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 Güegüense

A Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity

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"The love of dramatic performances was not crushed out in the natives by the Conquest.   In fact, in the Spanish countries, it was turned to account and cultivated by the missionaries as a means of instructing their converts in religion...   It was even permitted to the more intelligent natives to compose the text of plays.  One such, manifestly, I think, the work of a native author, in the mixed Nahuatl-Spanish dialect of Nicaragua, I have prepared for publication.  The original was found by Dr. Berendt, and his copy, without note or translation, came into my hands.

The play is a light comedy, and is called "The Ballet of the Güegüense or the Macho-Raton." The characters are a wily old rascal, Güegüense, and his two sons, the one a chip of the old block, the other a bitter commentator on the family failings. They are brought before the Governor for entering his province without a permit; but by bragging and promises the foxy old man succeeds both in escaping punishment and in effecting a marriage between his scapegrace son and the Governor's daughter. The interest is not in the plot, which is trivial, but in the constant play on words, and in the humor, often highly Rabelaisian, of the anything but venerable parent."   Daniel G. Brinton, 1883

The Comedy - Ballet of Güegüense

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'"El Güegüense' or 'Macho Raton' is a satirical drama well known throughout Nicaragua, which is performed each year from 17 to 27 January during the feast of San Sebastián*, patron saint of the city of Diriamba in Nicaragua’s Carazo province. El Güegüense, a synthesis of Indigenous and Spanish cultures combining theatre, dance and music, is considered one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era expressions.

The earliest texts were probably composed in the early eighteenth century. All together, they comprise 314 stories transmitted in Spanish, Basque and Nahuatl, the lingua franca of many Latin American peoples. The stories revolve around encounters between the Spanish colonial authorities and native Americans, represented particularly by the central character, El Güegüense, whose name derives from the Nahuatl term güegüe, a powerful elder figure in pre-Hispanic Nicaragua. The Güegüense defends himself against charges levelled against him by the colonial authorities through a series of clever verbal manoeuvres. Rather than directly confronting or challenging an authority, he attempts to appear consistently co-operative and compliant, while utilizing subterfuge to undermine Spanish authority. 

Interspersed in street processions, the plays are generally performed by eight main characters supported by dancers. Violins, guitars and drums provide the musical accompaniment. Costumes, wooden masks, hats and other attributes differentiate the various characters. For example, Güegüense carries a whip while the Macho Raton is represented by a stylised horse head derived from indigenous folk tradition.

The tradition is familiar to most of Nicaragua’s predominantly Spanish-speaking population owing to the nationwide television coverage of the annual Saint’s Day procession."   UNESCO.


 

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, proclaimed El Güegüense a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible of Humanity at a special ceremony in Paris, France, on 25 November 2005. El Güegüense represents outstanding value as masterpiece of the human creative genius testifying to the world's cultural diversity and richness. El Güegüense has its roots in the cultural tradition and cultural history of Nicaragua.

The Government of the President of the Republic of Nicaragua, His Excellency Mr. Enrique Bolaños, expressed its satisfaction for the Director General of UNESCO’s visit to Nicaragua in February 2006, his permanent and firm commitment with Nicaragua in the different projects for cooperation in the cultural, educational and scientific fields, which contribute to preserving and consolidating the cultural identity of the Nicaraguan people.

Last February, the Director General of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, visited the Republic of Nicaragua for two days.


The Play:  Güegüence or Macho Ratón

Before analyzing this play the reader should be informed that the Aztecs in Central America practiced the same religious rites, preserved the same language (Nahuatl) and institutions as the Aztecs who dwelt 2,000 miles away in Mexico, even though this separation included numerous powerful nations speaking different languages and having distinct social structures.

Among the scenic representations which have been preserved by the descendants of the Mangues in the ancient city of Diriamba  (Nicaragua), the only one of length which has been committed to writing is the Güegüence or Macho Ratón. The period selected for its performance is usually at the festival of  St. Sebastián, January 20th. The preparations are elaborate. In earlier times the rehearsals took place daily, sometimes for as much as six or eight months before the public performance. The actors provided their own costumes, which required considerable outlay. There were, however, always plenty of applicants, as it was not only considered an honor to take part, but also, the patron or patroness of the festival was expected to furnish refreshments at each rehearsal. The following is a sample of the music which accompanies the ballets in the Güegüence:

El GüegüenseCharacters:

The Governor Tastuanes

The Chief Alguacil

The Güegüence

Don Forcico, his elder son

Don Ambrosio, his younger son

The Lady SuchiMalinche

The Royal Secretary

The Registrar

Güegüence

This Nahuatl word means “the honored elder”, applied to certain old men of influential position who were elected by the natives as rulers of the villages. In this drama he is anything but a respectable person. He is cynically impudent, and boasts of unscrupulous tricks.

