Oral Tradition

A hidden treasure buried upstream in Naranjito, songs, scary stories, lullabies, pasteles, and prayers. What do all these have in common? They are all part of the oral tradition handed down to me by my family. Oral tradition is a method of communication that has existed for centuries as a means of sharing heroic stories, deep grounded beliefs, traditions, customs, culture, fables, even recipes and etiquette. Since I will be teaching my students about oral tradition, I started thinking about some things I have learned from word of mouth.

The importance of oral tradition, is that is cements our deepest values with tangible narratives.

One of the first things I remember are some chidren's lullabies, such as:

La linda manita que tiene el bebe

La linda manita que tiene el bebe,
que linda que bella
que hermosa es.

roughly translated means

A cute little hand the baby has,
its beautiful and
lovely, it is.

All the while the singer is turning his or her hand one way or another and finally the baby in time begins to turn his or her hand, too, whenever they hear the song sung. The first time the baby does this, there is always much ado about it.

Another song,

Pon pon, pon el dedito en el pilon

Pon pon, pon el dedito en el pilon,
Pon, pon, pon, el dedito en el pilon.

This is all entertainment for a baby. It is comforting music and I sang it to my children. The parent is pointing and touching the palm of the opposite hand with their index finger while singing saying we are putting our finger in a mortar. Not meant to be logical, only meant to be fun.

The following is a short ballad, Mambru se fue a la guerra about a young man who went to war and dies there. The ballad, retells the story always adding the refrain, que dolor ,que dolor, que pena, which means, what pain, what pain, what a shame. It conveys the concept that war was painful, and that it is not good, that people die in wars.

Mambru se fue a la guerra

Mambru se fue a la guerra,
que dolor, que dolor, que pena.

Mambru se fue a la guerra,
no se cuando vendra,
do re me, fa so la
no cuando vendra.

Alla viene un barquito,
que dolor, que dolor, que pena
Alli viene un barquito,
no se cuando vendra
do re mi, fa so la,
no se cuando vendra.

Mambru murio en la guerra
que dolor que dolor que pena
Mambru murio en la guerra
Ya no volvera,
do re mi, fa so la,
nunca volvera. (More or less, someone might know the exact words to this last stanza.)

Finally my favorite, un llanten, or a wail or lament style of singing very typical of criolla women. I understand this sad way of singing comes from Spain. I learned it from my mother and have heard it from other ladies in PR. You would think they would be glad to get these kids asleep, but after a while the singing really reaches your heart. I added some words to the original, and in fact when I sang it to my kids, I interjected their names, one by one and they loved it.

Ya es de Noche

A dormir, a dormiiiir, pajaro al monteeeee,
a dormir, a dormiiiiir, pajaro de mi alma, al monte,
a dormir, a dormiiiiiir, pajaro de mi alma al monte.

Que ya es de noooooochhhhheeeeeeeeeeee
a dormir a dormiiiiir
a dormiiirrrrrrrrr, a dormiiiiiiiirr, que ya es de noche,
que ya es de noooocheeeeeeeee,
a dormir a dormiirr,
a dormiiiiir
a dormiiiiir,
pajaro de mi alma al monteeeeeeee.


It is night time

To sleep, to sleep, little bird go on to the forest
to sleep, to sleep, bird of my heart, go to the forest
to sleep, to sleep, bird of my heart, go to the forest

Because night has fallen,
to sleep to sleep
to sleep
to sleep
bird of my heart to the forest.

Monte can also mean hill, but 99.9 percent of our hills are forested so it can mean either. So it is like telling the child to doze off to sleep imagining they are a bird finding a nest or branch to settle down to sleep. And that is how I would put my kids to sleep, and even to this day my 25 year old son, who is already a man, doesn't allow me to sing it because it knocks him out immediately. It's too funny. My eldest daughter, sings it to her daughters. There is nothing more beautiful to a mother's ears but to hear her own daughter pass on a beautiful tradition to her own children.

That is oral tradition coming full circle.


Popular Posts