From the chapter “Fire in The Barrios”:
Omar Cabezas from Fire From the Mountain:
The Making of a Sandinista.*
“When I left for the mountains I knew the Frente was behind me, as Frente, as a front. I wasn’t going alone. I knew when I left Subtiava a whole generation of students was behind me, but more important–and here I may be guilty of lack of modesty–a generation of students that in some way bore the seal of my own combat.
This was the student movement that later spread throughout the country. For the students we recruited in Leon went back to their own provinces and initiated work in the barrios. They were the first contacts of the regional underground of the FSLN.
So as I was saying, I left for the mountains with absolute confidence, not that I would come out alive–but confident of victory. Mainly because I felt that Subtiava was behind me. And when I left for the mountains, Subtiava, that was power.
In 1972 or ’73 we had our first mass demonstrations. Before that only students demonstrated. Never people from the barrios. I remember once we called a demonstration, I can’t remember now what it was for, but it brought together two currents, one from the university, the other from Subtiava. We had the capacity to mobilize masses in Subtiava, but in this march it was mainly people we’d already recruited in the other barrios, the small committees. Like all the mobilizations in Subtiava, this one was impressive. One long street runs from Subtiava to the cathedral, the students marching from the university to the park, the Subtiavans from Subtiava.
We had discovered the Indian origins of the Subtiavans and encouraged these as a strength; we tried to transpose the old ancestral struggles of Adiac, their ancient chief. And to remind them how they’d been dispossessed, humiliated. How both Liberals and Conservatives had bullied them and ripped of their lands How Sandino had rebelled just as Adiac had rebelled. And then there was the question of the bourgeois classes having all the power.
Before the Subtiavans started marching, they beat their atabales–you know what an atabal is? It’s a drum, a kettle drum. So the local committees went all through the barrios beating their drums: barangan-barangān . . . barangan- barangān. It’s a muted, serious sound; its not cheerful, but it’s not sad either; it’s a tense sound: barangan- barangān -barangan- barangān – barangan barangān -. They didn’t look to the sides but only marched straight ahead, barangan- barangān barangan barangān -barangan- barangān -. And the people looked out from the vacant lots, over thorny hedges, or out of their houses. And behind the drums the people came chanting, “Seven tonight in the plaza, seven tonight in the plaza.” People knew, being Sandinistas, this was a directive. So off they went to the plaza. Then, after a brief rally, they headed down the Calle Real, which is the street that goes all the way to the Central Square, the famous Calle Real. So at the head of the Subtiavans, the drums. First the drums, and behind the drums the leaders, and behind the leaders all the Indians. And the first leader was the man I met at the funeral, Magno Beruis.
So, when you saw the Subtiavans on the march, hearing their drums in the lead–baragan- barangān -barangan- barangān –you saw the stony face of the Indian, with course, straight hair, not smiling much, A serious face, not sad, and not bitter either, but grave, with a repressed rage that was just beginning to surface. And you felt a unity in the beat of the drums, a unity of rhythm and face, or of rhythm and step, or of step, rhythm and face. I don’t know what went into that unity, but you saw the Indians, with their Indian faces marching and shouting slogans, but not in the rowdy tone of the students, who were screwing around, making up catchy phrases. The Indians’ slogans were simpler. An Indian would call out, “Which way do we go?” And they all shouted back, “The way of Sandino!”
All serious looking straight ahead, and with gravity. This instilled respect and began to frighten the bourgeoisie. For this was the Indian awakening. The rebellious Indian going back to Sandino and projecting Sandino forward with greater historical depth, forward into the struggle against an exploitative class society. So when you saw hundreds of Indians on the march, all serious–women, children; old, heavy, stocky, tall; rough, strong, men–you imagined that it wasn’t just a Subtiavan march, but a march of Indians that encompassed all of Latin America: the Bolivian Indian, the Peruvian Indian, the Chilean Indian, the Indians of the copper and tin mines, and of the rubber plantations. I realized at that moment they were marching not only in the Calle Real but over all of Latin America, over the Andes, over history, over the future with a firm solid step.
*Fire From the Mountain; Omar Cabezas, English Translation by Kathleen Weaver, Crown Publishers, New York (1985) pages 39-41.
For a New York Times Review of Fire From the Mountain from the year of its publication 1985 “Organizing the Revolution”