Judeo-Spanish Ballads from New York: Collected by Mair Jose Bernardete

Judeo-Spanish Ballads from New York: Collected by Mair Jose Bernardete

by Samuel G. Armistead

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University of California Press
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Judeo-Spanish Ballads from New York

Collected by Ma�r Jos� Bernardete

University of California Press

Copyright © 1982 Samuel Armistead and Joseph H. Silverman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-04348-0


It hardly seems necessary to insist on the crucial importance of the Judeo-Spanish ballad tradition to the study of both Pan-Hispanic and Pan-European balladry. The present-day Spanish-speaking Sephardim of Morocco, the Balkans, and the Near East are the descendants of Jews exiled from Spain at the end of the Middle Ages (in 1492). Their archaic, highly conservative ballad repertoires preserve many features of the Spanish ballad tradition as it existed at the time of their exile from the Iberian Peninsula. Numerous narrative types dating back to medieval times have thus survived among the Sephardic Jews, while they have, in many cases, disappeared from all other branches of the Hispanic ballad tradition. A thorough exploration of the Judeo-Spanish ballad corpus is, then, essential to the task of filling the rather substantial gaps that still exist in our knowledge of late medieval and sixteenth-century Spanish balladry. The Sephardic tradition is also, of course, crucially important to comparative studies of the various other modern branches of Pan-Hispanic balladry: the Spanish, Hispano-American, Portuguese, and Catalan traditions. At the same time, Judeo-Spanish narrative poetry, of all the various Hispanic sub-traditions, is also one of the most significant for comparative Pan-European ballad studies. Because of its conservatism, Sephardic balladry preserves a number of thematic correspondences to other European ballad traditions which are no longer in evidence in most other geographic branches of the Hispanic Romancero. Judeo-Spanish balladry can, then, frequently provide clues to thematic relationships on a Pan-European, as well as on a Pan- Hispanic, scale. Besides its important conservatism, as an archaic lateral tradition, another previously neglected aspect of the Judeo-Spanish ballad should also be taken into account. This is its eclectic character, its absorption of narrative themes and stylistic features borrowed from the popular poetry of the peoples among whom the Sephardim lived after their exile from Spain: namely from Greek, Turkish, and Arabic. Although the survival of medieval text-types constitutes one of the important facets of the Sephardic tradition, it should not impede the recognition of other characteristics of Judeo-Spanish balladry. In a fundamental review of recent scholarship, Diego Catal�n has pointed out important innovative features coexisting with archaic elements, particularly in Eastern Mediterranean Sephardic balladry. With the publication of Paul B�nichou's pathfinding Creaci�n po�tica en el romancero tradicional (Madrid: Gredos, 1968)-based in many cases on Judeo-Spanish evidence-the Sephardic romancero emerges also as essential to the study of creativity in Hispanic traditional poetry. Of all the widely separated areas of the twentieth-century Sephardic diaspora, none has been more explored and none has yielded a greater harvest of Judeo-Spanish folk-poetry than the United States. Israel, Spain, France, England, Holland, Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Rhodesia, and South Africa, all have Sephardic immigrant communities of relatively recent origin, but none has been explored in such depth or by so many ballad fieldworkers as those of the United States (and many have not been explored at all). Only the multisecular Sephardic homelands of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa have produced larger collections of ballads than those brought together in the United States.

No interviews with Sephardic informants in the large Mexico City community have so far yielded ballads. Cf. Sephiha, L'Agonie, p. 95.

Oro A. Librowicz has collected 102 Moroccan ballad texts in Caracas. More work could undoubtedly be done there.

M�nica E. Hollander has thoroughly explored the Montevideo community. See her "Reliquias del romancero judeo-espa�ol de Oriente" (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1978). The texts included in Jacobo Politi and Daniel Aljanati, Selecci�n de romanzas y poes�a lit�rgica sefarditas (Montevideo: Comunidad Israelita Sefard�, 1974), are all secondhand, being reproductions from publications of Isaac Levy.

Ismael Moya's rich, but poorly edited, Romancero: Estudios sobre materiales de la colecci�n defolklore, 2 vols. (Buenos Aires: Universidad, 1941), includes 5 romances provided by Sephardic informants in Buenos Aires (II, 255-259). Most of the texts in Paul B�nichou's splendid Romancero judeo-espa�ol de Marruecos (Madrid: Castalia, 1968), originally collected in the early 1940s, were provided by Moroccan informants in Buenos Aires (see p. 14). Recently Eleonora A. [Noga] Alberti has published versions of La vuelta del marido (�) and Landarico, collected from Eastern informants in Buenos Aires and Asunci�n (Paraguay). See her "Romances tradicionales en Latinoam�rica: Algunos ejemplos sefarad�es y criollos," Comunidades jud�as de Latinoam�rica (1973-1975) (Buenos Aires: Comit� Jud�o Americano, Instituto de Ralaciones Humanas, 1975), pp. 252-269.

