and belief than a hypocrite like say Ayn Rand.

  5. I was in Cuba when Castro came to power, and Havana was an incredibly beautiful city then, with air like fragrant velvet. There is a large statue of Jose Marti in a square in the middle of the city, overlooking Havana Harbor. I think that songs have a life of their own and can spark a response in people regardless of their connection to the language, the nation, or any commonality at all.

  6. Mark,
    I had to look up Ayn Rand and I read about her courtesy of Wikipedia. From what I read, I certainly got the impression that this founder of Objectivism was in fact just a very opinionated and self centered person who tried to hide her biases behind the veneer of objectivity, which was not very objective. She sounds like the polar opposite of everything I hold dear. I was surprised to read that Alan Greenspan was one of her followers.

    It does not surprise me to learn that you were in Cuba at that heady time; it just seems very much you. I would love to visit Cuba one day for myself.


    didn’t mean to cap – sorry

    🙂 yo soy un hombre sincero Great Song, LGS thanks for reminding me of it and don’t be surprised to see it on my blog next!

  8. I first thought; never heard of it but when I listened to the song than I started to sing loudly along. Yep In holland it is well known as well. Great poem

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