Casanova warns Spanish authorities re sexual mores of “Swiss” immigrants to Sierra Morena, plus the etymology and origins of flamenco, and other items of interest

One of the many etymologies of flamenco is rather curious. From the typically poor Spanish-language entry in Wikipedia:

Durante el siglo XVIII el asistente Olavide pretendió combatir el bandolerismo instaurando colonias de catolicos alemanes y flamencos (tenidos por disciplinados y laboriosos) en el Alto Guadalquivir. El fracaso de adaptación de muchos de ellos engrosó las filas de las bandas de asaltadores en los que los gitanos ya eran numerosos, pudiéndose producir una confusión entre el término flamenco (que a la vez designaba también de manera jergal a la navaja) y las gentes marginales.

In fact, apart from reducing the exposure to bandits of travellers and riches from the Indies, the immigrant colonies set up under the Fuero de las Nuevas Poblaciones (1767) were designed to

  1. replace the “dead hands” of the simultaneously-expelled Jesuits with “hard-working arms” on depopulated and desertified lands in Andalusia and the Sierra Morena;
  2. create a new, rational society of small landowners along Enlightenment lines, presumably based partly on French theory and partly on views of the North American experience.

Colonists were enlisted by the Bavarian agent Johan Kaspar von Thürriegel not just from Germany or Flanders, but from a broad range of French-, German- and Dutch-/Flemish- and Italian-speakers across western central Europe, some of whom ostensibly converted to Catholicism in order to satisfy project conditions. The colonists suffered from the climate and poor agricultural conditions, from problems of communication with a stifling bureaucracy, and from the attacks of jealous neighbours–landowners, villagers and ecclesiastics. The colonies finally lost their separate administrative status under the liberals in 1835.

Alexander Slidell Mackenzie (A year in Spain (1836, and hence unable to claim royalties from Peter Mayle)) gives some idea of the ideals of the scheme:

Olavide saw … that the stock of cultivators is Spain was rather a bad one; and that their prejudice against labour, which has descended from those days when arms, and not servile offices, were the proper occupation, of a Christian, together with the listlessness and indolence which his meager participation in the fruits of his own labour has ingrafted upon the character of the Spanish peasant, would be heavy impediments to the execution of his scheme. He determined, therefore, to seek a population for his infant colony in some distant land, and thus to avail himself of that impulse which emigration, like transplantation in the vegetable world, usually gives to human industry. Settlers were brought at a great expense from Germany, and each family received a portion of land, a house, the necessary implements of labour, and a certain number of domestic animals. When an emigrant had cultivated and put in order his first allotment of land, he received an additional field. The houses were all built alike, and so placed as to form one or more wide streets on either side of the highway. Particular attention was paid to the health of the infant colony, and no emigrant was allowed to settle near a morass. The new settlers, to the number of seven thousand, were for a time supported at the public expense; but first turning their attention towards producing the immediate necessaries of life, they were soon able to maintain themselves. Being directed by the aid of science in the choice of their crops, and freed from the support of an idle population of priests and friars, from the burdensome taxes, ruinous restrictions, and thousand evils which bore so hard upon the rest of Spain, they began in a few years to produce some oil, wine, and silk for exportation, in addition to the wheat, barley, rye, oats, peas, and Indian corn required for their own consumption. Some of the towns had also domestic manufactures of glass, earthenware, hemp, silk, and woollen. Such was the transformation wrought by Olavide in the hitherto uninhabited regions of Sierra Morena. The haunts of wild beasts became the habitation of man; the wilderness was converted into a garden; the howl of the wolf and the whistle of the robber were exchanged for the rattle of the loom and the gleeful song of the husbandman.

The ubiquitous George Borrow (The Bible in Spain; he later passes through another “German” colony, La Carolina) provides a gloomy view of long-term outcomes:

