Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Prophetic literature and war in pre-modern times
(The catastrophe of the Hispanic Moriscos or a Memory without Memory)
by Luís Carmelo (Translated by Margarida Martins)
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"Aljamiado-morisco" literature

The prophetic message is by nature, an unstable, capricious, enunciation because it neither reveals nor hides the real, rather filtrates it. As stated by A. Berthelot (1987) the prophetic message conditions the reader to simultaneously distrust and postulate hidden meanings that surpass the actual text. This means the prophetic text fits into a type of pre-modern, interpretative universe dominated by a semiosis where the emitter is always understood as an entity that governs the mystery, be it in immanence or transcendence.
The particularities of the prophetic, however, always tend to co-operate with the reality surrounding it and with the real audience to whom it is destined. The background to this co-operation is situated in the fact that prophetic texts almost always result from simulations and forged manipulations of the future, having as an objective idealising the present conditions according to the desires of the enunciator. This is why the prophetic production oscillates between the real and the imaginary, within a misty and ambiguous region of the almost possible and almost exact.
The new Christians of the Islamic region of Aragon, the so-called Moriscos had to deal with forced conversions after 1526 and were later expelled from Spain in 1609. This community, dominated by the catastrophe of its own cultural decline produced clandestine texts of a prophetic genre, discovered just over a 100 years ago within the walls of rural houses in the Ebro region.
These clandestine texts, now in the hands of today’s interpreters, are proof of the final legacy of an entire civilisation whose existence in the Iberian Peninsula can be traced back almost a thousand years. The intention of this presentation, a mere overview, is to analyse how the Morisc identity is reflected in some of their prophecies. This is the subject that I worked on during my PhD (University of Utreque, Netherlands) in 1995.
One of the obsessions that is found frequently in the Morisc prophecies relates to the immense loss of conscience, particularly in relation to the understanding of the Koran. This sign, fatal to a community which internally wishes to be Islamic is enhanced by others factors which are always explicit in texts revealing pain, such as the loss of a mother-tongue, mystical and literary symbolism, the comparatives used in the metaphoric process (the cooking pan as a symbol of crisis and the furnace as a symbol of unity) and the loss of social and familiar conscience.
The linguistic problem of the Moriscos, (dominated by a language in the transition between old Aragon and Castilian and filled with substantial forms of Arabic) is merely an exterior symptom symbolising the impossibility of translating a culture the Moriscos believed they belong to. The social and familial degeneracy reflects the discontinuity of an old model of life in a new situation, as well as the pressure and oppression of forced conversion to which they were subjected daily.
Unable to translate the prior cultural, genealogical world and not having the necessary disposition for a profound structure to express it, (semiotic as well as linguistic), the Morisc enunciators reveal a besieged identity. The situation of hybrid identity in which they live - at all levels -is an ominous metaphor for a predicted ending, a pre-felt catastrophe. Curiously, during this century of Iberian gold, the slow death of the Hispanic community was mirrored by other deaths in the South American continent.
According to Miguel de Epalza, the link with the past, or rather with the specified Islamic genealogy, is based on an imaginary Iberian-magrebine scheme of "Almoáda" origins and reveals clairvoyant characteristics.
This means that, although the Moriscos felt recognition and nostalgia of the past they generated a simultaneous impossibility to actualise in a focused way their collective memory. The strongest evidence being the "aljamiada" literature that the Moriscos created in their homes. There is, however, no genetic relation between the Arab alphabet and the Romanic language. Due to the intense pressure of the slow demise of their culture, the Morisc text is unconsciously saturated with semantic and syntactic breaks, repetitions and a miscellany of content without direction. It is curious to note the recurrence of Arab lexemes in the prophecies of the naming systems, in particular those of people and places and more of "res" (objects) than "modus" (actions). This demonstrates a total destruction in relation to the linguistic/communicational system in cause.
