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33 posts categorized "Latin America"

25 October 2018

Wilson Bueno, Portuñol/Portunhol, and Interlanguages

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The OED defines an interlanguage as ‘An artificial auxiliary language’ or ‘A linguistic system typically developed by a student before acquiring fluency in a foreign language, and containing elements of both his or her native tongue and of the target language’. For me, this doesn’t quite cover the geographical and cultural circumstances from which many hybrid languages originate, especially around border areas. For example, the term ‘Spanglish’ could describe: a) the language spoken by an American teenager of Mexican origin, freely mixing English words into Spanish grammatical structures; b) a native English speaker, in the US or elsewhere, attempting to speak incomplete or imperfect Spanish; or c) the common language spoken between a Mexican and an American in a border town such as El Paso or Laredo.

Whatever the definition, the inherently unstable nature of interlanguages (Wikipedia lists hundreds of them, including Camfranglish, Scots Yiddish and Greeklish), makes it hard to think imagine them having clear rules, let alone a literature. The Portuguese/Spanish hybrid predominantly spoken on either side of the borders between Brazil and Uruguay, Paraguay or Argentina doesn’t even have a single spelling, as the choice between ‘Portuñol’ and ‘Portunhol’ depends on what you consider to be the ‘default’ language. What’s more, it varies hugely even in this (relatively) small area. Linguists have shown that, as well as a language used for communication between people who speak what are ultimately fairly similar languages, there also exist settled dialects of Portunhol spoken in the home and within communities in Northern Argentina and Uruguay.

This got me thinking how on earth one would translate it into English, which led me to wonder if there was any literature actually composed solely or principally in Portunhol. Thanks to Twitter, I know the answer is yes, and the foundational text of this literature is the Brazilian writer Wilson Bueno’s Mar Paraguayo (Paraguayan Sea).

Wilson Bueno Mar Paraguayo
Wilson Bueno, Mar paraguayo (São Paulo, Brasil: Iluminuras, 1992) YF.2012.a.10831

 

Bueno’s novella is not exactly an ‘authentic’ depiction of Portunhol, rather an impressionistic idiolect semi-devised by the author, befitting the oxymoronic title (Paraguay is infamously landlocked). In truth, it is a mixture of three languages: Spanish Portuguese and Guaraní, the indigenous language spoken by nearly 5 million Bolivians, Brazilians and especially Paraguayans. It is completely unique to dip into:

‘Si, el infierno, añaretã, añaretãmeguá, existe e, creio, forçando certa honestidad, que el cielo a mi se afigura, acima de todo, el deseo de siempre e sempre más e mais amor – inquieta insaciabilidad que me complete nua llorando en la viuda cama de casal, tan larga, llorando la certeza sin duda de que un dia, un dia, un dia a gente se va a morir: tecové, tecové, tecovepavaerã’

I’d say the grammar and syntax is closer to Spanish, but there is a fairly equal mix of vocabulary, with the Guaraní words relating to death, life and damnation less frequent but of key importance. Interestingly, the phrase ‘el deseo de siempre e sempre más e mais amor’ includes both the Spanish and Portuguese words for ‘always’ and ‘more’.

Guarani glossary from Mar Paraguayo

 

As to how we translate this, well the answer is just as open as the language itself. The translator of Mar Paraguayo into English, Erin Mouré, is Canadian, and rather than creating some convoluted way of mirroring Spanish and Portuguese in English, she has chosen to go with her own local equivalent, a mix of English and French. The Guaraní words (as unfamiliar to the average English speaker as they would be to most Spanish and Portuguese speakers) have been left as they are, which helps maintain a sense of place. The results are fascinating:

‘la ancestral speech of fathers and grands-pères that infinitely vanishes into memory, they entertain all speech et tricot: these Guaraní voices eternalize so simply as they go on weaving: ñandu: there is no better fabric than the web des leaves tissées all together, ñandu, together and between the arabesques that, symphoniques, interweave, in a warp and weft of green and bird et chanson, in the happy amble of a freedom: ñanduti: ñandurenimbó:’

