In July of 1498 Christopher Columbus, on his third voyage to the New World, reached an island which he called Trinidad (English: Trinity) and claimed possession of it on behalf of the Spanish Crown.  The three hills seen in the south of the island were a reminder that he had vowed to dedicate the first land he reached to the Triune God of his faith, the Blessed Trinity. 

The voyagers had experienced an arduous journey from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that the island was already known as Iere or Kairi among its native inhabitants was of no concern to these newcomers who arrogantly assumed that any land they encountered would naturally belong to Spain. 

Bartolomé de las Casas (1474?-1566), historian and defender of the indigenous people, remarked later that the jubilant Spanish mariners, relieved at sighting land, celebrated the event with “folk songs and devotional hymns praising God and the Virgin Mary, according to the customs of sailors at least ours from Spain, who with either joy or sorrow, tend to sing them“. We can only imagine those men’s happiness and joy as they sang their folk and religious songs thanking the heavens for being close to land after days and nights on the treacherous waters of the Atlantic, in full hurricane season!

What did they sing? They might have chosen some of the medieval folk songs of Andalusia, Castile, Extremadura and other parts of the Iberian Peninsular. Would any of them have sung secular songs such as the famous Más vale trocar by poet and playwright Juan del Encina (1468-1529)?

Más vale trocar de Juan del Encina
Más vale trocar           It is better to exchange
       
Más vale trocar           It is better to exchange
Placer por dolores        pleasure for pain
Que estar sin amores      Than to live without love.
Donde es gradecido        Where it is well received
Es dulce el morir         Dying is sweet.
vivir en olvido,          To live when forgotten
Aquel no es vivir;        Is not to live.
Mejor es sufrir           It is better to suffer
Pasión y dolores          passion and pain 
Que estar sin amores.     Than to live without love. 

However, It is an unlikely choice for joyful celebrations.

Might one of the devotional songs be: Camina la Virgen Pura from Castile?

Camina la Virgen pura – camina para Belén,
Y en el medio del camino – pide el niño de beber;
No pidas agua, mi niño, - no pidas agua, mi bien
Que los ríos bajan turbios – y los arroyos también.
En la huerta de don Carlos – hay un rico naranjal
Cargaditas de naranjas – que nos han de menester.
Las cuidaba un pobre viejo – ciego que nada no ve
- Dame ciego una naranja – para el niño entretener
- Entre usted señora, y coja – las que sean menester
as que cogía la Virgen – salían de tres en tres
y las que cortaba el niño – volvían florecer
ya caminaba la Virgen – y el cieguito empezó a ver.
-¿Quién es aquella señora – quién es aquella mujer
quién es aquella señora – quien me ha hecho tanto bien?
-La madre de Dios y el Niño – el Niño de Dios también.


Mary the purest virgin is on her way to Bethlehem
And while on their way the child asks for a drink;
Ask not for water, my child: ask not for water, my love,
The rivers are muddy and the streams as well.
In Don Carlos’ orchard there is a lovely orange grove, 
Laden with oranges, which will satisfy our need.
An old man cared for it, he was blind and could not see.
Blind man give me an orange, to distract the child.
Come in lady, and take as many as you need.
When the Virgin picked them, they came out in threes;
From the ones the child cut, blossoms appeared.
As the Virgin went away the blind man began to see.
Who is that lady, who is that woman?
Who is that lady who has done me such a good deed?
The Mother of God, and the Child –the Child of God as well.

Be that as it may, Columbus’ crew sang what might be regarded as the first Spanish songs heard off the coast of Trinidad. What songs might those merry sailors have really sung on the waters of south Trinidad, in the vicinity of Moruga and Icacos?

Follow us as we discover much more about those Spanish songs and the origins of Trinidad Parang!


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