The unfortunate Chacumbele(s)

The unfortunate Chacumbele(s)

Heritage & Traditions

Irene Ferrer

Without intending to do that, a circus artist from the first half of the 20th century went down to posterity in Cuba as the protagonist of one of the most popular phrases in the Creole language: He ended up as Chacumbele ... he killed himself.

The expression, apparently inspired by the life of José Ramón Chacón Vélez and reflected in a song, alludes to those who have made bad decisions with negative consequences for them. Born in Santa Cruz del Sur, in the current province of Camagüey on November 9, 1912, and a circus fan since childhood, he survived a lethal tsunami in 1932 when he climbed with his dog Lolita on a high carob tree, but lost his family.

Later, he settled in Havana, where he managed to enter the Santos and Artigas circus as a disciple of the famous Polish trapeze artist Bronislav Korchinsky and, with the nickname of Chacumbeles, he became a talent, to the point of being the first Cuban to perform a triple jump without a net.

There, he also found love ... and heartbreak, in relations with the beautiful Ilona Szabó, called "The Hungarian Doll", with whom he established a relationship. During the performance of one of his numbers, he saw his mistress from above kissing the black American artist Harry Silver, who had just arrived to the tent.

Chacumbeles, disturbed, fell to the ground, suffered several serious fractures and crushed his dog Lolita who was under him. The trapeze artist remained in the hospital for six months and as a result of the accident, he was lame and without strength in his hands, so the world of the circus ended for him.

The unfortunate artist joined the police force, but one night, depressed, he shot himself with his service pistol. In 1941, a guaracha composed by the musician Alejandro Mustelier and recorded by the renowned Trío Servando Díaz immortalized the story of Chacón Vélez: “Chacumbele” (without the final s). Chacumbele, who was already bored with suffering, / he himself killed himself. / Poor little Chacumbele, he killed himself ...