Biography of Miguel Acosta Saignes (1908-1989)

Essayist, anthropologist, historian, journalist, politician and educator Venezuelan, born in St. Casimir (in the State of Aragua) on November 8, 1908, and died in Caracas on February 10, 1989. Humanist fruitful and versatile, is considered to be one of the most important figures of the Venezuelan intellectuals of the 20th century.

Born in the bosom of the family that don Miguel Delgado Acosta and Doña Adela Saignes had formed, it received since child careful academic training that allowed him to obtain a Bachelor's degree in 1927. Already based in Caracas, in the course of that same year he/she enrolled at the Central University of Venezuela to pursue a career in medicine; but soon had to abandon these studies for political reasons.

In fact, as soon as he/she had entered in the classrooms of the Faculty of medicine, the young Miguel Acosta is meant by their bitter opposition to the dictatorial regime of President Juan, and topped all the student demonstrations called to protest against its policy. Soon he/she was arrested along with several fellow who served in the same cause, and placed under arrest in the dungeons of the Rotunda; shortly thereafter, he/she was taken to the prison of Las Colonias (the current town of Araira, belonging to the State of Miranda), which became, in a subsequent transfer, the infamous Castle of Puerto Cabello, where he/she shared a cell with another leading intellectual of his time, the avant-garde poet José Pío Tamayo. During that painful period of deprivation of liberty - whose hardness and cruelty aggravated medical condition that would put an end to the life of the aforesaid Tamayo-Miguel Acosta had to perform forced labour.

Released at the end of 1929, he/she immediately returned to the underground resistance against Juan Vicente Gómez, now as a member of the Board of Directors of the bustling and dynamic Federation of students of Venezuela (FEV). Together with other young called to become, in the immediate future, in egregious figures of the 20th century - as Rodolfo Quintero - Venezuelan culture, Miguel Acosta participated actively in the decision of the University that took place on December 17, 1930, act with which the opposition gomecista students attempted to prevent general Gómez to preside over, on the campus, the events commemorating the first Centenary of the death of Simón Bolívar.

For the first five years of the Decade of the thirties, Miguel Acosta Saignes began to consolidate their working lives, leaving therefore military in more militant civic movement against the policies of Juan Vicente Gómez. Thus, accepted a position of Professor of mathematics and mandatory at the Institute San Pablo (1930-1931), which kicked off a fruitful teaching career that, throughout his life, would be marked by many milestones: Professor of mathematics and psychology in the Venezuelan Catholic School (1933-1936); Geography at the Liceo Caracas (1947); anthropology at the Pedagogical Institute of Caracas (1947); Pre-Hispanic cultures of America, anthropology and ancient ethnography of Venezuela at the Central University of Venezuela (1947); etc.

At the time who penetrated in teaching, Acosta Saignes debuted also at the beginning of the 1930s, in the press, as a contributor to the Herald, now, the voice of the student, Ultimas Noticias, El Nacional, etc. By that time, he/she was director of the Popular body spokesman of the progressive Republican party, that the own Acosta was founder and Chairman; and also founded the Gazette of America (1935) - in the company of Inocente Palacios-, and La Victoria (1936) - in collaboration with Juan Morales Lara and Alejandro Alfonso Larráin.

Worker tireless, he/she combined his dedication to teaching and their tenacious work in the media with its vocational delivery policy, sometimes underground and, in other cases, daring to go out to the fore of public life, without fear of reprisals that had already forced him to learn, in-situ, the extreme rigour of the presidios of his nation. Always linked to the Federation of students of Venezuela (FEV) - of which he/she was a delegate at the first Congress anti-imperialist students of Latin America, held in Mexico in 1935, he/she devoted himself to organizing student unions and trade union associations throughout the country, and participated in full - as already indicated above - the Foundation of the progressive Republican Party (PRP)whose forge also contributed other outstanding protagonists of political, social life and cultural Venezuelan of the 1930s, as Ernesto Silva Tellería, Carlos Irazábal and the great writer, politician and journalist Miguel Otero Silva.

