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Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

During a visit to the
White House as our
Ambasssador in the US,
Mrs. Mary Mann asked
Sarmiento permission
to translate his two
most important works.


Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) was the author of Civilization and Barbarism, also known as Facundo after its principal character, the nineteenth century caudillo Juan Facundo Quiroga. Sarmiento paid two visits to the U.S., the first time in 1847 after his European tour and then in 1865 as our Ambassador to the White House. During his first visit he met Mr Horace Mann who was probably the greatest figure in education in Massachusetts. The two men had much in common and they exchanged ideas for two whole days. When Sarmiento returned to the States in 1865 Mr Mann was dead but Mrs Mary Mann received him in a most friendly way and she did all she could to help the great Argentine. Her admiration for him was so deep that she asked him permission to translate his two most important works. This translation you are about to read is by her...

Music too is found among our people. It is a national taste and recognised by all our neighbours. When an Argentine is first introduced to a Chilean family, they at once invite him to the piano, or hand him a guitar, and if he excuses himself on the ground that he does not know how to play they express wonder and incredulity saying, "An Argentine who is not a musician?". This general supposition bears witness to our national habits. It is a fact that the young city people of the better classes play the piano, flute, violin or guitar. The half breeds devote themselves almost wholly to music, and many skilful composers and players have sprung among them. Guitars are constantly heard at the shop-doors in summer evenings; and late in the night obe's sleep is pleasantly disturbed by serenades and peripatetic concerts.

The country people have songs peculiar to themselves. The triste prevalent among the people of the northern districts is a fugue melody expressive of lamentation such as Rousseau consideres natural to man in his primitive state of barbarism.

The vidalita is a popular song with a chorus accompanied by the guitar and tabor, in the refrain of which the bystanders join, and the number and volume of the voices increase. I suppose this melody originated with the aborigines, for I once heard it at an Indian festival at Copiapó, held to celebrate Candlemas. As a religious song it must be very old, and the Indians of Chili can hardly have adopted it from the Spaniards of the Argentine Republic.

The vidalita is the popular measure for songs about the topics of the day, or war exploits. The gaucho composes the words that he sings and leaves it to the associations that the song arouses to make them understood by the people. Thus, then, amidst the rudeness of the national customs, two arts which embellish civilized life and give vent to many generous passions are honoured and favoured even by the lowest classes who exercise their uncultured genius in lyrical and poetical composition.

In 1840, Echeverría, then a young man, lived for some months in the country where the fame of his verses about the pampa had already preceded him; the gauchos surrounded him with respect and affection and when a new comer showed signs of the scorn he felt for the litle minstrel, someone whispered into his ear, "He is a poet", and that word dispelled every prejudice.

It is well known, besides, that the guitar is the popular instrument of the Spanish race and that it is also common in South America. The majo or troubadour, the type of a large class of Spaniards, is still found there and in Buenos Aires especially. He may be recognised in the gaucho of the country or in the swaggerer of the town.

The cielito, the dance of the pampas is animated by the same spirit of the Spanish jaleo; the dancer makes castanets of his fingers. All the movements of the city swaggerer disclose the majo; the action of his shoulders, his gestures, all his ways from that in which he puts on his hat, to his style of spitting through his teeth, all are of the purest Andalusian type.

From these general customs and tastes are developed remarkable pecularities which will one day embellish the national dramas and romances, and give them an original shade of colour. I propose at present only to notice a few of these special developments in order to complete the idea of the customs of the country, and so to explain subsequently the nature, causes and effects of its civil wars.

PHOTO: La Calandria, traditional Argentine dance - Litograph by Aurora de Pietro


on the ground that: saying, with the excuse that (con la excusa que, con el pretexto que)
bears witness to: gives evidence or testimony (demuestra
, testimonia)
half breed: the child of a white person and an American Indian (mestizo)
expert, able, clever, very good at doing something (habilidoso)
one who composes music (compositor)
player: performer (ejecutante)

to spring/sprang/sprung:  to come out suddenly; to appear; to come into being (sobresalir, destacarse)
peripatetic: walking from place to place (itinerante)
melody: poliphonic composition (melodía en forma de fuga)
tabor: (tamboril) a small drum (tambor) often used to accompany the pipe (gaita
refrain: (refrán) phrase that is repeated at the end of stanzas (estrofas
bystanders: people who are watching in a standing possition; spectators (espectadores de pie)
the original inhabitants of a place found when the first colonists arrived (aborígenes, nativos)
in Spanish "Día de la purificación de la Virgen de La Candelaria" on February 2nd." (
Fiesta de la Candelaria)

exploits: brilliant achievements; great deeds; notable, heroic acts (hazañas, proezas)
to arouse/aroused/aroused: to awaken; to cause to appear (despertar interés, movilizar)
in the middle of (en medio de)
to embe
llish: to make more beautiful (embellecer)
to give vent: to allow one's emotions to be known; to express them freely (liberar, soltar los sentimientos)
reputation; name; celebrity; glory (fama)
open contempt; disdain (desprecio, desdén)
to whisper/whispered/whispered/whispering: to speak in a soft, low voice; privately, very often in the ear of the hearer (susurrar)
to dispel/dispelled/dispelled: to dissipate (dispersar, disipar, desvanecer)
what is called a compadrito among Argentine people (compadrito, baladrón, matasiete)
castanets: a pair or one of a pair, of shells of hard wood held in the hand and struck together as an accompaniment to music and dancing (castañuelas)
gestures: movements of the body, head, arms, hands, face expressive of emotion, or of an idea (gestos)
to spit/spat/spat: to eject saliva from the mouth (escupir);
spitting: ejection of saliva (escupida)
subsequently: later on when the right moment comes (a su debido tiempo)