Treasures in Benamahoma

When we visited Benamahoma, well first it took us a few hours to learn to pronounce the town’s name. Beh-Na-Ma-OH-Ma. But in all seriousness, it was only meant to be a stop-off point on our way to Grazalema to speak with the mayoress about her town’s history of repression and about the fosa de las mujeres or “mass grave of the women” that was linked to Grazalema. Ana María and her companions had spoken to us about that site a little that Monday and this was Friday and we were supposed to learn more.

That was when we met Joaquin. Our contact Carlos had already described him as a real character, but that was almost an understatement. Later in the trip when we mention his name to other people we were interviewing, they always responded, “Oh, he doesn’t talk much at all!” And that was true. If there was a lesson to learn that day it was a lot like the lesson from Wednesday: don’t have too many expectations about where your day is going when you’re researching because you never know where your contacts will take you or how much they have to offer.

So instead of chatting with Joaquin and heading to Grazalema, we spent the whole day in Benamahoma with Joaquin as our guide. He spoke of his own family, of his curious past and the way he started recording his neighbors’ stories when he was still a child. But he also introduced us to what felt like the whole town. After we interviewed Joaquin at a table outside a cafe, he called over to an older gentleman having coffee with a woman and said, “These Americans are with historical memory—come talk to us when you’re done!” And when he (Euripides was his name) was done, he came over and did not even hesitate to tell us the story of his father the poet as his son watched on with a look of great admiration.

Everywhere we went the Benamahometonas were welcoming and eager to share their memories and their families’ memories. But it was not quite so simple as that. Certainly, they were the picture of Andalusian hospitality, offering us coffee and a place to stay if we returned, but there was also another layer to their kindness. When Joaquin introduced us to a new person, he always indicated that we were Americans come to document and disseminate the story of Benamahoma—a town that was the site of unparalleled violence and repression. They saw us not as ordinary historical memory researchers, but as researches from another country that were capable of making more and more people aware of what happened in their town, in their country. I think they were especially interested in talking to us for that reason. In Spain, the subject is not broached much is schools or in the media, so to find us…students and faculty/staff from a university in the US who were interested and capable of (hopefully) making others interested was something many of them seemed to think was a great opportunity.

But I’m getting away from the treasures we found. Not too much, because the people of Benamahoma are a treasure in themselves, but they also showed us some really great objects of memory before they day was done.

Euripides left to bring us a poem he wrote about his father.

Joaquin had a letter that his grandfather wrote to his grandmother where the bottom half of the letter is written in lemon juice so the Nationalists wouldn’t notice the true subversive contents of the letter. The inked letter above was cheery in order to get by inspection.

Joaquin’s mother had currency from the Franco Era with his face everywhere you looked. Imagine how disturbing that would be if you knew he was responsible for the death of one of your loved ones.

But one woman had both a watch that belonged to her grandfather that her father kept at his bedside every night and two amazing original paintings from the Republic. Beautiful young women draped in the Republican flag with white doves around them. They were truly amazing and what was more amazing was that this woman, Lucía, had kept them hidden throughout the entire dictatorship at great personal risk and they had survived for us to see them hanging in her living room to this day.

Benamahoma was really an incredible place for us to do research in.