Ever went paranging? Did you know there’s an order in which the Parang is sung? Ethnomusicology and Spanish lecturer Dr Francisca Allard shares with readers the history.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the custom of Christmas Parang flourished within the country districts of Trinidad. Spanish was the medium of communication within the cocoa-panyol community at that time and this resulted in the perfect transmission of parang songs to the first generation of Trinidad-born cocoa-panyols.
Eugenio Galán (deceased) stated:“Mi padre no habló inglés ni patois. El habló venezolano y yo hablaba venezolano y aprendía mucho.” (Galán, Eugenio. Interview, July 12, 1994.)
Thus, every weekend during the Christmas season, from October 8 to January 6 of the following year, a group of merry makers, also known as parranderos (travelling on foot during the olden days), visited the homes of their friends and relatives bringing them their aguinaldos, that is, their ‘Christmas gifts’ in song.
Many times the group began with a small number of three or four people but by the time they reached the last house the number of parranderos would have risen to twelve or more.
At each home that was visited the group either stopped in the yard or on the doorstep to offer their first aguinaldo. This was called the serenal, in which the group asked permission of the host to enter his/her home in order to present their other aguinaldos. Serenal is also the name given to the songs sung by parranderos along the road.
After they had been allowed inside, they proceeded to offer aguinaldos based on the Anunciación, the Nacimiento and any other aspect of the Christmas story.
The soloist sang his verses alternately with a repeated chorus and he sometimes played an instrument such as the cuatro, maracas or mandolin.
The singing was usually accompanied by the clapping of hands and intermittent high-pitched interjections while songs ended at the initiative of the soloist.
After the rendition of these aguinaldos, there was a period of rest during which the parranderos partook of the food offered to them.
In the early days, parranderos were treated to traditional Venezuelan fare. As Galán said, “En esos días había pastel, había arepa y había empanada…”. Later on, because of the inevitable process of acceptance and consequent assimilation taking place among the cultural groups within Trinidadian society, the combination of traditional Venezuelan food and local dishes (roasted pork, boiled ham, pastelles, pelau etc.) constituted the meal that was offered. Beverages were usually rum, ginger beer, sorrel and coffee.
Upon departure, the final aguinaldo called the despedida was sung. In this song, the soloist, supported by his chorus, gave thanks and praise to the host and bade him goodbye.
Notably, this was the ritual practised by the purists of the parang tradition, two of whom were Galán and Mata (both deceased). These parranderos were very critical of the inclusion of the secular songs, such as the galerón, joropo, Manzanares, seis (also brought by their East Venezuelan ancestors), into the house-to-house, parang repertory.
Galán stated: “You know that even long time, some of them used to mix up all the songs……. this is not so. The aguinaldo belongs to parang and galerón belongs to the velorio.”
Tito Lara (deceased) is one parrandero who confessed that the inclusion of secular songs in his parang repertory was normal practice for him. He explained: “…in house-to-house parang, first we sing a serenal asking the host to open the door, then we sing the Annunciation and the Birth. We then follow with a joropo, a Manzanares and the estribillo. Finally, we sing the despedida.” (Lara, Tito. Interview, December 13, 1995.) Tito’s contemporary, Felix Jimenez, also belonged to this group. The latter revealed: “… first you sing so that they would open the door. If you sing well, they’ll open it but if you don’t, then you remain outside in the dew. Inside the house you sing your aguinaldos, but you could also sing a Manzanares or a seis, or a joropo. Lastly, you sing the despedida.” (Jimenez, Felix – Interview, December 13, 1995.)
This practice of including secular songs in the house-to-house parang has led to the misconception that this has always been the norm and continues to be practised by today’s parrandero.
It may be stated that it was the ignorance of these second and third generation parranderos, with respect to the traditional culture of their East Venezuelan forefathers, which ultimately led to a change in the repertory of the house-to-house parang.
Sadly, acquiring the knowledge of traditional parang practices appears to be of little or no importance to the modern day parrandero. Thus, the repertory of the house-to-house parang continues to increase.
(Verse 1 of a Serenal)
Por primera vez
En su casa vin(o)
Ábreme la puerta
Y venga a recibir(me)
(Sung by Daisy Voisin
and La Divina Pastora)
A la medianoche
El galló canto
Bien clarito dijo
Ya Cristo nació
El ángel Gabriel
Le anunció a María
En su vientre santo
Un Niño nacía
Nostotros nos Vamos
(Verse from a despedida)
Nosotros nos vamos
Por donde venimos
Estrella de noche
Alumbra el camino
(Sung by Sylvestre Mata)
Cocoa-panyol: the East Venezuelan peon who migrated to Trinidad and lived and worked on the cocoa estates.
Estribillo: an octosyllabic song (8 syllables in each line), sung by cantor and chorus with the chorus repeated at the end of each stanza; a call-and-response song with one phrase repeated throughout the composition. e.g. ‘Seis’; ‘Hooray Hoorah’.
Galerón: this song (from Oriente, Venezuela) is identified with the Cross Wake celebration. It is a musical form which employs a descending scale pattern and a chord pattern of Tonic, followed by Subdominant and Dominant (successively).
Golpe: a variation of the ‘joropo oriental.’ It is strict and rhythmic, embracing a succession of chords in either the major or minor keys. Derivatives of the ‘golpe’ are: (1) ‘Río Manzanares’ (2) ‘Guarapo’ (3) ‘Sábana Blanca’ (4) ‘Seis’.
Río Manzanares: a secular song of East Venezuelan origin, characterised by an octosyllabic form and a falling rhythm.
Seis: a type of ‘golpe.’
Velorio de Cruz: (‘vieil croix’/’cross-wake’). Celebration of thanks for some favour received from God or a celebration held to ask God for help in some way (success, protection etc.). The celebration is usually held during the period May to July. The cross is of great importance during the celebration and it is placed conspicuously on a specially built altar. Participants keep vigil all night praying (rosary, litany etc.) and singing hymns.