This relentless political activity placed him on the front page of the public life of Venezuela, increasingly further away from the stealth and the discretion of his previous membership in clandestine movements. Thus, in 1935 Acosta Saignes was one of the signers of the "call by the unit Popular for the defense of democracy"; and, shortly afterwards, in its status as President of the Association of Escritores de Venezuela, signed the protest that this group issued against the Suppression of rights and constitutional guarantees. Is not surprising, therefore, that after the fall of Juan Vicente Gómez and the coming to power of a new authoritarian ruler - the general Eleazar López Contreras, who, despite having restored political freedom constrained by Gomez, ended up condoning electoral fraud and widespread within the Administration, Miguel Acosta Saignes corruption was considered a subversive element by the incoming Governmentthat decreed their expulsion from the country in February 1937.

After several months in hiding, finally was forced to leave Venezuela in December of that same year. Exiled in Mexico, Acosta Saignes underwent, the known away from their homeland, a cool down on his burning political and, at the same time, a strong revival of their desires and intellectual concerns. Soon he/she began to frequently collaborate in the Mexican press, but more reality-centric articles social and cultural of Latin America than in the intense and combative political activity that had been playing until then. He/She decided also to expand his academic training at the prestigious National Autonomous University of Mexico, where, after completing three years of studies in economics, warned its authentic intellectual vocation was leaning more toward history and Ethnology - above all, discipline that would end up getting a Ph.d., with a thesis entitled the trade of the Aztecs.

Immersed in this feverish intellectual work, Miguel Acosta Saignes published his first essays, all of them are based on deep research that had begun to be about economic, social and cultural reality of Latin America (and, in particular, his native Venezuela) in Mexico. It's books as large estates: the agrarian problem of Venezuela (Mexico, 1938), oil in Mexico and Venezuela (Mexico, 1941) and the Caribs of the Venezuelan coast (Mexico, 1946).

In 1946, a year after having cum laude doctorate in ethnology, Miguel Acosta Saignes returned to Venezuela, and returned to settle in Caracas, where had the opportunity to resume his teaching career as a Professor of the newly created Faculty of philosophy and letters in the Central University of Venezuela. There, at the express request of the writer Mariano Picón Salas - founder of the faculty-, the humanist of San Casimiro Dean launched, in 1947, the Department of anthropology; and also he/she participated decisively in the creation of the history section of the faculties of journalism and arts.

Newly integrated in the main literary and academic forums of his country, Acosta Saignes starred in many other initiatives that became one of the main Venezuelan cultural promoters of all time. Thus, other merits include write in the Foundation of the National Commission of indigenous (1948) and - in collaboration with Ángel Rosenblat and Rafael Olivares Figueroa- Magazine files Venezuelans of Folklore (1949), contributions that came in addition to newspapers, magazines, parties, associations and educational institutions that had already created or established before and after his exile in Mexico.

During the Decade of the fifties, already established as one of the precipuas figures of the American intelligentsia of the time, Acosta Saignes lived a fertile period of essays production, embodied in titles as notable as studies of ancient Ethnology of Venezuela (Caracas, 1954), ceramics of the Moon in the Venezuelan Andes (Caracas, 1957) and history of the Portuguese in Venezuela (Caracas1959). By amazing as it may seem, this dedication to research and writing - that, for greater confusion of friends and strangers, was able to reconcile with their teaching obligations and their duties of Manager and promoter of different bodies and institutions - not took away time to continue to expand its academic training; and so, while never being an eternal student, in 1961 he/she added to his official title of doctor of Ethnography a b.a. in geography, and only a year later reached the degree of PhD in anthropology.

Nonetheless he/she would give printing new studies and trials that came to confirm, in practice, the real scope of this intellectual appropriation that trumpeted their qualifications. And so, after publication, the same year that earned a doctorate for the second time, his famous studies of folklore Venezuelan (Caracas, 1962), fought in a new and ambitious project which, after five years, would give fruit one of his masterpieces: life of slaves in Venezuela (Caracas, 1967). Between the publication of both titles, the doctor Acosta Saignes took other leadership roles as relevant as the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, who played in two different periods (1965-1968 and 1968-1971).

