Colonial cries and chronicles...
Translated by Sara Plaza
I hear, from my collection of Latin American folklore records, a song by an Argentinean group called “Los Trovadores” (The Troubadours), renowned for their careful vocal arrangements. The title of his song is “Pregones coloniales” (Colonial cries, made by street or market vendors at that time): the first one comes from the “aceitunero” (olives male seller) –“Aceituna, una...” (One olive...)-, and the following belong to the “velero” (candles male seller) and the “aguatero” (fresh water male seller) respectively. I keep skipping from one song to another and pay attention to the “Pregones del altiplano” (cries of the Andean high plateau). Here, I can hear the cries made by a man who sells blankets, the “mazamorrero” (“mazamorra” seller) and the “platero” (a man who sells and fixes objects made of gold and silver).
One of my favorite pictures, when I was a child, was that of the already mentioned colonial cries that I painted in my mind after listening to what teachers taught us about the (distorted) colonial history of my country. Maybe those street advertisements had something to do with music, an element that always seemed to me one the most attractive universal languages. The custom of crying in the streets had come by ship from Spain, together with (newly introduced) goods the sellers cried...
Short time ago, reading the incomparable pages of “Tradiciones peruanas” (Peruvian traditions) by Ricardo Palma, I found a fragment that I consider worthy of note. The following excerpt recovers part of these Latin American colonial cries, a typical quality that has not disappeared yet: it has just become different. If you mean to travel across Argentina, Bolivia or Ecuador these days, you will easily meet many vendors hawking from one bus to the next.
The fragment I am quoting is a bit difficult. It recollects the Peruvian colonial history. Many characters and most of the goods cried are little known in other places. However, with a number of explanations at the end, intended to clarify some terms, you will enjoy it a lot.
Palma explains how, in his neighborhood, the cries of vendors worked as a kind of non-official clock:
The milkwoman indicated six in the morning.
The “tisanera” (tisanes female seller) and the “chichera” (“chicha” female seller) of Terranova cried at seven o’clock.
The “bizcochero” (“bizcocho” male seller) and the “leche-vinagre” female seller (milk-vinegar, literally), who cried “¡a la cuajadita!” (curd), pointed eight to the minute.
“Zanguito of ñajú” and “chocholíes” female seller marked nine, canon hour.
The “tamalera” (“tamales” female seller) announced ten.
At eleven the “melonera” (melons female seller) and the mulatto woman of the convent passed selling “ranfañote”, “cocada”, “bocado de rey”, “chancaquitas de cancha y de maní” and “fréjoles colados”.
At twelve appeared the fruit seller, with its basket full, and the “empanadillas de picadillo” seller.
One was signaled by the “ante con ante” male seller, the rice female seller and the “alfajorero” (“alfajores” male seller).
At two in the afternoon, the “picaronera” (“picarones” female seller), the “humitero” (“humitas” male seller) and the delicious “causa de Trujillo” male seller shouted their cries.
At three, the “melcochero” (“melcochas” male seller), the “turronera” (“turrón” female seller), the “anticuchero” or “bisteque en palito” (steak driven into a little stick) seller were even more punctual than Mari-Angola of the cathedral (one of the big bells, which always were given female names).
At four shouted the “picantera” (“picante” female seller) and the “piñita de nuez” seller.
At five shrieked the “jazminero” (jasmine male seller), the “caramanducas” seller and the cloth-flowers seller, who shouted: “¡Garden, garden! Maiden, don’t you smell it?”
At six the “raicero” (roots male seller) and the “galletero” (biscuits male seller) singed softly to themselves.
At seven in the evening cried the “caramelero” (candies male seller), the “mazamorrera” and the “champucera” (shampoo female seller).
At eight was the turn of the ice-cream seller and the “barquillero” (wafer seller).
Even at night in the evening, at the same time that the “toque de cubrefuego” (when the cannon sounded announcing that it was time to go to bed), the “animero” or the parish sacristan went out, with a red cape and a little lantern in his hand, begging for the sacred souls in the purgatory or for the wax (candles) of “Nuestro Amo” (our Master). This guy was the terror of children that did not want to go to bed.
Afterwards, it was the turn of the neighborhood “sereno” (night watchman), who replaced the street clocks, singing blow after blow: ¡Ave María Purísima! ¡Las diez han dado! ¡Viva el Perú, y sereno! (Hail Mary, full of grace! The clock struck ten! Long live Peru and the city is calm!).
In order to clarify who were some of the characters and what sort of goods they sold, here is some additional information.
The “tisanera” sold medicinal herbs, and the “chichera”, “chicha”, a fresh drink made from corn, which is consumed in the Andean area nowadays both, non fermented and fermented (similar to beer).
The “leche-vinagre” is curd, the thick soft substance that is formed when milk turns sour, a typical Spanish product. The “zango de ñajú” is a stew prepared with the fruit of a plant similar to pepper with a viscose substance inside, but it is not used any more at this time.
The “tamalera” sold “tamales”, small cakes prepared with corn pastry stuffed with meat or vegetable and covered with the “chala” (the corncob leaf). The products sold by the “convent female mulatto” were sweets, master pieces of confectionery, typical of nuns’ cloisters.
The “ante con ante” was the popular rice pudding. The “alfajorero” sold a kind of Hispanic candies, the “alfajores”, which are still eaten in Latin America. The “picarones”, “choncholíes” and the “causa de Trujillo” are similar Peruvian desserts. The former were a sort of fritter made of pumpkin and flour covered with honey.
The “melcochas” were a sort of sweets prepared with sugar and butter. The “humitero” sold “humitas”, very similar to the already mentioned “tamales”. The “anticuchos” are similar to “pork kebab” made of slices of cow heart, which are still very appreciated in Bolivia and Peru.
The “jazminero” and other flower vendors offered their goods to the young girls, who used to get all dress up for their evening strolls, a custom that Palma explains in detail in his book. The “raicero” also addressed the maidens since he sold soft roots used at that time as our current toothbrush and toothpaste.
The “mazamorra” –in use nowadays in half South America- is a sort of casserole with white corn grains, usually sweet, which includes different substances added to give it its typical flavor and tastes delicious as a dessert.
Palma’s book recollects many other stories, and I highly recommend its reading to all of you who want to know more about customs and traditions of yesteryear. You will find the Manchaypuyto tradition; the game of chess played by Inca Atahuallpa; the story of Aguirre the traitor; the arrival of the first mouse, the first cat and the first melon in Peruvian lands; the tobacco chronicles; a lot of stories about Latin American sayings and proverbs; accounts of historical facts regarding the Conquest and the Independence of Peru; and many descriptions of different incidents and anecdotes with religious men, viceroys, noblemen and well-known citizens in the leading roles...
Just as the volumes arranged in our libraries can give us the strength that our branches need to grow and blossom, they can also be the soil for our roots to steady themselves against windy storms. Without roots, the slightest breeze can make a tree fall to the ground. And, in modern world, any breeze is changed into a strong wind and there are plenty around us...
Anyone will certainly smile at these readings –even if you are not from Latin America- and if you manage to travel by bus in southern latitudes and listen to modern cries you would notice that many traditions are still alive and bear close resemblance to the original version...