The vernacular forms reveal a constant determinant and occupy a mid-ground between the dominion of the Romanic Universe (which the Moriscos refuse assimilating to) and the pressures reminiscent of the Arab. This linguistic, inter-semiotic mid-ground is by chance a reflection of the referred identity situated between two impossible fates: the lost past, object of nostalgia and the present, whose common denominator rests on the inability of the Moriscos to assimilate the Christian world.
The self-conscious progressive cultural decadence (and ignorance) is a fact that has been explicitly enunciated in various texts of the Aljamiada-Morisco literature. In the referred enunciation this aspect of the real is also represented. A deficit of identity in the prophetic corpus we are analysing, is almost always associated with the absence or the "lack" the Moriscos always felt. An example of this emptiness are the symbolic "heart," sometimes described as empty or removed according to the whether or not it has been animated by the divine spirit. The emptiness of being underlines the infidelity of men before the Divine, this is synonymous to the first death, the spiritual one. In other words an Islamic identity in its proper sense would only be compatible with an interior religious existence. This vital aspect of the degeneracy of the Moriscos is justified as having its origins in religious negligence, comparing the Moriscos to the times of Jewish exile. The announcement of the evils to come and of natural catastrophes are interpreted as constituting a divine punishment inflicted on the Moriscos for earlier negligence. The infidelity and obsessive culpability becomes, in this sense one of the most important and most relevant identity aspects of the Moriscos, justifying the emptiness they experienced.
Although the Moriscos felt a radical emptiness, they identified themselves with a strong collective conscience. The marking tendency of the Moriscos that in relation to the Christians is found in the Aljamiado-Moriscos literature reveals a very deep mark. For example, factors, like ritual hygiene or the difficulty in representing the divine stand out in the sentences which denounce the Christians ("pork eaters" "cross-worshippers") in the same way that at a more symbolic level, the Moriscos re-vindicate exclusively purification and incorruptibility as assets. Revealing in this sense is the way S. Isidoro de Sevilha is used as a pseudo-narrator of the prophecies. In one of the texts, the saint associates himself to the Divine Islamic unity (tawhid) to the non-divine nature of Jesus Christ and the still the impossible sharing that exists between God and man constituting the theological distinction between Islam and Christianity. Besides the negligence and the divine punishment to which the Moriscos feel victims, they maintain the contradictory certainty of what they inherit by rightful laws - as opposed to the Christians. One of the most reiterated Morisco denouncements occurs during the traumatic historical moment of the betrayed trials (las juras) the changing Christian politics which, between 1492 and 1501, would lead to the first forced conversions. In the analysis of the descriptions of landscapes the semiotics of space reveals the Morisco conscience of fields. Not only do they mystify the Iberian land (going as far as to state in one of the prophecies that Spain is one of the "heavenly plains" where honey flows in the rivers.) but also because they are entirely opposed to the Christians which own the Iberian territory - more scatological than physical. The symbolic space of the prophecies is in this sense, doubled: on the one hand, it replaces the great conquests of other times, on the other hand, it restructures the present, based on the desire to restructure the experience of the ottoman invasion (for which they formulated an adequate route.)
This fracture or Islamic-Christian breach manifests itself equally in characters of a symbolic nature. In this way, for example, S. Tiago de Compostela, the comet of Brittany or the French cavalry are opposed to Alhambra, to the aura of Cordoba or the cavalry of Ronda in a prophecy. These symbolic oppositions among others generate more at superficial levels in the complex text structures that constitute the actual logic of the narrative.
It is also a part of the dichotic nature of this literary real, the vision that the Christians have of the Moriscos. In this context emerges the idea of caste, emphasising the need to clean the Spanish land of all the ferment that corrupts the national unity (Christian and religious.) In one of the prophecies, the Moriscos fill this terrible semantic aspect with the figure of the Encoberto which follows the tradition of prophetic characters as a "last saviour emperor," the decisive agent of the premonitory expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain. Curiously, since the 14th century the Iberian peninsula has been full of mythical Encobertos, whether Islamic or Christian. Portugal made this figure into a myth of the restoration of its independence in the 17th Century and it would export the expression of this imaginary to Brazil.