As the drama was formerly presented, the Güegüence wore the most magnificent apparel of any of the actors. He was draped in chains of gold, strings of silver coins, and ornaments of steel.

Don Forcico, Don Ambrosio

The two sons of Güegüence are drawn in as strong contrast as possible. The former follows the paternal example faithfully and sustains his parent in all his tricks and lies, the latter as invariably opposes and exposes the old man’s dishonesty.

Suchi Malinche

Suchi is a corruption of the Nahuatl word for flower, and Malinche, the name of the Indian girl who served Cortes as interpreter in his first campaign in Mexico and became his mistress. Malinche is also one of the days of the Aztec month, it being the custom in Mexico and Central America for natives to name their children after the day on which they were born. She is clothed in a tunic fastened with bright silk sashes; chains of gold and costly jewels adorn her garments and a wreath of flowers crowns her hair.

Machos

Mulea, they are twelve or more in number. They wear heads of skins imitating those of mules surmounted with horns of goats and a wicker basket frame draped with sashes. In their hands they carry bells. Among the ancient Nahuas there were various superstitions relating to mice. If they gnawed a hole in the dress of a wife, her husband took it as a sign that she had been unfaithful to him; she likewise suspected the same if his garments were attacked. When food was eaten by mice, it indicated that the people of the house would be falsely accused of something.

Plot

The action takes place before the Royal Council in the Governor’s quarters. Güegüence, a wily, old, ostentatious rascal who pretends to be deaf is brought before the Governor for entering his province without a permit. He is accompanied by his two sons, the one a chip off the old block, the other a bitter commentator on the family failings. By bragging and promises the foxy old man succeeds both in escaping punishment and in effecting a marriage between his son and the Governor’s daughter.

The play is available to the reader in both Spanish and English as the particular additions of Nahuatl are most evident in the Spanish version. A sample follows:

Gobernador: Pues, Don Forcico asamatimaguas semo verdad a sones sepaguala motalce Gueguence quichua contar guil hombre rico, tin riquezas, tin hermosura, tin belleza, en primer luger cajoneria de oro, cajoneria de plate, doblones de oro, monedas de plata, hay me sagua Don Forcico.

Governor: Well, Don Forcico you are to tell me the truth about the stories which Güegüence tells, saying that he is a rich man, and has property, and handsome and beautiful things; in the first place, chests of gold, chests of silver, doubloons of gold, coins of silver; so tell me clearly, Don Forcico. 5

This jargon is an example of the mixed dialect which came into vogue after the arrival of the Spaniards, both in the Mangue districts of Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America. This language, consisting of a broken-down Nahuatl and a corrupt Spanish, first served as a means of communication between the conquerors and their subjects and later became the usual tongue of the latter. The Aztecs of pure blood spoke contemptuously of this jargon as the language of slaves. This dialect was carried into the various nations who came into contact with the Spaniards and mestizos and we can still find traces of it in their tongues. Many of its Spanish elements are ungrammatical and others are long since obsolete in the classical tongue. It is interspersed with words and whole phrases borrowed from the Aztec, but with such mutilations that they are scarcely, or not at all, recognizable.

For those people versed in Spanish there are many opportunities to identify the comical words and phrases purposely misused by Güegüence when he feigns deafness. When an aid to the governor petitions Gueguence for tax money, the protagonist conveniently interprets the monetary terms as follows:

“salados” (salted fish) for “salario” (salary)

“redes de plato” (nets of plates) for “reales de plato” (pieces of eight)

“quesos duros” (hard cheese) for “pesos duros” (coins)

“doblar” (to toll a bell) for “doblones de oro y de plata” (doubloons of gold and silver)

 

Epitome of the Story of The Güegüence.

 

The Governor and the Alguacil meet and enter into, conversation. The Governor directs that the songs and dances which are for the diversion of the Royal Council should cease, and bewails its poverty.

 

He also directs that no one shall be allowed to enter his province (or presence?) without a permit from the patrol. The Alguacil complains that their poverty is so great that they have no fit clothing, and lays the blame on Güegüence. The Governor refers to Güegüence in severe terms, and orders that he be brought before him, by any means.

 

Güegüence, who with his two sons is within earshot, hears the Governor's orders, and pretends to think that it refers to a calf or a colt.

 

The Alguacil announces himself as a servant of the Governor. Güegüence professes to understand that it is a female servant who desires to see him.

