Although their face is not present in the iconography and although it took almost 200 years for the historiography to take care of claiming their feat, it is a fact that women were key to achieving independence. A clear example is Carabobo.
Doing justice with the participation of women in the war of independence is still a pending issue in national historiography; However, in the light of new investigations carried out with a critical, colonial and insurgent perspective, little by little the axiomatic has been revealed: that the female gender was not only present, but also played a vital role in achieving the objective of the emancipation.
In the first place, because it is proven that the woman took up arms and was on the battlefield; and secondly, because as it continues to do today, the women took care behind the scenes of the care work that supported the entire structure that led the project. All this despite the fact that his face has been made invisible from the story and official iconography and that only a few names have survived that effort to build an epic only full of male heroes.
An emblematic example is the Battle of Carabobo. Regarding the bicentennial of this patriotic feat, it is worth highlighting how women had a voice, took part in performing core tasks and how their determination and courage contributed to victory. Were women involved in the action that sealed independence? Let's see what the story says today.
Heroines in the field
It was almost half a century since the Battle of Carabobo, on June 21, 1870, when this review appeared published by the Colombian press La Illustration, entitled The memorable Battle of Carabobo in 1821. I remember this day, very glorious for the republican arms under the Colombian flag, in which it is detailed:
“On the 23rd, the greatest possible decency or luxury in dress was prevented in general order; and it was arranged that the luggage be left there, and about two hundred women who accompanied the army, leaving the necessary cattle to ration them until they could be reunited with their husbands. This precaution was not enough to prevent two women dressed as men among those killed in the battle ”.
It is one of the few testimonies that speak of women active on the battlefield in Carabobo. If you are willing to investigate beyond the heroic stories about Bolívar, Páez or El Negro Primero, other sources emerge.
For example, about the willingness of women to take up arms in pursuit of emancipation, there is much earlier evidence, contemporary to the historical event and even in the first person. For example, the letter signed in 1811 by twenty Barinese ladies to the governor of the province requesting their incorporation to the war work. In this letter the ladies claim:
“We are clothed with a firm character and putting aside the weakness that is attributed to us, we know in the day the dangers to which the country is exposed, he calls us to his help and it would be ungrateful to deny him a life that he sustains. The female sex, sir, does not fear the horrors of war: the explosion of the cannon will only encourage you, its fire will ignite the desire for your freedom, which it will sustain at all costs as a gift of the national soil. In this virtue and desiring in the service, to make up for the defect of the soldiers who have departed for S. Fernando, they beg Your Excellency to keep them in mind and assign them where it deems convenient, under the assumption that they will not omit sacrifices that concern security and defense ”.
Caretakers of life
However, it is vitally important to reassess the work of women in independence beyond their work associated with warfare, which, as we see, did exist. And it is that just as domestic work is still not claimed today, but it is what sustains life in society, it has also happened with great historical events, and the war of independence and the Battle of Carabobo are no exception.
There are extensive mentions of work such as nurses, healers, laundresses, seamstresses, cooks, midwives, among other occupations related to care and logistics exercised by women who went with the army, in many cases being wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces of the military combatants, in a motley army that also included wealthy whites as well as mixed and blacks.
Inés Quintero tells it in her book La Palabra Ignorada. The woman: a hidden witness in the history of Venezuela, who refers to the story of Dominga Ortiz de Páez, wife of José Antonio Páez.
Quintero recounts how since Páez took up arms, just as she led the soldiers on the battlefield, Dominga led the army of women and men dedicated to the work of support and food, in long campaigns of nomadic life through the full plains. of precariousness. And she also took the lead when her husband required her support, even releasing him from jail on risky rescue missions.
“The stay in the Andes lasted for almost the entire year of 1814. Dominga and many other women accompanied the troops from one place to another, from camp to camp: they carried their children, served as support in the rear, comforted the wounded, cured the sick and fed themselves with whatever there was; meanwhile, the fighting was being fought in different places in the Andes: in Bailadores, in the Mucuchíes moor, in the surroundings of Mérida ”, Quintero collects.
Certainly there were platoons of "troperas" and "soldaderas", as they were called. There were also women spies, mail women, finance women and women in the civil resistance. But it is necessary to vindicate the domestic workers, those who guaranteed bread, clothing, hygiene, health, as well as the reproduction and persistence of life, without whom the rest of the struggle could not have been consummated. It is the history that is repeated a thousand times.
Ask the obvious
Historian Anabel Díaz emphasizes that in order to make any analysis about female participation in Carabobo, it is first necessary to enter the ocean of the past with an unprejudiced look and willing to put aside the colonial perspective, which in this case is configured from the patriarchy, to thus elaborating new hypotheses in the light of another paradigm.
Díaz details how it is widely documented that women in the colony had an active role within society in actions of a political and economic nature, and this not only in relation to the wealthy castes but also to the brown and black sectors. So for this scholar, the question about whether females participated in independence is to ask the obvious, and it constitutes the first question we must ask ourselves before diving into the subject. Assuming that half the population did not participate in an event that moved the social foundations is in itself to assume a flawed position, she values.