After a sojourn of about fourteen days at Seville, I departed for Cordova. The diligence had for some time past ceased running, owing to the disturbed state of the province. I had therefore no resource but to proceed thither on horseback. I hired a couple of horses, and engaged the old Genoese, of whom I have already had occasion to speak, to attend me as far as Cordova, and to bring them back. Notwithstanding we were now in the depths of winter, the weather was beautiful, the days sunny and brilliant, though the nights were rather keen. We passed by the little town of Alcala, celebrated for the ruins of an immense Moorish castle, which stand on a rocky hill, overhanging a picturesque river. The first night we slept at Carmona, another Moorish town, distant about seven leagues from Seville. Early in the morning we again mounted and departed. Perhaps in the whole of Spain there is scarcely a finer Moorish monument of antiquity than the eastern side of this town of Carmona, which occupies the brow of a lofty hill, and frowns over an extensive vega or plain, which extends for leagues unplanted and uncultivated, producing nothing but brushwood and carasco. Here rise tall and dusky walls, with square towers at short distances, of so massive a structure that they would seem to bid defiance alike to the tooth of time and the hand of man. This town, in the time of the Moors, was considered the key to Seville, and did not submit to the Christian arms till after a long and desperate siege: the capture of Seville followed speedily after. The vega upon which we now entered forms a part of the grand despoblado or desert of Andalusia, once a smiling garden, but which became what it now is on the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, when it was drained almost entirely of its population. The towns and villages from hence to the Sierra Morena, which divides Andalusia from La Mancha, are few and far between, and even of these several date from the middle of the last century, when an attempt was made by a Spanish minister to people this wilderness with the children of a foreign land.

At about midday we arrived at a place called Moncloa, which consisted of a venta, and a desolate-looking edifice which had something of the appearance of a chateau: a solitary palm tree raised its head over the outer wall. We entered the venta, tied our horses to the manger, and having ordered barley for them, we sat down before a large fire, which burned in the middle of the venta. The host and hostess also came and sat down beside us. “They are evil people,” said the old Genoese to me in Italian, “and this is an evil house; it is a harbouring place for thieves, and murders have been committed here, if all tales be true.” I looked at these two people attentively; they were both young, the man apparently about twenty-five years of age. He was a short thick-made churl, evidently of prodigious strength; his features were rather handsome, but with a gloomy expression, and his eyes were full of sullen fire. His wife somewhat resembled him, but had a countenance more open and better tempered; but what struck me as most singular in connexion with these people, was the colour of their hair and complexion; the latter was fair and ruddy, and the former of a bright auburn, both in striking contrast to the black hair and swarthy visages which in general distinguish the natives of this province. “Are you an Andalusian?” said I to the hostess. “I should almost conclude you to be a German.”

Hostess. — And your worship would not be very wrong. It is true that I am a Spaniard, being born in Spain, but it is equally true that I am of German blood, for my grandparents came from Germany, even like those of this gentleman, my lord and husband.

Myself. — And what chance brought your grandparents into this country?

Hostess. — Did your worship never hear of the German colonies? There are many of them in these parts. In old times the land was nearly deserted, and it was very dangerous for travellers to journey along the waste, owing to the robbers. So along time ago, nearly a hundred years, as I am told, some potent lord sent messengers to Germany, to tell the people there what a goodly land there was in these parts uncultivated for want of hands, and to promise every labourer who would consent to come and till it, a house and a yoke of oxen, with food and provision for one year. And in consequence of this invitation a great many poor families left the German land and came hither, and settled down in certain towns and villages which had been prepared for them, which places were called German colonies, and this name they still retain.

Myself. — And how many of these colonies may there be?

Hostess. — There are several, both on this side of Cordova and the other. The nearest is Luisiana, about two leagues from hence, from which place both my husband and myself come; the next is Carlota, which is some ten leagues distant, and these are the only colonies of our people which I have seen; but there are others farther on, and some, as I have heard say, in the very heart of the Sierra Morena.

Myself. — And do the colonists still retain the language of their forefathers?

Hostess. — We speak Spanish, or rather Andalusian, and no other language. A few, indeed, amongst the very old people, retain a few words of German, which they acquired from their fathers, who were born in the other country: but the last person amongst the colonists who could understand a conversation in German, was the aunt of my mother, who came over when a girl. When I was a child I remember her conversing with a foreign traveller, a countryman of hers, in a language which I was told was German, and they understood each other, though the old woman confessed that she had lost many words: she has now been dead several years.

Myself. — Of what religion are the colonists?

Hostess. — They are Christians, like the Spaniards, and so were their fathers before them. Indeed, I have heard that they came from a part of Germany where the Christian religion is as much practised as in Spain itself.

Myself. — The Germans are the most honest people in the world: being their legitimate descendants you have of course no thieves amongst you.

The hostess glanced at me for a moment, then looked at her husband and smiled: the latter, who had hitherto been smoking without uttering a word, though with a peculiarly surly and dissatisfied countenance, now flung the remainder of his cigar amongst the embers, then springing up he muttered “Disparate!” and “Conversacion!” and went abroad.

