Provocative Connections Between the Orient and Latin America

Provocative Connections Between
the Orient and Latin America

Written by Tim Hazell

Poetry, chant, incantation and mantra all contain their music coiled within the shells of words.  Javanese gamelan and talking drums in symphonic groupings, characteristic of Africa, use repetition, seemingly without the need for variation.  Some centuries-old examples were intended for rituals involving dance that continued until hypnosis set in and participants became transcended.  Poems set to Middle Eastern music incorporate drones, bourbon notes over which melodies are sung and played.  Lyrics typically deal with unrequited love and betrayal.  A formal introduction, like a peacock spreading its tail and strutting before a mate, is followed by principal melodic lines; an oud mutters and weeps as singers’ voices rise before the  haunting and ethereal finale.  These improvisations employ stylized themes with refrains.  Medieval lyrics are redolent of the perfumed language of the Moors, testifying to a man’s hapless rage and date back over a thousand years.  Many would have been accompanied by ethnic strings and percussion:


To My Mistress


Ungenerous and mistaken maid,

To scorn me thus because I am poor!

Canst thou a liberal hand upbraid

For dealing ‘round some worthless ore?

To spare’s the wish of little souls,

The great gather but to bestow;

Yon current down the mountain rolls,

And stagnates in the swamp below.

- Abu Tammam Habib


The legacy of the Moors migrated with the camel trains and Saracen horsemen to Andalusia when it became part of the Arab empire.  Spanish galleons carried this warm breeze to the tropical sands of the New World.  There, among native and black cultures, the melting pot simmered with new ingredients.  Latin American writers from multiracial backgrounds adapted and shaped their distinctive hybrid poetry to reflect the sounds of a variegated tropical environment.  In “Os TrLs Amores” by Castro Alvez (1847-71) we can still hear music from the Oriental desert and the African steppe.


My soul is like the dreaming front

Of the crazy bard, who cries Ferrara

I am Tasso!... the spring of your laughs

Flowers my life’s solitudes..

Far from you I drink your perfumes,

I follow on earth the lights of your steps...

You are Eleonora...


My pensive heart faints

Mulling over your favorite rose

I’m your pale misty lover

I’m your Romeo... Your languid poet!...

I dream about you sometimes


I steal from you a chaste kiss by the moonlight

And you’re Juliet...


In the voluptuousness of Andalusian nights

The fiery blood rolls in my veins...

I’m Don Juan!... Loving damsels,

You know my dirge on the guitar!

Over the love bed your breast shines...

I’ll die if I undo your mantilla

Your are Julia, The Spaniard


Tales of New World riches set Renaissance imaginations ablaze.  It would be left to Spain, liberated from the Arab empire, to cross an ocean to trade, conquer, convert and plunder as fortunes were made and dissipated.  Mediterranean languages were incorporated into the myriad spoken by indigenous cultures.  The results gave newly-blended races of people, their religions, traditions, music and literature a distinctive eloquence.  French, Portuguese and Spanish contributed vitality and elasticity to the music inherent in regional vocabularies.  We can look for inspiration in lyrics that gestured and danced among polyrhythms!


Siroccos, Monsoons and Fossil Deserts:


Heating up on the equatorial sides of the Horse Latitudes, trade winds move in two belts towards the equator.  Dry currents dissipate cloud cover, allowing the sun to bear down on arid lands.  Trade wind deserts follow the path of their namesake winds, including North Africa’s Sahara, the world’s largest sea of sand.  These desiccated regions have waxed and waned since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, frequently encroaching upon human settlements and farmlands. 

Fossil sediments from ancient beds of sand as much as 500 million years old are found throughout the world, including rainforest environments.   Examples in the US include the Carroll Rim Trail, John Day Fossil Beds Monument, Painted Hills Unit, Oregon, and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Dominant weather patterns and geographical locations determine the characteristics of deserts as trade wind, rain shadow, coastal such as Peru’s Atacama, or polar.  The Arctic tundra represents a vast area of desertification in Canada’s far north, while inland Antarctic dry valleys have been snow free for thousands of years.


