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An oral legacy

An oral legacy

Vocabulary used in the villages in the Sierra de Huelva

The vocabulary used in the villages in the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche is the result of the inheritance left by immigrants from León and Galicia during the repopulation back in the 13th century.

The mountain region was repopulated eight centuries ago by immigrants from León and Galicia. There were also mixes and influences from Andalusia, Extremadura and Portugal and with the migration of the time, new words were introduced from Navarra, Aragón and Soria. The consequence of all this was a sub-dialect which was most probably spoken in the mountain region until way into the 14th century when the Castilian language gradually became more common.

Some years ago, the importance of this fact in the history of the Aracena Mountains and the Aroche Peaks encouraged the Rural Development Group to publish the ‘Mountain Region Dictionary’ where you can find expressions still used by the elderly, the men, women and children. The author, Rodolfo Recio, dedicated many years’ work and study to this book, travelling to the local villages and hamlets to hear the words used and to find out about each and every one of the mountain expressions and their meaning.

The oral heritage in the Mountain region also has several examples of great ethnological wealth in its popular folklore. Almonaster la Real and Encinasola are the two main centres of this tradition which is strongly marked by the influence of the fandango songs.

In Almonaster la Real, there are different styles of fandango which contribute notably to the already existing rich heritage in this town. The fandangos in Almonaster are divided into se-veral groups and are closely linked to the festivity of the May Crosses and the Saint Eulalia Pilgrimage.

The Dancing Association in Almonaster la Real has played an important role in preserving this rich folklore and has recovered and promoted its treasured songs and dances. This has also occurred in Encinasola, where their ‘Virgen de las Flores’ Chorus and Dance Group still keeps up the tradition of fandangos and their popular Tambourine Dance.

The Encinasola fandango is closely linked to the celebrations in honour of their patron saint, Virgen de las Flores. This fandango had almost gone into oblivion until the middle of the 40’s when, thanks to a villager who sang it to Rosalía Gómez Domínguez, it was retrieved. The origins of this type of fandango go back to the 18th century and were danced accompanied by an accordion, a ‘bandurria’ (a type of chordophone), a guitar and castanets during the Patron Saint festivities and at weddings and christenings.

In fact, the ‘Virgen de las Flores’ Chorus and Dance group, created in 1944 by Rosalía Gómez and Eladio Carvajo, was awarded the first prize for the fandango dance of Encinasola in the 7th National Chorus and Dance Contest in Madrid, which took place on 14th December 1948.


Although it is not the only dance existing in the Mountain region, the Tambourine Dance is surrounded by a halo of mystery and enchantment, making it different to the rest and besides, there is no fixed date for its performance.
A number of published works are also contributing to retrieving the lost memory of the origin and meaning of this artistic performance, which is a sign of identity for the villagers of Encinasola.

Nowadays, the ‘Virgen de las Flores’ Dance Group is in charge of interpreting the old tambourine songs in Encinasola, dressed in the typical costumes and playing the odd square-shaped tambourine.

There are several theories which talk about the origin of this dance. Some of them refer to a funerary ritual for the death of a child although the most believable theory talks about the repopulation of the mountain region by immigrants from León at the end of the 13th century.


Like in other rural areas in Spain, oral literature has been the key to keeping real or fictitious stories alive in many villages and places. This spoken literature, passed down from grandpa-rents to grandchildren while sitting in the light and heat of the fireside, produced hundreds of popular tales, many of them still existing today.

Some years ago, the Alma Natura Young People’s Association made a compilation of around thirty legends from all the mountain villages, a highly-valued hard task which has prevented many of these stories falling into oblivion. However, the best way to find out about these legends is to sit down and listen to the old folk in any spot in the mountain region.


Another example of folklore is the typical ‘jota’ dance in Aroche which is still danced today. It is clearly influenced by Extremadura and has its own lyrics which talk about love and the countryside in Aroche.

Other treasures of oral tradition are the Coplas de los Quintos, versed-songs which the young lads used to sing during the festivities before leaving for the Compulsory Military Ser-vice which no longer exists.

For many years Carnival time was a deeply traditional festivity in the Mountain Region although the prohibition during Franco’s Dictatorship immersed the fun celebration into a dark age. The festivity is gradually coming back to life in places like Cortegana or Aracena.

The rich oral legacy in many of our villages can also be heard every October with the voices of the bell ringers’ choirs in Galaroza and Aracena. Groups of men and women, with their guitars and other instruments walk through the village streets from daybreak on Sunday mornings singing their popular lyrics. In Almonaster la Real the bell ringers accompany the statue of Saint Eulalia and sing during the early morning of 8th December.