Tireless, 1970s worker of St. Casimir humanist reissued a masterpiece, Bolívar: action and utopia of man's difficulties (Caracas, 1977), which was followed by a lucky essay that revealed him as a specially trained for artistico-literaria prose writer: qualitative age (Caracas, 1978). Already septuagenario, he/she published another remarkable couple nature essay, entitled secret time Sonia Sanoja (Caracas, 1981).

Shortly before his death - struck in Caracas in early 1989, Miguel Acosta Saignes was the subject of many tributes which yielded him the most important cultural and academic institutions of their nation. They include the tributados by the National Academy of history (1986) and the Central University of Venezuela.


One of the most representative of the intellectual work of Acosta Saignes features is the multidisciplinary approach, reflected not only in the variety of approaches that addressed the main themes of his work, but also in their continuous assimilation of the contents of innumerable subjects (ethnography, geography, history, anthropology, sociology, journalism, literature, pedagogy, folklore, etc.). This very remarkable breadth of miras - which allowed, among other achievements, to produce a work of undeniable scientific rigor, without incurring the coldness pedantic or distanced from the official academic - patent is therefore in the richness and variety of its literature, which fits to distinguish five fundamental titles: estates: the agrarian problem of Venezuela (Mexico: Popular Ed., 1938), Venezuela (Caracas former Ethnology studies(: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1954), Venezuelan folklore studies (Caracas: Venezuela Central University, 1962), life of slaves in Venezuela (Caracas: Ed. Hesperides, 1967) and Bolívar: action and utopia of man's difficulties (La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1977).

The first of them, estates... (1938), miguel Acosta was revealed, at thirty years of age, as one of the most lucid and, at the same time thinking heads, bold on the Venezuelan intellectual scene of the 20th century. Willing to tackle - for the first time in the cultural history of his people - the complicated Venezuelan agricultural problem, their nation, delved into the historical analysis of numerous specific aspects of rural life but also in other circumstances of valid application anywhere in the world (v. gr., the negative effect of imperialism in the agricultural societies).

Miguel Acosta of Venezuela (1954) former Ethnology studies, offered a detailed description of the ways of life of indigenous peoples during the colonial period; and in his third major work, studies of Venezuelan folklore (1962) examined specific cultural creations of their nation, with special attention to the genuine art of social and ethnic groups who were victims of colonial exploitation.

In this line of work - which deals with the living conditions of the exploited and disadvantaged - it should be locate his fourth masters work, lives of slaves... (1967), where Acosta Saignes placed special emphasis on the paradox that the entire economy of a society they held only in the pillar of slavery, given that black slaves were the main - and almost unique - producing force. Finally, in its elaborate approach to the figure of el Libertador - Bolivar... (1977)-, the humanist of San Casimiro underlined the importance of Simón Bolívar in the history of Venezuela as a man emerged from a concrete reality: the Venezuelan people.

Aside from these five capital works in the history of Venezuelan 20th century culture and thinking, Miguel Acosta Saignes gave to press other titles as notable as life and miracles of the Royal Creole (Caracas, 1933), oil in Mexico and Venezuela (Mexico, 1941), the Caribs of the Venezuelan coast (Mexico, 1946), the pre-Hispanic cultural area of the Venezuelan Andes (Caracas1952), Alejandro de Humboldt, 1769-1859 (Caracas, 1955), ethnohistory of Venezuela: Prehispanic (Caracas, 1968), trade in the pre-Hispanic Mexico (Mexico, 1975), history of the Portuguese in Venezuela (Caracas, 1977) and the Moon ceramics and other folkloric studies (Caracas, 1990 [posthumous ed.]).


LE RIVEREND, July. "miguel Acosta Saignes: example", in Rev. Casa de las Américas, XXX, no. 175. Havana, 1989, pp. 133-136.

CORTÉS RODULFO, Santos. Miguel Acosta Saignes. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, Facultad de Humanidades y Educación, 1970.

ROJAS, Reinaldo C and ABRAHAM Bull, R. Miguel Acosta Saignes. Bibliographic collection and hemerographic. Valencia: Vadell brothers, 1984.