No ballads have, to our knowledge, been collected in the African settlements. On Sephardic immigration to Rhodesia and South Africa, mostly from the Island of Rhodes, see Marc D. Angel, The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community (New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1978), pp. 146, 182; also Reuben Kashani, "Sephardi Community in Capetown, South Africa," Challenge (Jerusalem), 3:12 (October 1979), 12.

We know of the existence of some 1,600 ballad texts collected in situ in the Eastern communities (counting some 100 Sabra versions recorded in Israel by I. J. Katz, ourselves, and others; but excluding texts provided by Eastern immigrants to Israel); to our knowledge, some 2,363 texts have been collected in Morocco; as contrasted with some 920 Eastern and 56 Moroccan texts collected in the United States and 510 from recent immigrants to Israel (338 Eastern; 172 Moroccan). Such statistics, however, are approximate and, being of necessity incomplete, must be seen as having only doubtful value. We do not know, for example, the statistics of the Moroccan collections of Manuel Alvar, Tomas Garc�a Figueras (now housed in the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid), and Henrietta Yurchenko. On these collections, see M. Alvar, Poes�a tradicional de los jud�os espa�oles (Mexico City: Porr�a, 1966), p. ix; T. Garc�a Figueras, "Romances hisp�nicos en las juder�as de Marruecos," ABC, September 24, 1961; H. Yurchenko, "Taping History in Morocco," The American Record Guide (New York), 24:4 (December 1957), 130-132, 175. Nor do we know the extent-or present fate-of Alberto Hemsi's unedited Eastern collection. See "Sur le folklore s�fardi," JS, 18 (April 1959), 794-795. Isaac Levy's unedited collection likewise remains unknown. Moshe Attias refers to various unedited ballad collections that were in his possession. In 1927, Sarah Begas gave him the texts that she had transcribed in Larissa, her birthplace, and Salonika during the 1890s and the early years of the present century. Dr. Samuel Pinto presented in 1957 to Attias a copy of a rich collection of ballads and lyric songs that he had gathered in Sarajevo. Some time after the death of Salomon Israel Cherezli (1937), his son Achinoam gave Attias a selection of traditional poetry found among the posthumous papers of the distinguished lexicographer (see n. 5 above). See M. Attias, Cancionero judeo-espa�ol (Jerusalem: Centro de Estudios sobre el Juda�smo de Sal�nica, 1972), pp. 300-301, 323-325, 333,n. 58; "�er�r Sarayevo," Shevet va'Am, 2 (=7) (1973), 295-370: p. 299; and our article (with Iacob M. Hass�n), "Un nuevo testimonio del romancero sefard� en el siglo XVIII," ESef, 1 (1978), 197-212. Undoubtedly still other unedited collections have escaped our notice.

Judeo-Spanish ballad research in America begins with the romances we have annotated in the present edition: 46 texts of Eastern Mediterranean and Moroccan origin, representing 43 different text-types, collected by Professor Ma�r Jos� Benardete in New York City during the winter of 1922 and spring of 1923. Benardete's pioneering work was to be followed by that of many other collectors. The next attempt to tap the rich and variegated Sephardic ballad resources available in New York was put forward by Federico de On�s who, between 1930 and 1938, made phonograph recordings of North African and Eastern ballads at Columbia University. Starting around 1930, On�s recorded seven romances sung by Suzanne (Simy) Nah�n de Toledano from Tangier. The Moroccan recordings were followed by others devoted to ballads sung by Eastern (Rhodian and Salonikan) informants in 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1938. In addition to the texts collected from Mrs. Toledano, On�s recorded a total of 22 Eastern Sephardic romances. Contemporary with On�s's work were the recordings produced at Barnard College in 1930 (or 1931) by Franz Boas and Zarita Nah�n, who collected 15 romances (as well as two children's songs, two wedding songs, a lullaby, and an endecha [dirge]) also sung by Mrs. Toledano. The early 1930s also saw another important collecting campaign in the Sephardic community of Seattle (Washington): Between 1931 and 1936, Emma Adatto collected ballads, folk-tales (konsezas) and proverbs from Turkish and Rhodian informants in Seattle, to form a rich and highly significant body of Judeo-Spanish folk-literature, which, unfortunately, remains largely unedited to this day: 18 romances (representing 15 text-types) are included in her M. A. thesis; 28 more texts (= 19 text-types), some of which overlap, with minor variations, the thesis texts, figure in unedited MSS and typescripts; 31 more texts were recorded on phonograph discs at the University of Washington; and nine more are included in the unedited collection of the Archivo Men�ndez Pidal in Madrid. On February 18, 1935, Henry V. Besso attended a "Recital de m�sica sefard�" at the Hispanic Institute in New York and obtained the texts of four romances sung on that occasion, which he was to publish years later in the Homenaje a Federico de On�s.

