How singing can save your life

César-Javier Palacios reports on the cyclist, shot dead by a hunter who mistook him for a boar.

When in death’s dark vale loud singing usually suffices to drive off hell’s hunters. Hunters know this too. In his romance, Count Arnaldos, hungry hawk in hand, falls prey to a sailor (love, glory or death, true or trickster? asks Juan Ramón Jiménez) who calms the seas, bates the storm, raises the fish, stays the birds with song:

¡Quién hubiese tal ventura sobre las aguas del mar
como hubo el conde Arnaldos la mañana de San Juan!
Con un falcón en la mano la caza iba cazar,
vio venir una galera que a tierra quiere llegar.
Las velas traía de seda, la ejercia de un cendal,
marinero que la manda diciendo viene un cantar
que la mar facía en calma, los vientos hace amainar,
los peces que andan n’el hondo, arriba los hace andar,
las aves que andan volando n’el mastel las faz posar.
Allí fabló el conde Arnaldos, bien oiréis lo que dirá:
“Por Dios te ruego, marinero, dígasme ora ese cantar.”
Respondióle el marinero, tal respuesta le fue a dar:
“Yo no digo esta canción sino a quien conmigo va.”

Suzanne Petersen has a delicious collection of variants here.

My favourite reverse siren episode is in one of the best adventure books ever written: Bontekoe’s journal, being De gedenkwaardige beschrijving van de reis naar Oost-Indië van schipper Willem IJsbrandtsz. Bontekoe uit Hoorn, in de jaren 1618 tot en met 1625. An explosion has destroyed his ship and brought him physically closer to heaven than would subsequently be achieved until the invention of the hot-air balloon, and he and a handful of other survivors contemplate cannibalism and hordes of nasty natives as they attempt to reach Java. There are only so many hours in a day, so instead of a translation here’s an old précis of the simply spiffing original:

The [Sumatra] Malays [probably in a general sense], with whom they had now to deal, had great advantages from the crew being unarmed. Upon one occasion, when he went ashore, he fell in with a party of these savages, who seemed inclined to accomplish what fire, water, and famine had failed to do. “When we were about halfway,” says he, “they began to talk and dispute together, and I believed, from what I knew of their manners, that they were about to assassinate me. My heart throbbed with fear: I had recourse to God, and asked mercy of him, and that he would open my mind, and inspire me with what was proper to be done in this emergency. It seemed that he then inspired me to begin singing; which I did, notwithstanding the extremity I was in; and though I had not much inclination, I struck up a song, which begins, ‘Arbres, Ruisseaux,’ &c. When they heard me sing, they began to laugh, and opened their mouth, to such a degree, that one might see down their windpipes.”

George Melly used to tell a story of having survived the apaches of Manchester’s backstreets by chanting, his back to the wall, as much as he could remember of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate. A Spanish hunter might mistake Schwitters for boarsong, so do consider your repertoire.

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