Batey at Caguana, Utuado

Batey at Caguana, Utuado

“These people had a good and graceful manner of remembering things past and ancient, and that was in their song and dance, which they called arreytos, which is what we would call dancing while singing…. The way they did the areyto was like this. When they wanted to enjoy themselves, celebrating among themselves some notable fiesta, or without one, as a pastime, many Indians, men and women, would come together (sometimes the men only, and other times the women on their own) and at the general fiestas, as well as for a victory or for vanquishing an enemy, or at the marriage of the cacique or king of the province, or for some other reason in which the enjoyment was shared by all, the men and women would sometimes come together and so extend their happiness and rejoicing by joining hands, and also at other times going arm in arm, and two large groups would form a line (or a ring in the same fashion), and one of them would assume the lead (either a man or a woman), and he or she would dance a few steps forward and then a few steps back, like a very orderly contrapás, and then do the same over again (as do leaders or teachers of dancing, changing the tone and the contrapás, they repeat the same story or take up another (if the first one has come to an end) in the same rhythm or in some other.

This way of singing, on this and other islands (and even in many parts of Terra Firma), is an embodiment or remembrance of things past, of war or peace, because with the repetition of such songs, the deeds and happenings of the past are not forgotten. And these songs remain in the memory, in the place of books of their memories, and in that way they recite the genealogies of the caciques and kings or lords that they have had, and the works that they did, and the good times and the bad that they have experienced or had, and other things that they want the little children and the grownups to talk about or that they want known and fixed in the memory, as though carved in stone, and that is why they continue to hold areytos, so that they will especially not forget the great victories in battle.

As soon as these songs and the contrapases or dances turan, other Indian men and women go about giving drink to those who are dancing, without do not stop but are always moving their feet and drinking down what they are given. And what they drink are certain beverages that are used among them, and when the fiesta is over, most of them, men and women, are quite drunk and they remain stretched out on the ground, senseless, for many hours. And falling just as drunkards do, they are pulled out of the dance while the rest go right on, so it is the drunkenness that brings the dance to an end. This is when the areyto is solemn and when there are marriages and funerals, or because of a battle or an important victory and fiesta; because they hold other areytos very frequently without getting drunk. And all know history in this form, some because of this vice and others to learn this kind of music, and sometimes other similar songs and dances are invented by people who are held, among the Indians, to be special people, with greater gifts in this.”

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Historia general de las Indias, pp. 73-74.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 12, 2014.

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