The years immediately preceding World War II, the unspeakable events of the Holocaust, and the postwar 1940s seemed to mark a complete cessation of research on Sephardic folk-literature in the United States. Only in 1947 did Susan Bassan Warner form a small, but interesting collection of Eastern Sephardic (almost exclusively Salonikan) ballads in her Columbia M.A. thesis. In 1950 David Romey brought together 24 romances (plus lyric songs, proverbs, and konsezas) from Turkish informants in Seattle, following up the earlier fieldwork of Emma Adatto. At about the same time, Raymond R. MacCurdy revealed the ballad potential of the Atlanta, Georgia, Sephardic community by recording six narrative poems (and two lyric songs) from a Rhodian informant, Mrs. Catina Cohen. In 1952, Denah Levy Lida included Smyrnian versions of Conde Ni�o, Muerte del pr�ncipe don Juan, La doncella guerrera, and El buceador in her Ph.D. dissertation on the Izmir dialect of New York. MacCurdy's work in Atlanta was followed up, in the late 1950s, by Isaac Jack Levy, who brought together an abundant corpus of ballads sung and recited by Eastern informants both in Atlanta and in Brooklyn. Our own field activities, aimed at forming and saving for future generations a massive collection of Sephardic folk-literature, began in Los Angeles in August 1957. In 1958 and 1959 we extended our work to Seattle, San Francisco, and New York. The most intensive fieldwork in the United States was conducted between 1957 and 1960, though there have also been subsequent recording sessions in Los Angeles (1963), Philadelphia (1969), and New York (1971). As of now, the total number of texts we have recorded in the United States stands at around five hundred (plus many hundreds more collected in Israel and in Morocco, in collaboration with Israel J. Katz). Except for one brief Moroccan interview in Los Angeles (1963), our entire U.S. collection was provided by Eastern singers. A total of 76 informants were interviewed. The texts collected in the United States embody 84 different text-types.

The 1970s have witnessed a surge of interest in all aspects of the Pan-Hispanic Romancero. Sephardic ballad studies have recently been favored by the fieldwork of three young scholars: Rina Benmayor, Oro Anahory Librowicz, and M�nica E. Hollander. Working in Los Angeles and Seattle, Rina Benmayor brought together, between November 1972 and June 1973, a splendid collection of some 125 versions, representing 39 different text-types. The collection's special contribution lies in its abundant documentation from the Bosphorus communities, an area largely neglected in earlier explorations. Since 1971, Oro Librowicz has formed a highly significant collection of some 252 ballads from the North African communities and Gibraltar. Derived from 22 different informants in New York, Madrid, M�laga, Caracas, Montreal, Tangier, and Israel, her collection represents 82 different narrative types. The texts recorded in New York (15 romances) were sung by an informant from Gibraltar, thus providing knowledge of a heretofore unknown branch of the North African tradition. M�nica Hollander's fieldwork in New York and in Montevideo (Uruguay), between December 1972 and November 1973, has produced a collection of some 80 romance texts, reflecting 35 different text-types, recorded from 21 different informants originally from Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey. Well over half of the versions were collected in the United States. Sephardic ballad fieldwork in the United States has produced notable results. Many hundreds of texts which would otherwise have vanished without a trace have been saved from oblivion. Yet much more remains to be done and many communities have yet to be explored: Highland Park (New Jersey), Cleveland (Ohio), Indianapolis (Indiana), Chicago (Illinois), Montgomery (Alabama), Miami (Florida), and Portland (Oregon), among others, all have Sephardic communities that await exploration. As Sephardic speech and folklore retreat before the irresistible onslaught of the English language and modern American mass-media culture, the urgency of renewed efforts toward further fieldwork becomes patently clear. Without doubt the next few years will see the irretrievable disappearance of whatever now remains to be saved.


Excerpted from Judeo-Spanish Ballads from New York Copyright © 1982 by Samuel Armistead and Joseph H. Silverman. Excerpted by permission.
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