Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews Multimedia Digital Library

Oral Literature of the Hispanic World
Samuel G. Armistead, Faculty Research Lecture, 1998, University of California, Davis

Contents of Article:

Dedication and Acknowledgments

The Nature of the Pan-Hispanic Ballad

The 700-Year Oral Tradition of the Pan-Hispanic Ballad: A Case Study

Enter Judeo-Spanish: A Living Matrix of Pan-Hispanic Ballad Traditions

The Vagaries of Field Work

Medieval Epic and the Ballad: An Example

The Invention of Tradition: A Case of "False Memory"

Creative Cultural Fusions: "Orientalizing" the Ballad Melody

Conclusion: A Sense of Urgency

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Conclusion: A Sense of Urgency

A sense of urgency has overshadowed our work since its very inception. The living tradition of Sephardic oral literature is now in terminal decline. Neither it, nor the Judeo-Spanish language, will survive the current eldest generation. One of the many purposes of our project has been to save what we can of this heritage before it is too late and to preserve it in permanent form for the benefit of future generations--and for future scholars who may wish to study it from whatever perspective they may choose. We speakers of English lost our living ballad tradition a couple of generations ago, as did most other Europeans. What we still hear, in the declining oral tradition of Hispanic peoples, is a common tradition, shared by all of us during many centuries. This is something our ancestors participated in, in the past, and something we have all now lost. But it is important to preserve it; it transmits, I believe, an important message for the future.

As we enter a new century, our forms of entertainment are becoming ever more passive, less participatory; we are entertained, but what goes on is mostly not of our doing. We have not helped to create it. These songs, that spring from cohesive, traditional communities, communities in which everyone knew and actively participated, potentially, in their performance, offer us an important example, an important, more creative alternative for our future. And they project also a strong sense of community --another traditional concept that we also seem to be in the process of losing in contemporary America. The ballads will disappear. Now, after six or seven centuries, it is their inevitable destiny. We cannot now tell how our irrepressible human creativity may be channeled in the future. But to have at hand such a record, such a testimony, to how we once sang, created, and recreated poetry, over centuries of oral tradition, will, I believe, stand us in good stead.

A few days ago, as I was preparing this talk, I received a beautiful, marvelous essay, by our friend and colleague, Professor Gary Snyder, stressing, insisting on, exalting and praising our creative solidarity, our creative community with our distant ancestors, even those of our prehistoric past; what we were long ago is still very much a part of what we are today and, on into the future, we will still be a part of what we have been. And this, I believe, gives added meaning to the rich collection of songs I have brought together, with my colleagues, over the past 40 years, and have studied and, hopefully, saved for the future.

Thank you so much.

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