A B E L A R D O N Ú Ñ E Z D E A R C E
from CINCO POETAS AMAZÓNICOS BOLIVIANOS
Translated from the Spanish by Nico Austin Suárez and the author
In 1967, a slim diary was found together with the twenty-two volumes of the manuscript of Altas cosas [High Matters] in the church of the town of Loén. The manuscript's author was the Chronicler Abelardo Núñez de Arce; the name of the diarist is unknown.
The diarist provides a brief description of Núñez de Arce: “He has a narrow face; his skin fair, his hair black, his nose straight, the eyes brown and piercing. He seems always wary as though expecting an ambush. But he is not hostile though a man of few words, except when narrating historical deeds which he recalls in astonishing precise detail” ( September 24, 1542 ).
The diarist writes that Núñez de Arce was born in Santo Domingo or, more likely, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia , but he does not mention the year. The roving life Núñez led and the paucity of archives from the time, may explain that uncertainty. Or did the diarist have personal motives to omit facts? Was Abelardo a Spaniard, a criollo or a mestizo? The diarist does not say. He calculates that in 1542 Núñez de Arce was around thirty years old.
During a sea voyage to Spain, the “Alcántara,” the frigate in which Abelardo traveled, had been shipwrecked in the Caribbean . He, and three of the ship's sailors, managed to swim to a small island only to find themselves enslaved by the natives of the place. The days extended into months, the months into years. An attack by English pirates changed his condition of slave of the aborigines to prisoner of the English who forced his cooperation as a guide in incursions against Spanish ports that provided precious metals. Finally, in the tumult of one of the many battles he witnessed, he managed to escape to the Araucanian mountains. From there he set on the hard walk to Cuzco where he received the help of the local authorities to return to Loén, a region in present-day Bolivian Amazonia.
It's conceivable that Abelardo's difficult and chaotic Caribbean experience influenced his attitude to the chronicles he was commissioned to preserve leading him to consider its antinomic possibility: the absence of documents and of memory as such, that is to say, the presence of collective amnesia. Not surprisingly, after his return to Loén the metaphor of forgetfulness informs Núñez de Arce's works, many of which he entitled “Letters to Amnesia.” Here we include one: “Letter to Amnesia # 2,046.”
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