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

But Hispanists who encountered the Sephardic ballads came to think of them, uncritically and without the least doubt, as exclusively medieval survivals. Practically everything that Sephardic Jews sang, no matter what it was, no matter what its origins may actually have been, came to be accepted, on faith, as something their ancestors must have brought with them into exile in 1492. But the Sephardim sing all sorts of songs. Various modern folksongs, for example--identical to their Spanish originals--are now a treasured part of the Sephardic repertoire and the singers insist on their authenticity, but, actually, they were brought to Greece or to Turkey on Spanish phonograph records at the beginning of this century. I will always remember a very refined Sephardic lady, very faithful to her Jewish heritage, in San Francisco--a fine singer--who, after singing us various ancient ballads, stopped and said: Now I'm going to sing you another song: "Jesus loves me, yes I know, because the Bible tells me so." Thoroughly incongruous. As a young girl she had attended a British Missionary School in Istanbul. The Sephardim, like everyone else, sing all sorts of songs and the dangers of assuming that everything they sing dates back to 1492 now seem very obvious.

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