So I ask myself, were I to translate a story or poem from Portunhol/Portuñol what solution would I go for? I suppose the fact that I live in the capital (Cardiff) of a bilingual country could help, and the closest thing I have to an interlanguage is the Welsh-English pidgin I occasionally use with my daughter, her teachers and other patient Cymraeg speakers. If every English translator living geographically close to another language were to do this, a great number of wildly differing translations could be produced, all equally valid. My translation, Paraguayan Môr, coming soon. Watch this space…

 

Rahul  Bery

Translator-in Residence 2018-2019

British Library

 

 

 

27 July 2018

Reporting from the reading rooms: Brazilian writers and translation

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3 weeks into my stint as Translator in Residence at the British Library, I’ve finally made it into one of the reading rooms and actually looked at some books, which I’ll admit is a rather unorthodox thing to do in a library. While the desks of my companions in the European collections department, where I’m based for the year, tend to be overloaded with books from the collections, administrative issues left me temporarily unable to do this, and so I was forced to join the masses and access my materials the way the vast majority of BL visitors do, in one of the many reading rooms. Besides, I am meant to be resident here, so it would be remiss of me not to actually visit one. Thus I found myself, on a hot Wednesday afternoon, collecting my reservations from Asian and African Studies  (not quite the nearest to my desk, but more exciting-sounding than ‘Science 3’)  and sitting down with other members of the public to get stuck in.

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In the weeks prior to this, I’d been randomly typing names into the catalogue whenever they sprang to mind, and I was excited to finally have a look at some of these books in the flesh. I started by looking at books by or about two 20th Century Brazilian  authors I’m currently reading, before going back in time to the early days of modern Brazil.

The first book I looked at was Cartas de viagem e outras cronicas (Travel letters and other chronicles), the collected non-fiction of Walter Campos de Carvalho, who occupies a strange role in Brazilian letters. As yet untranslated into English (I’m trying to change that, publishers take note!), he has never been a canonical writer in Brazil either, and until recently his books have been largely unattainable over there too. The four novels he published between 1956 and 1964 before ceasing to write anything substantial for the 34 years between then and his death, were  more indebted to European surrealism than to Brazilian literary trends, and certainly do not fit in with the outsider’s view of Brazil better represented by the writing of someone like Jorge Amado. To give one example, his last novel, O Púcaro Búlgaro (The Bulgarian Jug) describes the ill-fated attempt by a band of explorers to find out whether or not Bulgaria actually exists. In light of that, this collection is worth reading for the introduction alone, which contains the following excerpt from an interview with the great man who, like his work. was difficult, distant but also hilarious:

Interviewer: Today, with all the technological process that’s been made, is it now possible to say for certain whether or not Bulgaria exists?

Campos de Carvalho: It doesn’t.

Interviewer: Do any other countries not exist?

CDC: Argentina. I was there two years ago, but still I wasn’t convinced. I went to Mar del Plata…to a casino… The casino did exist though, I left all my money there.

His travel diaries are no less wry. Here he is on London: ‘A city where, when it’s not raining, a huge storm is always brewing…P.S. – in London there’s a newspaper called The Sun; it only comes out twice a year.’

I then looked at a transcription of an interview with another novelist, José J. Veiga, called Atrás do Mágico Relance (A Glimpse behind the magic). Unlike Campos de Carvalho, two of Veiga’s books did make it into English in the early 70s, though sadly they have never been reprinted. Associated at the time with the ‘boom’ generation of Latin American ‘magic realist’ authors such as Julio Cortázar and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Veiga’s work is rather different, though it certainly deals with the fantastic in an equally effective way. The interview was fully of interesting insights, but I was particularly struck by Veiga’s reply when asked if he was influenced by (Spanish language) magic realism:

Veiga: No…I only read Garcia Márquez and Borges after having published two or three of my own books, so I wasn’t influenced by them…we (ie Brazilian writers) are unknown to…Spanish-Americans, but they’re also ignored by us, that is, there’s no exchange between us…there never was.

