Sunday, December 30, 2012

Majestad Negra by Luis Pales Matos with English Translation

Luis Palés Matos (March 20, 1898-February 23, 1959) was a Puerto Rican poet who used the unique blend of Afro-Caribbean words with Spanish to create what we call Afro-Antillian poetry. In his poems, he spoke openly about the African diaspora and the social issues that were affecting them. His collection of Afro-Antillian poetry made him one of the leaders of the Negrismo movement. Majestad Negra, or Black Majesty, is an example of that movement; The tale about the sensuous African Borincana. 

I hope you can appreciate the recited version posted below, as well as the English translation by Paquito D'Rivera. Please note that some of the words used in this Afro-Antillian poem are made up, as they are used to add a drumlike musical sound to the words and others are simply words that are autonomous only to the diaspora in the region at the time. 

By: Luis Palés Matos

Por la encendida calle antillana
Va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba
--Rumba, macumba, candombe, bámbula---
Entre dos filas de negras caras.
Ante ella un congo--gongo y maraca--
ritma una conga bomba que bamba.
Culipandeando la Reina avanza,
Y de su inmensa grupa resbalan
Meneos cachondos que el congo cuaja
En ríos de azúcar y de melaza.
Prieto trapiche de sensual zafra,
El caderamen, masa con masa,
Exprime ritmos, suda que sangra,
Y la molienda culmina en danza.
Por la encendida calle antillana
Va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba.
Flor de Tórtola, rosa de Uganda,
Por ti crepitan bombas y bámbulas;
Por ti en calendas desenfrenadas
Quema la Antilla su sangre ñáñiga.
Haití te ofrece sus calabazas;
Fogosos rones te da Jamaica;
Cuba te dice: ¡dale, mulata!
Y Puerto Rico: ¡melao, melamba!
Sus, mis cocolos de negras caras.
Tronad, tambores; vibrad, maracas.
Por la encendida calle antillana
--Rumba, macumba, candombe, bámbula--
Va Tembandumba de la Quimbamba.

Black Majesty
Translated by Paquito D'Rivera

Down the scorching Antillean street
Goes Tembandumba of the Quimbamba*
Between two rows of black faces
Before her, a congo band thumps
A bombastic conga—gongos and maracas.
Steatopygously the Queen steps up
And her immense buttocks with drums collide
So that seductive wiggles slide
In curdled rivers of sugar and molasses.
Brown-skinned mill of sweet sensation,
Her colossal hips, those massive mortars,
Make rhythms ooze, sweat bleed like blood,
And all this grinding ends in dance.
Down the scorching Antillean street
Goes Tembandumba of the Quimbamba.
Flower of Tórtola, Rose of Uganda,
For you the bombas and bambulas crackle.
For you these feverish nights go wild
And set on fire Antilla’s ñáñiga blood.
Haiti offers you its gourds;
Jamaica pours its fiery rums;
Cuba tells you, give us what you got, mulata!
And Puerto Rico: melao, melamba!
Get down, my black-faced love-crazed rascals.
Jangle, drums, and jiggle, maracas.
Down the scorching Antillean street
Goes Tembandumba of the Quimbamba
--Rumba, macamba, candombe, bámbula. 

*Quimbamba: The chimerical region (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic & Cuba)


  1. Thank you so very much for this. I just heard it performed at 5C Cultural Center for a fundraiser for Puertoriquenos who participated in a strike at the University of Puerto Rico and they are facing jail time. We raised funds for their legal defense.

  2. Gracias por la traduccion. Se la pude explicar a mi esposo.