Frontier Psychiatrist

RIP Hemayel Martina – Poet and Child of Curaçao

Posted on: February 17, 2011

One month before he died, Hemayel Martina gave me a copy of his debut poetry collection. We were living in South Africa and had known each other for only a day when he gave me Worried Ancestor Rest In Peace (Ansestro Preokupá Sosegá), his poetry book about the people of Curaçao, his island nation.

That first day we met, we were clearly on the same literary wavelength. For instance, we both believed that even though writing poetry was an ongoing hunt for perfection and a battle between feelings and the intellect, it wasn’t something that you could get wrong.

I read Worried Ancestor Rest In Peace slowly during our first week together; the haiku-like precision of Hemayel’s insights and explorations being too meaty to digest quickly. The book consists of 39 poems. Each poem is titled with the name of a deceased person from Curaçao, appears side-by-side in English and Papiamento, the most widely spoken language in Curaçao, and is accompanied by a photo of the ancestor in the poem.

Over the next three weeks, Hemayel and I lived together in Durban, and volunteered for a rural women’s organization. We traveled to rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal and interviewed women about abductions and rapes and forced marriages. In areas of dire poverty and no running water, we were met with unbridled happiness and generosity. And we experienced first hand—sans theory—the need for women’s rights and food safety and sustainable development. We also played with kids, kicking soccer balls, giving shoulder rides, chasing the kids around, playing zombies and human planes. To the kids, I’d like to think that we were a breath of fresh air, that we listened to them, that we were role models. But then our time was up. We had to leave. We gave our thanks, hugged, and waved goodbye from the minibus.

Back in the city of Durban, I learned more about Hemayel and his beloved island in the southern Caribbean Sea. I learned that he had never tasted the blue liqueur grown from citrus fruit on Curaçao. I learned that people from his island don’t really call themselves Curaçaon, they call themselves “children of Curaçao.”

In January, Hemayel’s time in South Africa was interrupted by a family death. He flew home to Curaçao to mourn his uncle, and to surprise his mother on her birthday. He had planned to stay only a week, and to return to South Africa to continue his volunteer work, and to do some more interviews with me.

However, a car crash in Curaçao intervened. Hemayel Martina was taken from us, and taken from the children of Curaçao.

His time had run out.

His name is now followed by brackets, a birth date, and a death date.

Hemayel Martina (October 24, 1990 – January 29, 2011).

He was twenty years old.

He has become one of Curaçao’s ancestors.

Watching our interview below, recorded just eighteen days before he died, some of his words seem prophetic and haunting, such as how he wanted his next poetry collection to be an anthology, how his goal was to encourage students to interview people about their loved ones who have died, and then write biographies and poems about them.

Lee Bob Black is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. He also directs a literacy program for Canteen Magazine. His short story “Racquetball and Morphine” appeared in Frontier Psychiatrist in September. See his web site for a transcription of his interview with Hemayel Martina.


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