The novel of Veiga’s I’m keen to translate, Sombras de reis barbudos (Shadows of bearded kings) a wonderful blend of bildungsroman, political allegory and fantasy, has been translated into Spanish, but like other Brazilian prose masterpieces such as Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma and João Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão: Veredas, it’s very much out of print in its sister tongue. Things aren’t so different here; most informed readers could name one or two Spanish-American authors, maybe Gabriel García Marquez or Jorge Luís Borges, but might find it harder to name their Lusophone peers.

 

Finally, I went back a few centuries to Pero de Magalhaes Gandavo’s History of the Province Sancta Cruz, which we commonly call Brazil. The translation, by John B. Stetson Jr, is accompanied by a facsimile of the 1576 original, which the translator first encountered in the BL’s predecessor, the reading room at the British Museum. I came across this account via some recent work I did translating a piece on Brazil for a history magazine, which discussed Gandavo’s descriptions of ‘the Natives of the province’. The fact that he does not discuss them until the tenth chapter, after first addressing the country’s geography, colonial government, plans, animals and, intriguingly, ‘a marine monster that was killed in the captaincy of São Vicente in 1564’, is telling enough. Like Bernal Diaz, who documented the conquest of Mexico some years before, Gandavo just cannot see the ‘natives’ as properly human. They are at once a homogenous mass—‘Although these natives are much divided and have many different names for their tribes, still they are one in their appearance, their condition, their customs and their rites’—and uniquely barbaric, lacking any sense of morality—‘They live at their ease, without any preoccupation save eating, drinking and killing people; and so they grow very fat, but with any vexation they immediately grow thin again’. Undeniably ridiculous as the latter part sounds, such attitudes had appalling consequences: the deaths of up to 95% of the pre-colonial population. And these encounters bring up a fascinating insight into the difficulties of translation in a wider sense: how might someone like Gandavo, a well-off, Portuguese Catholic, have accurately conveyed the complex, and yet totally alien societies he witnessed. 

Gandavo

2 hours, 450 years traversed, one hemisphere crossed. Not bad for a first attempt!

By Rahul Bery

British Library Translator in Residence

 

23 August 2016

New Gods and Old

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In some ways, the “discovery” of America opened the mental horizons of Europeans: Montaigne’s essay “On Cannibals” (1580) was a landmark in relativism.

In others, the discoveries confirmed what Europeans had long thought but not actually been able to prove.

Pliny was full of tall tales of dog-headed men and men with one huge foot. When the explorers arrived in the Americas, they “found” what they always knew: the name of Patagonia derives from these monsters. The Amazon was populated by warrior women.

Fantastic beings Cosmographia 1297m6

Monstrous beings from distant land. From Sebastian Münster, Cosmographia (Basel, 1545) [British Library 1297.m.6.]

It’s well known that the Spaniards applied the names of European fauna to American animals: tigre (in Spain, tiger) became the jaguar, león (lion in Europe, puma in America), zorro (fox in Spain, skunk in the New World).

Early modern authors viewed America through Pliny (see Lacarra and Cacho Blecua). But Urdapilleta shows that writers who actually lived in the Indies soon cast off these old ideas and relied much more on the evidence of witnesses or indeed their own eyes.

Now, iconographical handbooks originated in the Middle Ages, and derived their pictures largely not from extant works of visual art but from verbal literary descriptions. 44 of these are reproduced in facsimile in the series The Renaissance and the Gods ((London, 1976-; X.425/5375).

The most famous is probably Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (first edition 1593; first illustrated edition 1603). Writers and painters alike drew on such sources (see Rosa López Torrijos). In this tradition was Vincenzo Cartari, Le imagini de i Dei degli antichi. The first edition (1556) stuck to the gods and allegories of Greece and Rome.

Imagini de i Dei 704.d.10

Title page of Vincenzo Cartari/Lorenzo Pignoria, Le Vere e noue imagini de gli dei delli antichi ... (Padua 1615) [704.d.10].

