Hijo de la Luna

I would like to take a moment to share one of my favorite songs, Hijo de La Luna.  It’s an old Spanish folk song that tells the story of a lonely gypsy woman who prays to the Moon for a husband and child.  The Moon agrees, but only on the condition that she can have the woman’s firstborn child–the Moon is lonely, too.  The woman protests, but the Moon has already made the deal.  The gypsy woman eventually falls in love with and marries a handsome dark-complexioned gypsy man, and soon bears a child.  The child, however, is pale and blonde, silver as the Moon.  The husband, thinking that his wife cheated, becomes enraged and kills the woman, abandoning the child on a mountaintop.  There, the Moon takes her silver child, and when he cries she becomes a cradle (the crescent) and rocks him to sleep.

I first encountered this song when I was about seven or eight on a Sarah Brightman album La Lune, in which Brightman herself channels the haunting, dangerous, tragic, lonesome beauty of a Moon goddess in her chilling elegant covers of ten folk songs in various languages. Ten years later, I stepped into a cramped Internet café in rural El Salvador only to hear the chilling, enticing melody played on heavy metal guitars and drums.  The Spanish heavy metal band, Stravaganzza, apparently also covered Hijo de La Luna as well, and the harder rock version is apparently quite popular in the Spanish-speaking world.

The song and the story it tells, despite its oldness, resonates with many themes and social struggles of Latin America.  Race is clearly an issue in the song’s story.  The selfish and all-powerful Moon is white–hyper-white.  She is called cara de plata or “face of silver” in contrast to the gypsies, whose darker features are descriptive points in the song.  The darker skinned gypsy comes begging to the white Moon, who makes dishonest agreements that exploit the gypsy’s helplessness and need.  The gypsy archetype–the dark, pagan, immoral Other of old Spain–translates easily to the “indio bruto” archetype–the dark, pagan, immoral Other of colonial Latin America, subject to the rule and whims of Spanish overlords.  One of the more disturbing components of the early colonnial encommienda system, the New World version of feudal serfdom in which indigenous Americans were owned as part of the land they worked on, was the “right to the first night.”  When a couple married, the Spanish lord had the right to rape the bride on the wedding night.  The song makes me wonder about the fates of the victims of this all-too-common system of institutionalized rape–did resentful husbands take out their anger on the mother of a child that clearly half Spanish and not Indian?  What became of these children of the Moon, these first mestizos, and their twice-f*****d mothers, in those violent early colonnial days of Latin America?

Plata (silver) itself is a complicated material with a horrifying history in Latin America.  Today, the most common expression used to say one has no money is “No tengo plata” or “I don’t have silver” rather than using other words like dinero (money) or oro (gold).  The mountains of silver shipped to Europe with the sweat, blood, and death of millions of Indoamericans was part of the economic stimulus that allowed the Renaissance and Enlightenment to take place with the patronage of monarchs and clergy.  We “Westerners” perhaps owe more to the nameless enslaved miners buried in Potosí than we usually acknowledge.  The infamous silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia, are known even today as “the mountain that eats men.”  Miners literally scrape out a living from the nearly exhausted mines, searching desperately for silver ore while dust clogs their lungs and dynamite threatens to bring down the mountain on their heads.  Like blood diamonds, the silver in the jewelry we give one another as symbols of love may have their origins in pits of misery.

Another dimension to the race-power question is gender.  The “indian” woman, and what she ought to be, is central to discourses of race in Latin America, whether it be indigenismo (idealization of “pure” indigenous cultural roots) or mestizaje (idealization of the “mixing” of indigenous with Spanish blood and culture).  The Latin American woman is supposed to reproduce not only physical bodies but also culture and values, is burdened with a lot of responsibility.  In the song, she tries to break out of her assigned role and exhibit agency with the simple desire of a husband and child, but the larger powers of the cosmos (the moon) and patriarchy (her husband) rob her of her voice, her agency, her child, and her life. Punished for her aspirations, she is used and destroyed.

The gender-culture-power question presented in Hijo de La Luna also reminds me of my favorite historical figure, La Malinche.  She was born around the year 1500 to a royal family in a Nahuatl-speaking area of what is now southern México; however, her father died when she was still young.  When her mother remarried and bore a son, she was sold into slavery because her existence threatened the inheritance of the male child.  She was taken as a slave to a Maya ruler in what is now Tabasco, where she learned to speak that variety of Mayan.  It was there that the conquistador Hernán Cortés landed on his way to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (now México City), and the Maya ruler gave her along with nineteen other young women as gifts to Cortés and his men to help “grind corn.”  Cortés quickly discovered that she spoke both Nahuatl, the laguage of the Aztecs, and Mayan.  Working as both a translator and cultural intermediary, La Malinche enabled Cortés to negotiate alliances with the many enemies of the Aztecs.  She appears prominently in many drawings and records of the time.  She also bore Cortés a son, the mother of the first mestizo (a person of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent).  La Malinche is a contradictory figure; in popular Mexican nationalist thought, she is considered the Mexican Eve, the whore who sold her people to the evil Spanish.  Feminist Mexican and Chicana scholars have battled against this rather sexist and unfair portrayal of a historical figure who, more than likely, saved lives by using verbal negotiation rather than armed conflict; what’s more, the Aztecs were not the most gentle empire-builders and their subjects had many reasons to resent and overthrow them.  I myself find her heroic, having survived the emotional trauma of her early life, then having the cool-headedness to be the primary person responsible for countless dangerous situations in which a slip of a word in three languages could end her life, then bearing the child of the world’s most famous conquistador. And then, after all that, she is defamed for the rest of her country’s history.