The prophecy 3 where the Christian figure of the Encoberto emerges is clearly a text that was transformed or manipulated at a certain time by Christian hand. It represents a forged graft as many others in the time of war of Alpujarras. However, the meaning of this intervention in a Morisco clandestine corpus is not a detail but a question of interest because it allows us to understand something on a more complex Morisco identity. Although it may seem far-fetched, the analysis on the nature of the prophecy in cause is a relevant factor that we have to raise. That is, was it not a Morisco that forged the prophecy? There is a combination of details that in principle allow us to conclude affirmatively: Although the prophecy is a result of extracts taken from others (some Christian, some not, and namely, the actual prophecy 2 of the same corpus) the hesitations that indicate that the enunciator does not have (as any other moor) Castilan as a mother tongue, are clear; The refuge on Arabic words as for example, adrabes - doors to the city - or the designation of the Jabarin monster - comes from the same type of semantic destruction that surges in the remaining prophecies of the corpus; We can witness syntactic imitations (calcos), identical to those of other prophecies that reveal the presence of a linguistic model exogenous to the romanic vernacular used, assuming, therefore, characteristics common to the more general textualisation of Aljamiado-Morisco literature. The author demonstrates good knowledge of Islamic and Christian symbols, even recurring to the mythification and mystification of Spanish lands, Morisco characteristic always present in other prophecies of the corpus;
Finally, the recourse to threats and curses, reveals the manipulation skill of the forger that created ambiguities in the beginning of the text through a familiar dialogue in the Aljamiado-Morisco sphere and ends it with an unexpected victory of the Christian Encoberto.
In this way, it is well possible that a Morisco was bribed by the Christians, using the text as a common war weapon which at the time was the prophecy. A certain point allows us to conclude, with caution, that the Morisco community, aware of their own weaknesses and inconsistencies in identity is vulnerable to this self-flagellating enunciation.
If the self mutilation is an accepted attribute in another prophecy, the forth- of a clear Morisco authorship, in the rest as in the rest of the corpus- it is also possible to interpret the presence of the grafted prophecy at least in part in this same sense (that, actually is in accordance with the investigations of J. Hawkins on the "Morisco philosophy of suffering" 1998). Such an opinion might be raised, independently of the insertion of prophecy 3 in the syntax of the three remaining prophecies, at an earlier date to the enunciation of these (possibly at the time of the last copy of the present MS., all of it uniformly reigned with magrebí characters written by the same author) In the meantime let’s just say that the prophecy of our corpus corresponds to a hermeneutic logic of the time where the presence of various contradictory versions within the same texts was common, considering the common practice of intertextual manipulation that constituted the communicational and political game of the prophetic production.
This is, briefly, the silhouette of the real Morisco identity as it appears represented in the semiotic construction of the prophetic corpus of the Manuscript 774 of the Paris National Library. Survival, belief in a scatological coming, conscience of an irredeemable loss, the fight against a "hybrid" identity (of which they feel conscious) nostalgia of the past, emptiness of "being" as a punishment for the religious negligence (for which they feel responsible) self-flagellation - and still the clear conscience of the cultural field that is theirs (although without a consistent language in order to translate it into, that reveals the nature of the drama of the Morisco identity) configures traces of the real Moriscos included in the text in the time when it was created. We are facing what can be designated an internal monologue of a community going through a profound identity crisis and at the edge of the abyss or catastrophe of its own existence as a community in history. In another way we are faced with a memory with no memory.
As L. Cardaillac refers in the conclusions to his classic "Morisques et Chretiens - un affronttement polémique (1977:389) the Moriscos have no history in the sense that history pre-supposes the existence "d’un groupe humain en évolution", hereby the study of the Morisco problem besides the use of historical method to analyse it inevitably needs other methods particularly the "sociological" (ibid.:389). Our alternative route of semiotic-textual research helps to reveal representative characteristics of reality which enrich the study of terminal minorities like the Moriscos. Unfortunately, this reality is still more contemporary than it may seem.
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