But in 1615 a Second Part was added by Lorenzo Pignoria, with gods of the Indians and Chinese. His source for the American gods was the Mexican Codex Vaticanus 3738. In his prologue, Pignoria follows the argument that paganism alias idolatry (whether Greco-Roman or contemporary) is a foreshadowing of Christianity, because these false religions derived from the Christian truth. He was not a believer in polygenesis: 350 years before Thor Heyerdahl, he maintained that the Egyptians had the seafaring skills to reach Mexico: after all, many accounts of America were thought mere fables until Columbus went there and proved them true.

Quetzalcoatl 704.d.10.

The God Quetzalcoatl from Le Vere e noue imagini de gli dei delli antichi [704.d.10]

 

Here is a case in point: the god Quetzalcoatl. His attributes parallel those of the ancients: on his head he bears the pointed stone, related to the knife used by the Devil in the rites of Cybele; in his right hand the lituus (curved wand) as used by the augurs; at his feet the cornucopia; and (the clincher) the Christian Cross on his cloak and on the cornucopia.

What better proof that all religions were one?

 

Barry Taylor, Curator of Romance Collections

References/further reading:

Sonia Maffei, ‘Le imagini de i Dei degli antichi di Vincenzo Cartari: Dalla poesia all’archeologia’ http://dinamico2.unibg.it/cartari/leimaginideiDei.html

Marco Urdapilleta Muñoz, ‘El bestiario medieval en las crónicas de Indias (siglos XV y XVI)’, Latino América, Revista de Estudios Latinoamericanos, 58 (2014), 237-70. 5160.235500

Miguel A. Rojas Mix, América imaginaria (Barcelona, 1992) LB.31.b.10858

Rosa López Torrijos, La mitología en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro (Madrid, 1985). YV.1988.b.1010 María Jesús Lacarra, Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua, Lo imaginario en la conquista de América (Zaragoza, 1990). YA.1997.a.7376

22 March 2016

Langston Hughes translates Nicolás Guillén

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Langston Hughes is well known as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, primarily for his poetry. However, there is a side to his work which has received comparatively less attention: his literary translations.

Langston_Hughes_1936

Langston Hughes in 1936, by Carl Van Vechten

Hughes was not a professional translator, and indeed most of his translations did not do very well commercially. His translations were driven by his interest in writers with whom he felt a connection, particularly authors who explored the representation of black identity beyond European literary models. Hughes felt a kinship with writers of the African diaspora in the Americas, whom he saw as linked by a similar cultural heritage and history of racial oppression. These included the Haitian writer Jacques Roumain, whose posthumous novel Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosée) was translated by Hughes circa 1947.

In 1948, Hughes (together with Ben Frederic Carruthers) translated a selection of poems by the Cuban writer and activist Nicolás Guillén. They were published under the title of Cuba Libre by the American Ward Ritchie Press, in a beautiful limited edition of 500 with illustrations by Gar Gilbert.

LH

LH2

Cover and title page of Cuba Libre (1948)

Hughes met the poet Nicolas Guillén in 1930 in Cuba and they soon developed a friendship. Both men travelled together to Spain during the country’s civil war as war correspondents, an episode that Hughes narrated in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). While the extent to which Hughes influenced Guillén’s style is still up for debate, their works have many aspects in common. Their poetry is a celebration of black folk culture, music and use of language. Often described as ‘poets of the people’, both men were concerned with representing class inequality and racial injustice.

Below is an extract from Guillén’s well-known poem ‘Tu no sabe inglé’, translated by Hughes as ‘You don’t speak no English’. Hughes’s translation used the African American vernacular to reproduce Guillén’s experimentation with the Cuban criollo (Creole) dialect in his poetry:

Con tanto inglé que tú sabía,

Bito Manué,

con tanto inglé, no sabe ahora

desí ye.

La mericana te buca,

y tú le tiene que huí:

tu inglé era de etrái guan,

de etrái guan y guan tu tri.

        Nicolás Guillen, Motivos de son (1930)

 

All dat English you used to know,

Li’l Manuel,

all dat English, now can’t even

say: Yes.

‘Merican gal comes lookin’ fo’ you

an’ you jes’ runs away

Yo’ English is jes’ strike one!

strike one and one-two-three.

