By Javier Nieto-Remolina
MADRID – A Puerto Rican scholar has recovered for her new book the voices of the Moriscos shortly before their expulsion from Spain in 1609, as well as subsequent writings after they were already in exile.
In her research, Luce Lopez-Baralt, a professor of Spanish and Comparative Literatures at the University of Puerto Rico and deputy director of the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language, delved into the secret codices of the Moriscos, descendants of the Muslim population that converted to Christianity in 1502 under threat of expulsion by Ferdinand and Isabella.
In their clandestine works, the Moriscos – persecuted because they were suspected of being insincere in their Christianity and disloyal to the crown – wrote in “aljamiado,” a dialectical form of Spanish written with Arabic script.
That “hybrid” form of writing, transliterated by “rebellious and combative authors,” according to Lopez-Baralt, was indecipherable by Spaniards unfamiliar with Arabic or Arabs who did not speak Spanish.
After almost three decades of work, the author’s research – invigorated by the pioneering studies of Spaniard Miguel Asin – has taken shape in the book “La literatura secreta de los ultimos musulmanes de España” (The Secret Literature of Spain’s Last Muslims), a title published by Spain’s Trotta in which, Lopez-Baralt said, “part of a submerged, lost, silenced world” is recovered.
In an interview with Efe in Madrid, where she presented the book this week, the author expressed her satisfaction at having “recovered the voice” of these Moriscos four centuries after the destruction of their community.
In April 1609, after the Moriscos who inhabited the Spanish kingdoms of Valencia and Aragon already had lived for many years under obligation to profess the Catholic faith and persecuted by the Inquisition for supposed lack of loyalty to both crown and church, King Philip III ordered their expulsion to North Africa.
The codices (hand-written books from late Antiquity or the Middle Ages) by Moriscos of that period describe that community’s ritual practices, magic, medicine, prophecies, interpretation of dreams, home remedies for minor ills and even “the secret itinerary that might guide them out of Spain and even (help them) return secretively.”
Some examples: A codex of Aragonese origin contains the oracle of Ali Ibnu Yabir Alfarasiyo, in which an unknown individual reveals to a holy man of Damascus “the outrages that will occur in Muslim Spain in the future, which are, as would be expected, the neglect of their religious rites and their collective licentious behavior,” the author said.
Also unearthed were recipes for ointments to cure ulcers, instructions to “cure wounds caused by swords or daggers or accidents,” and concoctions to “turn one’s face fresh and colored” and “stimulate fertility.”
In the astrological texts, scholar al-Biruni writes that “those born under the signs of Gemini, Sagittarius and Capricorn must have a beautiful and long beard, while the sign of Cancer will make one’s children good sailors and the sign of Virgo will make them good viziers and eunuchs.”
And according to Lopez-Baralt, the aljamiado texts also refer to the trials of tribulations suffered by the Moriscos due to their community’s having been persecuted by the Inquisition and forced into exile.
An author who used the pseudonym Mancebo de Arevalo wrote that in the southern city of Granada a woman told him that in the Arabian market she had seen meat being wrapped with pages torn from the Muslim codices of the Nasrid dynasty.
Another text describes a Morisco adult being jailed for wearing a medal with Arab inscriptions.
According to the inquisitorial codices, such markings invoked the devil, when in reality, according to Lopez-Baralt, “it was an Islamic talismanic blessing that his mother had given him as a boy and with which she said goodbye to him forever, since the boy would remain in Spain while she was expelled.” EFE