The fetishes of Fernando Ortiz

Jorge Pavez Ojeda


A materialistic way to account for the continuities and discontinuities of the extended work of Cuban researcher, writer, and politician Fernando Ortiz, is to follow the trajectory of his fetishes. From the fetishes of Italian and Spanish criminal anthropology, to the national and ethnic libraries and archives, going through tobacco, sugar, and Afro-Cuban drums, and objects—things always have a central place in the thought and writing of the Cuban polygraphist. I will review here some moments of the relationship between Ortiz and his fetishes to understand their ethnographic agencies and their importance to Ortiz’s exploration of Caribbean modernity. My reading will transit from the counter-fetishist politics of Los negros brujos (1906) to the organologic fetishization of Los instrumentos de la música afrocubana (1952–1955), going through the double fetishism of the transculturation of tobacco and sugar in the Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar (1940).

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/713674