Langston Hughes’s translation, published in Cuba Libre (1948)

 

Further Reading

Guillén, Nicolás. Cuba Libre, translated by Langston Hughes and Ben Frederic Carruthers (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1948) [Cup.510.naz.3.]

Kutzinski, Vera M., The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012) [YC.2013.a.1917]

Martin-Ogunsola, Dellita, ‘Introduction’. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol 16: The Translations: Federico Garcia Lorca, Nicolas Guillen, and Jacques Roumain, ed. by Arnold Ra``mpersad (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2003) [YC.2005.A.3285]

Scott, William, ‘Motivos of Translation: Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes’. CR: The New Centennial Review, 5:2 (2005): 35-71. [3486.443000]

 

 —Mercedes Aguirre

16 February 2016

On the outskirts of the world: Movimiento Hora Zero

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Movimiento Hora Zero was an avant-garde poetry movement that emerged from Peru during the 1970s. Founded by Jorge Pimentel and Juan Ramírez Ruiz, the young writers anticipated a form of poetic expression that rejected what they saw as the pompous European-influenced canon of Peruvian poetry and instead channelled the language, politics, and everyday experience of contemporary Peru. Their manifesto, Palabras Urgentes (1970) tells of a need to

manifestarnos como hombres libres y como escritores con una nueva responsabilidad, con una nueva actitud ante el acto creador, ante los hechos derivados de una realidad con la que no estamos de acuerdo.[1]

[speak out as free men and as writers with a new responsibility, with a new approach to the creative act, in the face of events derived from a reality with which we disagree.]

 HZ1    HZ2
Hora Zero Oriente: materiales para una nueva época (1970) [Shelfmark: X.902/1157]

As might be expected from the urgency of their manifesto, the movement materialised at a critical moment in Peruvian history. Mass migration from the Andes to the coast over the preceding decades had resulted in a huge increase in the urban population and this in turn meant that the previously marginalised customs and traditions of the sierra were now decidedly present within the metropolitan centres of Peru. The overthrow of Fernando Belaúnde’s government in October 1968 by General Velasco’s left-wing military regime led to a project of sweeping reforms which would be instituted under the term Perunaismo. There was a definite sense that the Peruvian elite were being challenged, and it was certainly a time of great social and political flux. This is exemplified by the fact that a number of the poets associated with Hora Zero had attended the Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal, which had been founded in 1963 as part of a programme to reorganise the Peruvian education system, and this naturally placed them in opposition to the radical literary movements of earlier generations, which had tended to centre around the ancient and prestigious Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.[2]

  Ramirez Ruiz 1

Juan Ramírez Ruiz Un par de vueltas por la realidad (1971) [Shelfmark: X.900/13683]

Although the Hora Zero poets sought to negate much of the Peruvian literature which had come before them, there were certain of their forebears whom they considered kindred spirits in that they too were striving for a literature that could both represent and help shape a pluralist Peruvian culture, distinct from the political project of indigenismo, which ostensibly sought to improve the lives of marginalised Peruvians, but that as Marie-Chantal Barre puts it “officialised the disappearance of Indians as Indians, instead recognising them only as peasants."[3] One such is example is the work of author José María Arguedas.

Although he was heavily criticised in certain quarters for his romanticising of indigenous people, Arguedas certainly seems to have made an impression on the Hora Zero writers. In an interview from 2011, Pimentel and fellow Hora Zero member Tulio Mora make reference to Arguedas’s 1964 novel Todas las Sangres, which attempts a comprehensive portrayal of Peruvian cultural life, and his 1962 prose-poem Tupac Amaru Kamaq Taytanchisman, a reflection on indigenous migration from the sierra to the city published in both Quechua and Spanish. Despite the censure that Arguedas received from some corners, the Hora Zero writers clearly felt that there was something to be salvaged from his project, and his writings would take their place alongside César Vallejo’s Los Heraldos Negros and José Carlos Mariátegui’s Siete Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana as works from which the movement would draw inspiration.

