Nudity in Folk Songs

This post follows up on my previous one on nudity in folktales. Lyrical melodies have their own structural composition exigencies that don’t always correspond to the act of story-telling, but there is a lot of overlap. A tale is a tale, whether told or sung. Singing about nudity isn’t the same as singing in the nude, although singing about nudity in the nude would certainly be appropriate!

Without getting into the precise definition of what makes a song a “folk” song, I’d like to point out the very thorough article in the current issue of N magazine (38.2) by leading naturist scholar Mark Storey on popular music that explored the streaking fad of the early 70s (pages 24M-29M). Storey has written often in N on the topic of nudity in various popular media. The author concludes, “Maybe naturists today need to take a not-too-serious look at the value of humor in advancing clothes-free ideals. There’s a lot to say for the public relations appeal of joy and fun each season in the sun” (29M).

On that note, I’m offering here a folk song from the Spanish-language tradition, along with my translation, that makes a little good-natured fun of being naked, and of being innocently naked in particular. I first heard “La Almoneda” (The Auction) on a cassette tape of Mexican folk music for children – the 2004 album La víbora del mar by the Mexico City-based group Los Hermanos Rincón (The Rincón Siblings). You can listen to the song at this link. I no longer have the tape, and I’m not having any luck finding out whether this song was composed by Los Hermanos Rincón or is merely their version of a folk song – most of the songs on the album are the kind of traditional children’s songs that have no identifiable composer.

Here are the lyrics in Spanish with my translation in English. I’ve taken some liberties, especially in the third verse, with the literal meaning in order to keep the rhyme scheme, but in all cases the plot is the same: bumbling Father Philbert is tricked into buying something that is lacking its essential characteristics. (Note: I wanted to have this appear in side-by-side Spanish and English, but WordPress Gutenberg still has non-responsive columns. What I’ve done instead is to pair each verse and put them in orange for Spanish and blue for English.)

Sacaron a vender una escopeta                   

Sin cañón, sin culata y sin paqueta               

La compró el Padre Filiberto                         

Para matar los ratones del convento

At the auction they were selling an old rifle

Without a butt, without a trigger or a barrel

It was bought by good old Father Philbert

For getting rid of all the mice at the convent

Sacaron a vender algunas sillas                    

Sin patas, sin respaldos, sin rejillas               

Las compró el Padre Filiberto                        

Para sentar a las monjas del convento     

At the auction they were selling some old chairs

Without backs or legs or seats for derriéres

They were bought by good old Father Philbert

For seating all the nuns at the convent

Sacaron a vender unas sardinas                   

Sin carne, sin cola y sin espinas                   

Las compró el Padre Filiberto                        

Para los días de vigilia en el convento          

At the auction they were selling quesadillas

Without salsa, without cheese, without tortillas

They were bought by good old Father Philbert

For Fridays during Lent at the convent

¿Padre Filiberto?

Sacaron a vender unos calzones                  

Sin tela, sin pretina y sin botones                  

Los compró el Padre Filiberto                        

Para los días de verano en el convento

At the auction they were selling some old breeches

Without cloth, without buttons, without stitches

They were bought by good old Father Philbert

For all those sunny afternoons at the convent

The first three verses set up the theme of Father Philbert being duped into paying something for nothing. It makes sense that the verse about the clothing would be the final verse, since it seems the most ridiculous, the most extreme, and of course, the most “revealing.” You can’t top that, so that’s where this delightfully silly song ends.

The thematics are related to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to the extent that someone is being hoodwinked into clothes that are not in fact clothes, but rather nothing at all. In both cases, the someone who is being swindled is a male authority figure, whether monarch or clergyman. The surprise of contemplating such a person being naked brings home the point that we are all human. Some say death is the great equalizer… I’d say nudity is, too, or at least a close second!

In the old Romancero, a collection of medieval Spanish ballads, it’s a frequent trope that a character is sleeping nude and must get dressed quickly upon being awakened in the middle of the night for some emergency. A common euphemism for the nudity in these situations was to say, or rather sing, that the character was in a state “como la parió su madre” (as her mother gave birth to her) – in other words, in her “birthday suit”! Do you know other examples of nudity in folk songs?

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