The town of Santa María de Baynoa was founded in 1767 by Manuel GARCIA Barreras on the site of his finca called “Manajay.” In 1820, his grandson Francisco GARCIA-Barrera y Montero de Espinosa was granted the title of Count de Baynoa by Fernando VII primary on the basis of this achievement. In four years, Baynoa will commemorate the 250th anniversary of its founding.

One would think that Manuel GARCIA Barreras and his descendents the Counts de Baynoa would be the centerpiece of Baynoan history. But, no, we are quite forgotten: absentee landlords who last collected their rents 100 years ago and never again concerned themselves with the wellspring of their nobility. Perhaps we deserve our anonymity, but we certainly don’t deserve to lose our preeminence to a donkey. Yet such has been our unlucky fate.

The most famous inhabitant of Baynoa, biped or quadriped, is the “Burro de Baynoa.” No town in Cuba can boast of a more legendary mascot. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Baynoa owes its fame to its burro, not the other way around. As surely as Calabaras County itself became celebrated because of its “Celebrated Jumping Frog” did Baynoa enter the national consciousness thanks to its native donkey. Other nearby towns tried to wrest the burro from her or attempted to rear rival burros without success. Folklore is not something that can be fabricated or improvised: it is a fruit of slow growth which blooms before our eyes without catching our notice till the day when it does, and then it seems as if it had always existed.

The legend of the “Burro de Baynoa” dates to the early 1900s. The most interesting thing about this burro is that he was an ordinary burro. No great feat of strength or of intuition separated him from his race. He was a burro of temperate habits, and never courted the type of cheap fame which some of his kind achieved by guzzling beer from bottles or going door to door begging alms like a capuchin (the monk, not the monkey). The real “Burro de Baynoa” had his pride, and, dare we say, his dignity. What he didn’t have was much of a back story. He was not the “Wandering Burro” as he’s often depicted. He had an owner, the Arenas family, and was its faithful servant. He worked at the railroad depot hauling wood and was seen by thousands of train goers on the way from Havana to Matanzas and back. When they spotted the donkey, they knew that they had arrived at Baynoa, or, in most cases, were that much closer to their destination, since few actually got off there, the coldest spot in all Cuba. (Baynoa holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in Cuba, 6 degrees Celsius/43 Fahrenheit). All that wood the donkey was hauling was used to feed the wood-burning stoves on the trains. So that’s all there is to the story of Baynoa’s famous inhabitant.

How the “Burro de Baynoa” has impacted the lives of the human inhabitants of Baynoa is another story. Baynoa probably has the fewest inhabitants of any town in Cuba. This is not actually the case, but it’s the effect anyway. Most Baynoans, when asked where they are from, will answer “Jaruco,” the “big” town 50km away. If they say “Baynoa,” the long-dead donkey will be trotted out again (do donkeys trot?). The suggestion, of course, is that the townspeople of Santa María de Baynoa are themselves like donkeys, or to make my meaning clearer, like asses. It is no different for counts than it is for commoners, or, rather, it’s much worse: the dignity of the title is demolished at once by its denomination, as if a donkey’s head had been somehow grafted onto the family coat-of-arms. But there’s nothing to be done about it: the donkey that would have been the last straggler in the Count’s retinue now leads the parade. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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