Academic journal article Folklore

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)

Academic journal article Folklore

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)

Article excerpt


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. [1] The oral nature of the romance produces its most interesting characteristic: the presence of multiple variants of the same poem. [2] 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. [3] 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). …

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