  Arguedas 1   7 ensayos 1
José María Arguedas Todas las Sangres (1964) [Shelfmark: X.900/7132] and José Carlos Mariátegui Siete Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana (1928) [Shelfmark: 8025.d.40]

Though these writers may have been similar in spirit, the Hora Zero writers still felt that there was much to be done in reorienting their poetics towards the everyday experience of ordinary Limeños. In this respect, one of the seminal works to come out of the movement is En los extramuros del mundo (1971), a collection of poetry by Enrique Verastegui. Published when he was just twenty years old, the poems encapsulate the bustling energy, confusion and absurdity of the city:

Yo vi caminar por calles de Lima a hombres y mujeres

carcomidos por la neurosis,

          hombres y mujeres de cemento pegados al cemento aletargados

                     confundidos y riendose de todo.[4]

[I saw walking the streets of Lima men and women

eaten away by neurosis,

cement men and women stuck to the cement lethargic

confused and laughing at everything.]

Later in the 1970s, the movement’s principal figures would spend time outside Peru in both Europe and other places in Latin America before Hora Zero gained renewed momentum  in the second half of the decade. In the meantine, Tulio Mora would visit Mexico, where the movement found a receptive audience amongst the infrarrealismo movement led by a certain Roberto Bolaño, whose first manifesto includes a fitting tribute to the young radicals from Peru:

Nos antecede HORA ZERO[5]

[Our ancestors HORA ZERO]

- Laurence Byrne (with thanks to Mercedes Aguirre and Barry Taylor)

Notes

[1] Pimentel (1970: 9)

[2] Vilanova (1998: 7)

[3] Barre (1985: 53)

[4] Verastegui (1971: 13)

[5] Madariaga Caro (2010: 146)

References / further reading

Barre, Marie-Chantal Ideologías indigenistas y movimientos indios, 2d ed. (Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1985)

Bolaño, Roberto "Déjenle todo nuevamente. Primer manifesto del movimiento infrarrealista"(1976) in Madariaga Caro, Montserrat Bolaño Infra. 1975 - 1977: los años que inspiraron Los detecitves salvajes (Santiago: RIL, 2010)

Huamán, Miguel Angel “La Rebelion Del Margen: Poesia Peruana De Los Setentas” in Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 20.39 (1994): 267–291

Pimentel, Jorge and Ramírez Ruiz, Juan "Palabras urgentes" in Pimentel, Jorge Kenacourt y Valium 10 (Lima: Ediciones del Movimiento Hora Zero, 1970)

Juan Ramírez Ruiz Un par de vueltas por la realidad - See more at: http://www.typepad.com/site/blogs/6a00d8341c464853ef0120a63638e0970c/compose/preview/post#sthash.JxJ3WZOc.dpuf

Verastegui, Enrique En los extramuros del mundo (Lima: CMB Ediciones, 1971)

Vilanova, Núria “The Emerging Literature of the Peruvian Educated Underclass” in Bulletin of Latin American Research 17.1 (1998): 1-15

15 January 2016

Cartonera: a hand-made literary phenomenon

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Libros cartoneros are books made from salvaged cardboard with a hand-painted or collage cover. Produced in limited editions and sold for a fraction of the cost of a professionally produced book, cartonera have become popular across Latin America since the founding of Eloísa Cartonera in Buenos Aires in 2003. Cartonera have been seen as a move towards the democratisation of literature on the continent not only because they are inexpensive to produce and distribute, but also because they place distinguished authors such as César Aira (Shelfmark YF.2006.a.2874) and Enrique Lihn (Shelfmark: YF.2005.a.32829) alongside the writings of community groups, children, and the odd forgotten poet.

Aira        Lihn

Despite (or perhaps because of) their ephemeral nature, it wasn’t long before libraries became interested in collecting cartonera. The British Library holds a varied collection of cartonera from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Mexico, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison provides both a database listing cartonera publishers as well as a primer on the phenomenon.

Of course, some books seem a perfect fit for a cartonera edition – see this version of Martín Adán’s 1922 novel La casa de Carton (Shelfmark: YF.2007.a.10842).

Adan

Cartonera are often published in response to topical events. Sudáfrica, a collection of poética futbolera produced by La Propia Cartonera in Uruguay to coincide with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, even comes accompanied with a football card stuck to its cover.

