Ed Murray (Music Director) on Adventures in Liturgy: Indigenous Languages
Back in October we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month both in our Tod@s Junt@s/All Together service and in a festive convivio. The date of our celebration happened to nearly coincide with the Central and South American observance of Dia de la Raza
– briefly a counterpoint to the better-known Columbus Day, but focused on the native peoples impacted by European exploration and domination. Here is a Mexican perspective on Dia de la Raza.
In keeping with our ongoing efforts to explore diverse cultures and connect with them, however intangibly, through their music, this seemed like an opportunity to sing some songs from indigenous traditions of what is now known as South America.
Three songs emerged; two somewhat familiar and one completely new to me and the music team. We have sung the Kyrie Guarany from time to time over the years, although not previously in the Guarany language. Its sweet melody is touching and gratifying to sing and connects beautifully to its words of supplication. John Bell of the Iona Community, who was a pioneer in bringing “global” music into the churches of the west, writes of the Kyrie: “Paraguay is the only country in South America which has its own indigenous language. The Guarany are the most oppressed people living on the east coast of South American, and this song is their own. They are a very mild people, which is partly the reason for them being scattered throughout the region, sometimes led by messiah figures and looking for a ‘land without evils.’”
In a livelier vein was Sarantañani, a relatively recent song from present-day Bolivia. Bell writes of it: “The Aymara people are part of the fastest growing church in Bolivia. They – who have their own language – took over the Methodist church and ‘indigenized’ it. This kind of crisis for the church is what must be expected if one speaks about the rights of native people. The song goes to a dance rhythm and was indeed danced at a recent meeting of the South American Council of Churches.”
Finally the music team performed a most unusual piece, Tonada del Chimo, in the lost language of mochica. It is in fact the only known original music composed to a text in mochica. Its haunting and somewhat primitive style is certainly evocative of a lost world and the occasional intermingled Spanish word suggests that it may be a penitential litany of some sort. Although the language is lost, our own Aaron Sonnenschein, who is a scholar of indigenous languages of Latin America, was able to lead us to a pronunciation guide. Aaron has recently returned from a trip to Mexico where he was engaged in the work of recording and transcribing yet another indigenous language on the verge of being lost forever.
Stay tuned for further adventures in liturgy…