The Feminine Voice in the Romancero's Modern Oral Tradition: Gender Differences in the Recitation of the Ballad la Bastarda Y El Segador. (Research Article: Focus on Women)
Gomez Acuna, Beatriz, Folklore
Women are the principal informants in the modern oral tradition of Hispanic balladry, the romancero. This fact conditions the point of view, ideologies, and perceptions expressed in the ballads. Critics often state that the romancero contains a feminine voice, but the nature and characteristics of this voice have not been studied in any detail. The present paper attempts to reveal the ideas and beliefs that women express in their rendition of one such ballad, La Bastarda y el Segador, and show how their renditions differ from those of men.
A romance, often translated in English as a "ballad," is the quintessential poetic form of the Spanish language. By definition, it is a poem with an unlimited number of octosyllabic verses and assonant rhyme in even-numbered verses. Romances are transmitted primarily by oral tradition, even though most of them also have been printed in chapbooks and compilations (called romanceros) throughout the centuries.  The oral nature of the romance produces its most interesting characteristic: the presence of multiple variants of the same poem.  Romances are classified mainly by taking into account both their theme and the time period of their composition. Margit Frenk proposes classifying romances into three major categories: viejos (old), nuevos (new) and modernos (modern). Romances viejos are those created between the thirteenth century and the end of the fifteenth century. Romances viejos can be either juglarescos or tradicionales. Romances juglarescos deal with the history of Spain and its heroes. Romances tradicionales are subdivided into several categories: epic, carolingian, novelesque, biblical or classical according to their subject matter. Romances nuevos are those created between the second part of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century. These romances were usually written by erudite poets such as Luis de Gongora or Lope de Vega. Romances modernos are those composed after the seventeenth century. Some were written by well-known romantic poets in the nineteenth century. Others were composed by obscure poets and sold in printed chapbooks by blind people, therefore they are also known as romances de ciego (ballads of the blind). Traditional romances preserved through oral transmission are also included in the category of romances modernos (Frenk 1961, xxvi-xxx).
Something well known by all those who study the romancero is that, in the modern oral tradition, which encompasses the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the great majority of informants are women. Ramon Menendez Pidal first noticed this reality during his research trips at the beginning of the twentieth century, and practically every romancero compilation confirms this fact.  Menendez Pidal proposed that the different communal and individual chores performed by women, such as the "hilas" in the northern provinces, the harvesting of saffron in Extremadura and, especially, household chores, prompted women to sing romances (Menendez Pidal 1953, 372-5). Other scholars posit that, due to the roles each sex plays in society, women relate to the romancero more than men do. Traditionally, women have spent most of their time in pursuits related to the upkeep of the home. Such activities have required them to stay at home, in their home village and thus in close contact with their own culture. Meanwhile, men have been more likely to go to work in other villages or even emigrate to cities where they have been exposed to different forms of culture that they have often adopted to the detriment of their native culture (Petersen et al. 1982, lxxvi).
Thus, over the course of several centuries, it may be said that women have gradually "appropriated" the romancero genre, since they are the primary informants. As a result, it is possible to perceive a feminine voice inscribed in the ballads: "In several centuries of traditional life, women's voices and their world views have been incorporated into these forms inherited from the past" (Mariscal de Rhett 1987, 655-6). Ian Michael concurs with Mariscal de Rhett and believes that the romancero was used by women to declare their opinions:
The ballad constituted the one international vehicle in which ordinary women could express their emotions and ambitions and was traditionally passed down and recreated by them (Michael 1993, 101).
Teresa Catarella agrees with this same premise, but she laments the lack of studies that take its implications into consideration:
El predominio de la mujer como portadora de la tradicion es un hecho unanimemente conocido, pero la significacion y la evaluacion de su contribucion han sido completamente pasadas por alto [The predominance of women as transmitters of the tradition is a fact unanimously known, but the significance and the evaluation of this contribution has been completely ignored] (Catarella 1994, 415).
Through the study of several renditions of the ballad La bastarda y el segador, I intend to show how women may have used this particular romance to express their beliefs and points of view. In this ballad, matters of courtship and gender roles are discussed in terms of women's concerns, opinions and feelings. I have chosen this ballad to reveal the nature of the embedded feminine voice since it is one of the few ballads men also frequently sing. This fact enables a study of the differences between men's and women's versions so that these divergences may be interpreted and evaluated.
La bastarda y el segador can be classified as traditional and novelesque romance. It did not appear in chapbooks or romancero compilations of the previous centuries, but the fact that it is sung among the Sephardic Jews is an indication of its antiquity. The ballad is widely disseminated in the modern oral tradition throughout the romancero geography. It is known in the Iberian Peninsula, in the Americas and among the Sephardic Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean, where it served as a wedding song (Debax 1982, 399). In Spain and Portugal, the context in which this ballad was performed was the harvest, mainly of grains. For this reason, it was one of the few ballads men sang regularly:
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Publication information: Article title: The Feminine Voice in the Romancero's Modern Oral Tradition: Gender Differences in the Recitation of the Ballad la Bastarda Y El Segador. (Research Article: Focus on Women). Contributors: Gomez Acuna, Beatriz - Author. Journal title: Folklore. Volume: 113. Issue: 2 Publication date: October 2002. Page number: 183+. © 1998 Folklore Society. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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