Fernando Ortiz

Fernando Ortiz

Cuban ethnologist and anthropologist who contributed to the development of those disciplines in Latin America. He studied the Afro-Cuban influences in the Cuban culture and conducted archaeological studies of the indigenous cultures of Cuba.

He was born in Havana, Cuba, on July 16, 1881. He earned his law degree at Madrid University in Spain. He was a professor at the University of Havana, the founder of several journals and numerous institutions, a member and director of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country and the Academy of History. He was a member of the Cuban House of Representatives and important political and intellectual groups in the history of the island republic.

In 1902, he identified with the ideas of criminology positivism which led him to write the book Los negros brujos (1906). This text was the first in the “Hampa afrocubana” series, which included other works that pointed to the importance of cultures of African origin in Cuba. In his later studies, he pursued the topic in greater depth, covering various disciplines such as musicology, history, ethnography, linguistics, sociology, religion and mythology, including multiple spaces and components (Hispanic, African, indigenous) of the Cuban culture and nationality.

This point of view strongly influenced the intellectual movements recognizing the black influence in the Americas. It played an important role in the development of a critical perspective on the Latin American republics and the formation of international post-colonial thinking. He expanded his ideas in more than 100 published works in which one of his most important theoretical points was the concept of transculturation, as described in the book Contrapunteo cubano del azúcar y el tabaco (1940), as a tool for understanding cultural change and the emergence of new cultural forms.

Archaeology was an important part of his work and he helped establish institutions and spaces that facilitated the study of the indigenous past and the protection of cultural heritage. Among his most notable efforts was the founding of the National Board of Archaeology and Ethnology, of which he was chairman, and his emphasis on including archaeology and indigenous topics in the National History Congresses.

Following archaeological work he did in 1913, he published Historia de la arqueología indocubana in 1922. In that work, building on the text Cuba Before Columbus by Mark R. Harrington, he developed the most complete study to that date of archaeology in Cuba.

He was a pioneer in research on the cave drawings on the island and contributed the first study of the drawings at Punta del Este, one of the most important sites in Cuba, which was identified as part of a cavern ceremonial space. Among his main texts are Las cuatro culturas indias de Cuba (1943) and El huracán, su mitología y sus símbolos (1947). The term transculturation continues to be an important tool today in understanding archaeological thinking related to processes of cultural change and ethnogenesis.

Fernando Ortiz Fernández is a key figure in the social sciences in Latin America and is considered the most important Cuban ethnologist and anthropologist. He has been called the third discoverer of Cuba, after Christopher Columbus and Alejandro de Humboldt. He died in the city of his birth on April 10, 1969.

Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: April 12, 2012.

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