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Moriscos' Poems Prove how the Arab-Muslim Culture Survived the Catholic Spain

posted on: Jan 16, 2018



Pressured to abandon their faith and convert to Christianity, the life of Moriscos in Spain was almost unbearable following the Expulsion decreed by King Philip III. While, everyone claims that they have surrendered to this pressure and ended up integrating into the new Christian society, new poems written in Arabic and discovered by Caren Barcelo and Ana Labarta deny this chapter of history. Details.

Moriscos' Poems Prove how the Arab-Muslim Culture Survived the Catholic Spain

Moriscos are former Muslims who chose, after the fall of Al-Andalus in 1492, to convert to Christianity in order not to be expelled from Spain. Historians locate these new converts throughout the Iberian Peninsula, in Granada and Valencia where they settled down during the 15th century. However, in 1609, they were forced to abandon their land and leave Spain following a decree promulgated by King Philip III.

The tragic events caused by the aforementioned decree finally ended in 1628, the year when King Philip IV ascended the throne. The latter had ceased the expulsion policy by declaring that Moriscos can even return from exile. This was not the only reported crime against them. By choosing to stay in a hostile zone, Moriscos were faced with a broad campaign of evangelization, forced to abandon their Muslim and Arabic culture.

Even after the fall of Al-Andalus, the Arabic dialect was used by the Moriscos

While several accounts point out that Spanish monarchs had succeeded in eradicating Islam at the time, others report that the process of evangelization had failed. The latest version of the story was supported last year by new discoveries made by Carmen Barcelo and Ana Labarta. The two have discovered, translated and published 168 poems, written in dialectal Arabic and dating back to the 16th century. A discovery that is considered as a turning point in the history of Spain, reports 20 Minutes.

Moriscos' Poems Prove how the Arab-Muslim Culture Survived the Catholic Spain

These poems confirm that this minority has produced poems on love, legends, religion and contemporary events, using their mother tongue, several years after the fall of Al-Andalus and the evangelization campaign.

The work of these two researchers who spent more than 40 years studying the Arabic language and Muslim culture is indeed very important as it recognizes the value this language held in Spain by the beginning of the 17th century. «Although we knew that the Valencian Moorish community used dialectal Arabic as a daily used language, these poems belie the idea that these people were a repressed minority, having lived a brutal life and had lost their culture», said Ana Labarta.

After discovering these texts, the two researchers encountered a set of difficulties during the transcription process. In many cases, they were dictated poems with interrelated words. Ana Labarta and Carmen Barcelo support the thesis suggesting that these poems were sung in public.

Poems about religion, love and contemporary events

Part of the research conducted by the two professors working at the University of Valencia was published in a book entitled «Cancionero Morisco», published in 2016. It is a group that contains a single poetic corpus. Most of the poems discovered deal with different themes. Some are rather religious, while others are devoted to topics about love, legends and prophets. There are also poems describing contemporary events, such as  the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 and Charles V’s expedition in 1541.

The main body of the research of the two teachers consisted of 56 poems, copied from a single codex of 180 folios and preserved in the Historical Library of the University of Valencia.

Moriscos' Poems Prove how the Arab-Muslim Culture Survived the Catholic Spain

Moreover, the two researchers have gone through the documents preserved at the National Archives in Madrid, the archives of the University of Pamplona and the historical archives of Malaga. Good deals for them since these archives contain several books that describe the «Inquisition» era. «With the failed expulsion, Moriscos of Valencia spoke a dialectal Arabic, which forced us to deduce from the documents themselves the meaning and structure of the poems», said Ana Labarta. Till now, the known writings of the Moriscos living in Valencia were in the form of letters, and business notes or prescriptions. This new research will help recognize the heritage of Moriscos in the 16th century

The study conducted by the two university lecturers is particularly important for Valencia. The expulsion had affected between 120,000 and 130,000 people out of a population that accounted for 400,000, sais the historian Albert de Circourt in his book «History of Mudejares mores and Moriscos» (G.A. Dentu, 1846). Thousands of Moriscos had been killed in clashes prior to the deportation while others were murdered near the ports while their children had been abducted.