“You touched them in the sore place, Signor,” said the Genoese, after we had left Moncloa some way behind us. “Were they honest people they would not keep that venta; and as for the colonists, I know not what kind of people they might be when they first came over, but at present their ways are not a bit better than those of the Andalusians, but rather worse, if there is any difference at all.”

And finally Casanova explains how he explained to Olavide or Olavides that the great scheme was never going to work anyway:

At the time of which I am speaking the cabinet of Madrid was occupied in a curious scheme. A thousand Catholic families had been enticed from Switzerland to form a colony in the beautiful but deserted region called the Sierra Morena, well known all over Europe by its mention in Don Quixote. Nature seemed there to have lavished all her gifts; the climate was perfect, the soil fertile, and streams of all kinds watered the land, but in spite of all it was almost depopulated.

Desiring to change this state of things, his Catholic majesty had decided to make a present of all the agricultural products for a certain number of years to industrious colonists. He had consequently invited the Swiss Catholics, and had paid their expenses for the journey. The Swiss arrived, and the Spanish government did its best to provide them with lodging and spiritual and temporal superintendence. Olavides was the soul of this scheme. He conferred with the ministers to provide the new population with magistrates, priests, a governor, craftsmen of all kinds to build churches and houses, and especially a bull-ring, a necessity for the Spaniards, but a perfectly useless provision as far as the simple Swiss were concerned.

In the documents which Don Pablo Olavides had composed on the subject he demonstrated the inexpediency of establishing any religious orders in the new colony, but if he could have proved his opinion to be correct with foot and rule he would none the less have drawn on his head the implacable hatred of the monks, and of the bishop in whose diocese the new colony was situated. The secular clergy supported Olavides, but the monks cried out against his impiety, and as the Inquisition was eminently monkish in its sympathies persecution had already begun, and this was one of the subjects of conversation at the dinner at which I was present.

I listened to the arguments, sensible and otherwise, which were advanced, and I finally gave my opinion, as modestly as I could, that in a few years the colony would vanish like smoke; and this for several reasons.

“The Swiss,” I said, “are a very peculiar people; if you transplant them to a foreign shore, they languish and die; they become a prey to home- sickness. When this once begins in a Switzer, the only thing is to take him home to the mountain, the lake, or the valley, where he was born, or else he will infallibly die.”

“It would be wise, I think,” I continued, “to endeavour to combine a Spanish colony with the Swiss colony, so as to effect a mingling of races. At first, at all events, their rules, both spiritual and temporal, should be Swiss, and, above all, you would have to insure them complete immunity from the Inquisition. The Swiss who has been bred in the country has peculiar customs and manners of love-making, of which the Spanish Church might not exactly approve; but the least attempt to restrain their liberty in this respect would immediately bring about a general home-sickness.

If they impressed Casanova, then we clearly need to know more about the sex lives of eighteenth century Swiss peasants and handymen.

The etymological question is more complicated. In the various contemporary accounts we have of the (Andalusian) colonisation, the immigrants tend to be referred to as virtually anything but Flemish. This makes it difficult to understand how these rural inhabitants could have been the cause of the urban styles that had developed in and around Seville in the (Atlantic) colonial era becoming known as flamenco, Flemish.

It would be interesting to see some DNA research on gypsies in Andalusia in general and Seville in particular, surprising numbers of whom have blue eyes and/or (unbleached) blonde hair. Although in Spanish we usually understand by aflamencado the association of cultural manifestations with gypsies, I think it is significant that in late eighteenth century and early nineteenth texts from the southwest it is also used to describe the acquisition or possession of Flemish-type physical characteristics–see for example the entry for afragamengádo in the 1827 edition of Vieyra’s English-Portuguese dictionary. I think it is highly significant that in Cervantes’ Rinconete y Cortadillo, set in 1600ish Seville, quoted in part yesterday, our youthful pickpocket and cardsharp witness a prostitute in a Fagin-like thieves’ kitchen singing with percussion ensemble in for us recognisable style of her love “por un sevillano, rufo a lo valón“, for a Sevillian, blonde as a Walloon:

