On January 5, 1884, Colombian philologist Rufino José Cuervo (Bogotá
1844–Paris 1911) wrote a letter from Paris to Miguel Antonio Caro (1845–
1909), his fellow grammarian and president of Colombia from 1892 to 1898,
who was then residing in Bogotá: “Do you know if somebody has thought
about collecting [in Colombia] housemaid tales such as those collected by
Grimm and Andersen?” (Cuervo 1978, 111). What was initially posed as a
question soon became an affirmation. The apparent lack of documentation
of a collected folk corpus has often led to the assertion that in the nineteenth
century there were very few studies of folk expressions in Colombia. Gustavo
Otero Muñoz, for example, wrote in 1928 in his book La literatura colonial de
Colombia seguida de un cancionerillo popular [Colombian colonial literature
followed by a small songbook]: “The Republic of Colombia is behind in the
work that corresponds to it, as a civilized country, namely, that of contributing
its fragment of truth regarding the common heritage of the species, formed
by the science that Grimm, Max Muller, Bopp and so many other wise men
have glorified, searching in the traditions of each regional folklore, the bond
that brings into relation the different religions and languages of the peoples”
(Otero Muñoz 1928, 241).
This idea of the lack of serious studies of local expressive cultures (includ-
ing music) has persisted well into the present.1 Whether through absence of
documentation or through the use of inappropriate methodologies in the
study of local expressive culture, this seeming lack has acquired a foundational
character, the aura of a national truth that hauntingly returns during different
The Ear and the Voice in the Lettered City’s
Geophysical History
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