Sud Africa

This type of publishing is not without precedent in Latin America, however. Cartonera were arguably prefigured by Ediciones el Mendrugo, a publishing house started in the 1970s by the Argentine poet Elena Jordana. Ernesto Sabato’s Carta a un joven escritor (Shelfmark: YA.2001.a.14617) is certainly cartonera in spirit.

Sabato

  – Laurence Byrne

24 December 2015

Tun Tun: a Venezuelan Christmas carol

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Aguinaldo is a popular type of Christmas song sung in many Latin American countries at this time of year, thought to have derived from the villancicos imported from the Iberian Peninsula during the second half of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the most celebrated composer of villancicos is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, whose words were set to music by Antonio de Salazar in the late 17th century. Although villancicos often made reference to secular themes, they were encouraged – or at least tolerated – by the Church hierarchy as far as they were seen as useful tool in the drive to convert the native populations to Catholicism.

As the popularity of villancicos declined from the 19th century onwards, aguinaldo – a much more folk-inflected art form – began to take their place. Today, aguinaldo are performed by people in groups called parrandas, who wander from door-to-door sharing their songs in much the same way as carollers do in the UK. This wonderful recording of an aguinaldo from Venezuela is a far cry from the baroque villancicos of the 17th century, though it does illustrate how the form mixes the sacred with the everyday, as we hear the celebration of the birth of Christ played out as an commentary on neighbourly relations.

Listen to Tun Tun (performed by Federico Reyna and family)

As far as we have been able to identify, this recording of Tun Tun was performed by Federico Reyna and his family for a BBC radio programme entitled Folk Music of Venezuela. It was broadcast on the Third Programme on 2 September 1962, and introduced by A.L. Lloyd, with production by Douglas Cleverdon.

Like many good folk-songs Tun Tun is a self-satirising comment on the form itself. In the song the parranderos pay a visit to their neighbour to share their goodwill, though he becomes increasingly exasperated and eventually demands to be left alone: “Que el diablo se los lleve a mí dejenme en paz!”

Folk songs of the Americas

The recording is part of the A.L. Lloyd collection, which contains material collected by the folklorist throughout his life. Lloyd also edited Folk Songs of the Americas (shelfmark: HUS 789.202242), a great resource for those interested in folk-music from across the continent.

More sound recordings from the British Library’s collections can heard at BL Sounds.

– Laurence Byrne

12 December 2015

Guadalupe: from Tepeyac to the British Library

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In early December 1531, a recent Christian convert named Juan Diego set off from his home of Cuautitlán towards Tlatelolco in the valley of Mexico. As he climbed the hill of Tepeyac, Juan Diego was visited by a magnificent apparition of a woman, who told him she was the Virgin Mary and that he was to instruct the Bishop of Mexico (Juan de Zumárraga) to build a shrine in her honour on the hillside at Tepeyac.

So began the long and tangled story of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, whose feast day is celebrated on 12 December. The shrine, now the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, is one of the world’s most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites, and Guadalupe herself has become not only the most recognisable religious symbol in Mexico, but a political one too. Miguel Hidalgo, himself a Catholic priest, began the fight for independence from Spain with his Grito de Dolores by making explicit reference to Guadalupe (although accounts differ on his exact wording, Hidalgo is generally agreed to have shouted “Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!” during his speech, and the flags borne by Hidalgo and his insurgents carried the image of Guadalupe).

Guadalupe 1

At the British Library, we are fortunate to have two of the texts that were foundational in establishing and legitimising Guadalupe. Imagen de la Virgen Maria Madre de Dios de Guadalupe, milagrosamente aparecida en la ciudad de Mexico, (1648, shelfmark 1225.e.17; shown above) was the first printed description of the apparition (from which the above narrative derives), authored by Miguel Sánchez, a Catholic priest who became known as one of the four evangelists of Guadalupe. Also in our collection is Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649, shelfmark 884.k.35; shown below), which was the first account published in nahautl, the language in which Guadalupe is said to have communicated her message to Juan Diego.

Guadalupe 2

– Laurence Byrne