At this, Monipodio said, All of you have spoke like good friends, and as such shake hands together; which they did immediately; and Escalanta taking off one of her pattens, began to make a sort of rough music with it ; Gananciosa took a new-palm broom, which she found in the house, and with scratching it, made a sound, that though it was hoarse and rough, agreed well enough with the patten; Monipodio broke a plate into two pieces, which he put between his fingers, and ringing one against the other, made the treble to the patten and the broom: Rinconete and Cortadillo being surprized at the new invention of the broom, for till then they had never seen it, Maniferro observing it said, You are admiring the broom, she plays a good stick; music sooner made, and with less trouble, nor cheaper was never invented in the world; and I heard a student say the other day, that neither Negrofeus who fetched Orishe from hell, nor Marion who got upon the dolphin, and went to sea, as a gentleman would do upon a hired mule, nor that other great musician, who built a city with a hundred gates, and as many wickets, never invented a better kind of music, so easy to be learned, such a manner of touching it, so without keys, strings, cliffs or notes, and without any trouble of putting it in tune; and by the lord Harry, they say that an Italian in this city, who sets up for a very Hector in music, was the inventor of it. I believe it very readily, answered Rinconete, but let us listen to the performance of our musicians, for by Gananciosa’s humming, I suppose she is going to sing. And indeed it proved so, for Monipodio had begged her to sing some couplets of those which were last made for their own use: The first that began was Escalanta, who with a shrill cracked tone, sung the following:

For a red-hair’d Sevillian, the lord of my soul,
My passionate heart is burnt up to a coal.

Gananciosa sung the next:

What various desires does Cupid impart,
A swarthy-fac’d lover possesses my heart.

And presently after Monipodio making an extraordinary flourish upon the pieces of the broken plate, roared out in a hoarse voice :

All the quarrels of lovers soon end in good nature,
Tho’ their anger is great, yet their pleasure is greater.

Cariharta likewise being unwilling to be silent, took another patten, fell to dancing, and accompanied the rest singing:

Hold, angry man, forbear your bad design,
It’s your own flesh you beat, when you beat mine.

Let us sing the plain song, (I mean that without any discord) said Repolido, and let us not meddle with old stories; for what is passed, let it pass, let us talk of something else; there have been words enough to that tune.

A couple of cautions occurring at this moment:

  1. Palm-brooms were not new to the Mediterranean–the Romans used and wrote about them–so their presence isn’t necessarily a sign of the influence of slaves from West Africa, where they were (are) also popular. On the other hand, their apparently novel use is interesting.
  2. That Monopodio roars out in a hoarse voice doesn’t necessarily mean he is Camarón de la Isla’s great-great-great-great-grandaddy. GemmaMS writes:

    In the book Escenas andaluzas by Estébanez Calderón, written in 1847, we can read a conversation between two of the most famous Gypsy cantaores: El Planeta, and El Fillo. The latter was known for his extremely harsh voice, so harsh that this type of voice has come to be known among flamenco fans as afillá. El Planeta, the older master, tells the young “El Fillo”, talking about another harsh-voiced singer, El Broncano, that “Broncano’s voice is harsh and unacceptable and his style is not elegant, and not from this land, so I beg you (…) not to walk in his waters: stay in the old path, and don’t move an inch from it.”

It will be interesting to see what Antonio and David Hurtado have to say about the origins of the styles referred to by the blanket term flamenco in a book that they are apparently bringing out this autumn and that hopefully will go some way to correct the romantic rubbish written by people like Blas Infante and Lorca on the subject. Their previous work (eg here) is encouraging.

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Last updated 11/07/2019

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Andalusia (152):

Don Quixote (36): Don Quixote, fully titled The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha, is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Federico García Lorca (38): Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca, known as Federico García Lorca was a Spanish poet, playwright, and theatre director. García Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the Generation of '27, a group consisting of mostly poets who introduced the tenets of European movements into Spanish literature.

Flanders (31): Flanders], French: Flandre [flɑ̃dʁ], German: Flandern, [flɑndɛɹn]) is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium, although there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history.

George Borrow (16): George Henry Borrow was an English writer of novels and of travel books based on his own experiences in Europe.

German language (54):

Gypsy (126):

Kaleboel (4307):

Madrid (155):

Mediterranean Sea (73): The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Southern Europe and Anatolia, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant.

Miguel de Cervantes (82):

Moors (89):

Natural history (512): Natural history is the research and study of organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study.

Seville (31):

Sex (40):

Spain (1881):

Spanish literature (171):

Tree (284):


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