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la piragua de Guillermo Cubillos

I've been listening to a two-CD collection of some of Colombia's most famous cumbias, and the one that's my current favorite is "La Piragua," the tragic story of the sinking of an ambitiously large piragua (pirogue--like a long canoe) on its maiden voyage. This cumbia, written by Jose Barros, has been sung by bunches of different singers in bunches of different styles, but this is the version I heard, so it has pride of place in my heart. But for instance, there's this much more romantic version, complete with pan pipes sung by Carlos Vives.

Me contaron los abuelos que hace tiempo,
navegaba en el Cesar una piragua,
que partía del Banco viejo puerto
a las playas de amor en Chimichagua.

Capoteando el vendaval se estremecía
e impasible desafiaba la tormenta,
y un ejercito de estrellas la seguía
tachonándola de luz y de leyenda.

Era la piragua de Guillermo Cubillos,
era la piragua, era la piragua.

Doce bogas con la piel color majagua
y con ellos el temible Pedro Albundia,
por las noches a los remos le arrancaban
un melódico rugir de hermosa cumbia.

Doce sombras, ahora viejas ya no reman,
ya no cruje el maderamen en el agua,
solo quedan los recuerdos en la arena
donde yace dormitando la piragua.

Era la piragua de Guillermo Cubillos,
era la piragua, era la piragua.
La piragua, la piragua,
la piragua, la piragua...


My grandparents told me how long ago
A pirogue was navigating the Cesar River
It left the old port at El Banco
For the beaches of love in Chimichagua.

It was shaken by the cloaking1 gale
But undeterred, it defied the storm,
And a host of stars followed it,
Studding it with light and legend.

It was the pirogue of Guillermo Cubillos,
It was the pirogue, it was the pirogue

Twelve oarsmen with skin the color of majagua2
And with them, the fearsome Pedro Albundia
At night at the oars they belted out
With a melodic roar a beautiful cumbia.

Twelve shadows, now old, no longer row
No longer do the timbers creak in the water
All that remain are memories in the sand
Where the pirogue lies sleeping

It was the pirogue of Guillermo Cubillos,
It was the pirogue, it was the pirogue

1 "Capoteando" is too hard for me. "Chapoteando" would be splashing, which would make sense, but clearly they're singing "capoteando." Maybe that's another way of pronouncing "chapoteando"? But there's also "capote" which is a cloak, and maybe they made that into a verb--that would make sense too, and that's what I used. But in some versions of the song, they say "zapoteando," (and some lyrics transcriptions show that), which can mean "to chop" or "to beat" (among other things), so ... yeah, this line is probably all wrong
2I looked at pictures of this tree. The inner wood can be dark or not so dark; the bark on the outside can be kind of reddish or dark ... anyway Not Pale is the sense I'm getting.

The line that grabbed me when I was first listening was the ejercito de estrellas la seguía (an army/host of stars followed it), and when I understood that the next line meant "studding it with light and legend," I was very hearts-for-eyes.

The story goes that Guillermo Cubillos commissioned this giant pirogue to ferry goods between El Banco in the south and Chimichagua, to the north (see helpful map).

According to the dramatization on this page, the pirogue set out for its maiden voyage on November 1, 1929, met a storm, and sank. (The dramatization is done by children, and they do a super-charming job, but apart from the performance quality, the dramatization has all kinds of details--the names of all the oarsmen, what the pirogue was carrying--I'm not sure if all of this stuff is known fact or if creative liberties have been taken, but the dramatization was created in Chimicagua itself, so maybe it's all true?)

I love that page, by the way--It's a subpage of a project called "Las Fronteras Cuentan" (The Borders Count), created by the government to highlight and share the stories and traditions of marginalized parts of Colombia:
Radialistas, indígenas, jóvenes, mujeres, campesinos y diversos colectivos de comunicación son los encargados de investigar y narrar las historias sobre sus territorios de frontera.

And on the page on the story of Guillermo Cubillos, I found out that the "beaches of love" are in an area called la Ciénaga de Zapatosa (Marsh of Zapatosa), which is--so the page tells me--the largest reserve of freshwater in the world. I started out with fun music and found a folktale, a marsh, and an effort to amplify the stories of marginalized people in Colombia. I feel **happy**.

This entry was originally posted at https://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/910458.html. Comments are welcome at either location.


Apr. 14th, 2019 10:39 pm (UTC)
Isn't it great when a simple quest turns up treasures?

The pan pipe version was fun.
Apr. 15th, 2019 02:37 am (UTC)
It really is! What a pleasure to explore.



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