“Venezuela would not have resisted if the women of Venezuela had not decided to resist in the war of independence. It is women who play a fundamental role and are involved in the process from the first editions, from the first conspiracies. And then we see Joaquina Sánchez. Ah, but are we going to think it was just her? Or that it was only Luisa Cáceres or Josefa Camejo or Juana La Avanzadora? It is not like this. It cannot be that the few women who participated were extraordinary beings. For an extraordinary being to emerge with this level of leadership is because there were many who were involved and then they were able to stand out, ”said Díaz.
This historian highlights that much of the record regarding female participation in the War of Independence has a testimony in the royalist archives, since in their documents on summary procedures they mention women prosecuted, accused of supporting the patriot side.
And with regard specifically to the Battle of Carabobo, Díaz values the female presence in the field, taking into account the thousands of male casualties that the war had already claimed.
“There were battalions of women. Comrades from the General Archive of the Nation, reviewing the archives of the Spanish army, have discovered that they faced battalions of women, especially some who came from Barcelona but that the names were stolen from the archives. As the war progressed, the participation of women increased because we lost a large amount of the male population in the war. There are no known names of women who have participated directly in Carabobo but we know that it was very unlikely that they would go to that battle without women because we were already in a stage of the war where we had lost a large part of the male population, but also because women were openly incorporated into the war of independence ”, she highlighted.
“It is not that the war would not have been won without the women. It is that it would not have been possible to go to war without women ”, he emphasized.
Write a new story
For Díaz, the erasure of the women of Carabobo and the struggle for independence constitutes a deliberate act related to the establishment of a paradigm of society led by white male owners. In this specific case, with the Páez government associated with the elites, which decided to rewrite what happened to enhance the feat from their perspective.
Some emblematic examples are eloquent testimony to this statement. Regarding the Battle of Carabobo, neither the painting on the deed painted by Martín Tovar y Tovar, nor the Autobiography of José Antonio Páez, nor the fictionalized story of Eduardo Blanco, Venezuela Heroica, deal with giving a name or a face to no female participant.
Opening the compass, none of the 24 states of the Republic have a woman's name, and only one of the 335 municipalities of the country. Just in 2007 the first Venezuelan banknote with a female face appeared —Luis Cáceres de Arismendi— and if we look at it from the National Pantheon, there are only nine women among hundreds of men, six of whom entered in a row in recent years. “That the names of the women who made up the female battalions do not appear must be due to some deliberate process to make us invisible, to try to ensure that in the new social order that was established after independence, women would once again be withdrawn at home as at one point they aspired to it, and I also believe that the entire historiographical discourse was mounted on the great proprietary white male characters as the protagonists of the heroic deed. “I believe that we must do justice to those hundreds or thousands of women who participated, died and left their lives on the battlefields, with those hundreds of thousands of women who conspired, who supported the cause and with whom we have not done justice. historical. We must vindicate that role that women played because without her, without that participation, we would not have achieved independence ”.
“I believe that we must do justice to those hundreds or thousands of women who participated, died and left their lives on the battlefields, with those hundreds of thousands of women who conspired, who supported the cause and with whom we have not done justice. historical. We must vindicate that role that women played because without her, without that participation, we would not have achieved independence ”.
Dominga Ortiz was Páez's wife. She was in charge of leading the logistics in the plains campaign.
The new readings of history seek to do justice to the thousands of women made invisible in the war of independence.
The woman was erased from the iconography of Carabobo
The Colombian Juana Velasco made the patriotic uniforms in the Battle of Boyacá.
Bolívar and the superiority of women
A shocking testimony about Bolívar and his conception of the feminine gender is established in the letter that the Liberator himself wrote to Juana Velasco, in Tunja in July 1819. This woman actively participated in the preparations for the Battle of Boyacá, making patriot uniforms with their own efforts and financial resources.
“Our ancestors considered women inferior to men, and we consider them our equal. Both of us are greatly mistaken, because women are far superior to us. God has endowed her with great insight and sensitivity, and has placed very delicate fibers in her heart, very sensitive cords to everything noble and elevated. Patriotism, admiration and love make those strings vibrate, and from there are charity, self-denial and sacrifice, before whose charity and self-denial I reveal myself with respect, they would not have been able to perform the miracle that they have done and that we all feel. Filled with two sentiments to which more noble and elevated, charity and patriotism, they have clothed the naked, satiated the hungry, relieved the aching, and strengthened the deceased. The Patriots have behaved wonderfully, but this was their duty. But above all this shines the warm patriotic sentiment of the ladies, with which they have restored to a lot of disheartened and hesitant men their old verve, their impetuous courage and their dead energies; and even more: they have restored their faith. Without this miracle the Spaniards would have herded us like a herd of lambs. But that will not happen: a cause that has such support is incontestable, and an army driven by such stimuli is invincible ”.