The third time that Hijo de La Luna banged me over the head with significance was one night with my host family in El Salvador.  I was sitting in the kitchen, taking fieldnotes and playing with the beautiful four-year-old daughter.  The father arrived and went to talk to the mother in the only other room in the house.  It wasn’t long before they started one of their long, bitter arguments.  I’m still not entirely sure what they argued about–the father would tell me one thing, the mother another–although mutual distrust, finanicial insecurity, and suspicion of infidelity were common themes.  Both of them were only 23, hardly older than me.  Their rapid heated voices raised steadily for an hour until the mother started to sob, and the father left and came into the kitchen.

He sat across from me at the table. I was still pretending to write fieldnotes, terrified to show any reaction.  The mother told me he had been violent in the past.  He gave me a deep, sad look, the saddest face I have yet to see on a human being, and then scooped up his sleepy daughter.  He plopped into the hammock in the kitchen, cradling her in his arms, and took out his old janky phone-mp3 player.  What song did he choose? Stravaganzza’s Hijo de La Luna.  He played it over and over again, it must have been thirty times in a row.  Finally, when the mother’s sobs ceased and became slow sleeping breaths, he carried his daughter to her bed, bid me goodnight, and walked out of the house into the rainstorm.  It was about one in the morning.

Hijo de La Luna.  It’s the story of racism, of exploitation, of greed, of desperation, or jealousy, of unjust vengeance.  The characters are ancient and immortal and universal; immoral but sympathetic in their imperfection.  Here in Ecuador, I hear the mournful song occasionally on the radio, and when I sit down to write I put it on repeat.  It helps me remember the complexity of personal life, in a culture or set of cultures that I still don’t and probably never will understand.

Stravaganzza’s Version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBDaBWsgJaU

Sarah Brightman’s Version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2E49-xwTKw

Lyrics (from http://www.lyricstime.com/stravaganzza-hijo-de-la-luna-lyrics.html):

Tonto el que no entienda
Cuenta una leyenda
Que una hembra gitana
Conjuró a la luna
Hasta el amanecer.
Llorando pedía
Al llegar el día
Desposar un calé.

Tendrás a tu hombre
Piel morena
Desde el cielo
Habló la luna llena
Pero a cambio quiero
El hijo primero
Que le engendres a él
Que quien su hijo inmola
Para no estar sola
Poco le iba a querer

Luna quieres ser madre
Y no encuentras querer
Que te haga mujer
Dime luna de plata
Qué pretendes hacer
Con un niño de piel
Hijo de la luna

De padre canela
Nació un niño
Blanco como el lomo
De un armiño
Con los ojos grises
En vez de aceituna
Niño albino de luna
Maldita su estampa
Este hijo es de un payo
Y yo no me lo callo

Gitano al creerse deshonrado
Se fue a su mujer
Cuchillo en mano
¿De quién es el hijo?
Me has engañao dijo
Y de muerte la hirió
Luego se hizo al monte
Con el niño en brazos
Y allí le abandonó

Y en las noches
Que haya luna llena
Será porque el niño
Esté de buenas
Y si el niño llora
Menguará la luna
Para hacerle una cuna
Y si el niño llora
Menguará la luna para
Hacerle una cuna

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~ by Tara on March 4, 2012.

5 Responses to “Hijo de la Luna”

  1. I love reading your post. Thank you for sharing! I know this song and like many other folk songs it reveals the many issues that Latin American culture deals with. As for Malinche, there is always a debate about how to portray her. Like you said sometimes it’s negative and at others she is a heroine. Most of the time her name and story is called “La Maldición de Malinche”, referring to her betrayal to everything that is Mexican. Malinche continues to hold negative connotations because of all the Western influences that Mexico has welcomed. Not all has been necessarily bad but when the indigenous cultures and history is forgotten then there is a problem. The song “La Maldición de Malinche” by Amparo Ochoa is a favorite here is the link: http://youtu.be/eyUwolkWINk
    Loveee ❤
    ~eva

  2. Love this story

  3. Thanks for that post! I found your interpretation of the song very interesting. In fact, I’ve often felt guilty listening to that song because I found it racist and not appropriate for people to listen to in the 21st century. I love the melody but I feel that it is anti-ziganist as it depicts the “gypsy woman, Maldita” as naive and her husband as violent and ruthless. I liked your interpretation of it which is completely different, still I fear that the song might contribute to anti-ziganist senitments because it pretends to tell an old myth, even though it’s just the phantasy of a white young man from Spain who wrote about people (“the gypsies”) that he probably doesn’t know much about and depicts them as barbarous. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the song!

  4. I am from El Salvador and I loved this story, the song and the contrast you created with the subject. Thank you for this post 🙂

  5. […] The song is explained here: https://tararaquelclaroscuro.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/hijo-de-la-luna/ […]

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