The Alguacil corrects him in this, and informs him that he is to fly to the Governor. Güegüence takes the word in its literal sense, and chaffs about an old man flying. The Alguacil suggests to him that he had better learn how to salute the Governor properly on entering his presence, and offers to teach

him the customary salutation for a consideration. This proposal Güegüence accepts, but chooses to misunderstand the considerations suggested by the

Alguacil, and replies in a series of quid-pro-quos and gibes. At last, he produces some money, which, however, he will not pay over until the Alguacil

gives the promised instruction. The Alguacil recites the formal salutations, which Güegüence pretends to misunderstand, and repeats, instead, some phrases

of similar sound, which are discourteous to the Governor. For this the Alguacil threatens to whip him, and on Güegüence continuing in his taunts, gives him two blows, and recommences his lesson.

 

At this juncture the Governor appears, answers Güegüence's salute, and asks him why he has entered the province without a permit. At first Güegüence answers by relating how he had traveled without a permit in other provinces. Finding this does not meet the case, he seeks to turn the inquiry by a dubious story how a girl once gave him a permit for something besides traveling. The Governor, not choosing to be put off with this, Güegüence proposes they shall be friends, and that the Governor shall have some of the immense riches and beautiful clothing which Güegüence possesses.

 

The Governor expresses some doubt as to this wealth, and proposes to examine, apart, Giiegiience' s oldest son, Don Forcico.

 

He does so ; and Don Forcico corroborates, in the most emphatic terms, the statements of his father: “ the day and the night are too short to name all his possessions."

 

The Governor remains, however, uncertain about the truth, and requests a similar private talk with Güegüence's younger son, Don Ambrosio. The latter tells a very different story, asserting that all his father's boasts were lies, and that he is, in fact, a poor, old, thieving ragamuffin. Güegüence, who overhears him, rails at him as a disgrace to the family ; and Don Forcico assures the Governor, in very clear terms, that Don Ambrosio has none of Güegüence's blood in his veins.

 

To settle the question, Güegüence proposes to show the Governor the contents of his tent-shop, and has the two boys bring it forward and raise the sides. He then offers the Governor several impossible things, as a star, which is seen through the tent, and an old syringe, which he suggests might be profitably applied to the Royal Council. As the Governor replies roughly, Güegüence at once changes the subject to a laudation of the remarkable skill of Don Forcico in many vocations. The Governor is interested and proposes to inquire of Don

Forcico himself as to the truth of this. The latter repeats the boasts, and on the Governor inquiring as to whether he knows some diverting dances, with his father and his brother, he dances a ballet.

 

The Governor wishes to see another ballet, which the three perform, also ; and this is followed by two others, in which the Governor and Alguacil also take part.

 

Following these the Governor asks for the masquerade of the macho-raton, or the mules. They are led in by Don Forcico, and march around the stage.

Güegüence avails himself of this auspicious moment to ask for the hand of the Lady Suche-Malinche, the Governor's daughter. The Governor sends the Alguacil for the Chief Secretary, who returns with Suche-Malinche and other young women. The Secretary describes what an elegant costume is expected

of the son-in-law of the Governor, and the latter suggests that Güegüence has cast his eyes too high. The old man explains that it was not for himself, but for Don Forcico, that the request was made, and pretends to feel quite badly about the marriage. He, nevertheless, brings up the young women, one by one, who are rejected by Don Forcico, with very uncomplimentary remarks, until Suche Malinche comes forward, who pleases him, and with whom he is married. The Governor then suggests that Güegüence treat the Council with some Spanish wine. This the old man does not find it convenient to understand, and when he can no longer escape, and and is at a loss where to obtain the liquor, is relieved by Don Forcico, who has secured it in a questionable manner.

 

The mules, that is, the masqueraders who represent them, are then brought up, and as Giiegüence examines first one and then another, they give him opportunity for a series of extremely broad jokes and vulgar allusions.

Finally, the loads are placed on the mules, the boys mount them and move off, while Guegüence, having offered his wine to the Governor, the Secretary, the Registrar and the Alguacil, who each in turn tell him to be off, leaves the stage shouting to his sons that they will all have a rouse that will cost them nothing.

 


The Comedy - Ballet of Güegüense

* Diriamba’s festival of San Sebastian is known throughout Nicaragua, especially for its street dance-theatre performances: El Güegüense, El Toro Huaco, and El Gigante (David and Goliath).  The traditional tope marks the formal beginning of the festival.    San Sebastian is taken to the village of Dolores, where he is met by the patron saints of the nearby towns of San Marcos and Jinotepe. This tope constitutes a ritual invitation to Diriamba’s neighbors. When Santiago’s (Jinotepe) and San Marcos’ festivals approach, their mayordomias also stage a tope, inviting San Sebastian (and Diriambans) to attend.


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