Desert siroccos that blow in one direction shape a wilderness of articulating dunes, some with crest-to-crest widths of more than three kilometers.  These leviathans remain poised, expectant, until a buildup of sand at the brink exceeds their angles of repose, causing small avalanches to slide down the slip-faces, or leeward sides.  Then slowly, majestically, grain by grain, the dunes are on the march - downwind, crossing the sun’s anvil, their undulations bathed in light and shadow.  Here are places in transition, like fragile webs, a delicate balance where equipoise is precarious, a cantilevered arrangement of microclimates.


In these marginal areas, human activities stress the ecosystem beyond its tolerance limits, resulting in degradation of the land. Grazing livestock compact the substrate with their hooves.  The collection of firewood eliminates plants which help to anchor the soil.  For the inhabitants of the Sudan, moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly in the dry season when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table.  The Mesakin Nuba, one of many tribes throughout the region, are an agrarian people whose quality of life hinges on abundant yields of staples, particularly dura, their word for sorghum.  Clay-based soils fire in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry season.  Beds for growing crops must be broken up by hand, using primitive shovels.


“Monsoon” is Arabic in origin, their word for season.  Wind systems are prone to seasonal reversals due to temperature variations between continents and oceans.  Traders’ southeastern winds off the Indian Ocean produce a summer deluge as they move onshore, crossing the Indian continent before losing moisture on the slopes of the Aravalli Range.  Monsoon deserts such as the Rajasthan of India and Thar Desert of Pakistan spread where dry regions are born west of the range.


Zephyrs near the Earth’s surface scatter the granules aloft as dust or haze.  Parched atmospheres are crowded with fragments in suspension, held indefinitely in the biosphere by upward currents of air which support their weight.   Saltation moves small particles in the direction of the wind in a series of short hops or skips.  A saltating grain may hit other grains that jump up to continue the process.  Eolian turbidity currents produce dust storms.  Rain passes through and cools the desert.  This sinks, chilled and dense, toward the surface and reaches hot ground, deflecting air forward.  Turbulence sweeps up surface debris in its wake as a dust storm.  Compact winds, appropriately named “dust devils,” whirl like dervishes over arid land, related to intense local heating and destabilization of the air mass.  These can create gyrating funnels a kilometer in height.


On occasion, sand seas are wracked by violent storms.  When a rare shower is imminent, the water can torrent.  Dry stream beds, called arroyos or wadis quickly fill, making human crossings dangerous.  Regal waters such as the Nile flow through hostile environments, their volumes derived from rain and snow accumulations from highlands at their origins.  Sediments are picked up and deposited as these courtesans meander their way to the sea.  Civilizations based on alluvial residues spring up and flower as ripples in their wake.


Desert plants are tolerant of drought and the salt content from small reservoirs of concentrated water that they store in leaves, roots and stems.  In Mexico’s semi-arid central plateau regions, plant cover is typically lean, but of great diversity—as is the animal life that benefits from aquifers and springs.  Cacti, deciduous trees and aquatic plants thrive, some reintroduced through conservation.  Fauna includes species of birds, reptiles and mammals adapted to meager habitats.  Reservoirs often support verdant shoreline growth, fish and varieties of birds.  The dry chaparral represents a Mexican highland panorama of grasses, mesquite and huizache trees and the stately garambullo or candelabrum cactus.  Summer rains turn these regions into palettes of greens interspersed with riots of multicolored blooms. 


For the inhabitants of deserts and regions with water shortages, quarrels over allocations in newly appropriated ecozones readily mushroom into structural conflicts between ethnic lines of demarcation.  Equilibrium in vast tracts of the world’s arid and semi-desert areas is dependent upon environmental harmony and balanced equations of soils, climates, water, flora and fauna.  Modern conditions such as global warming exacerbate persistent drought.  The resulting is widespread famine.  In the process of readapting to variant ecological habitats, environmental borders are created.  Unfortunately for the millions of homeless and dispossessed, these often become ethnic and cultural identification criteria.  Fragile ecology means fragile peace.


Arabian Sea Trade Routes:


Sea trade routes from the Arabian peninsula extended to the Spice Islands in Indonesia, Zanzibar in east Africa, the Han Chinese kingdom to Malacca and from Ezion-geber along the mouth of the Aqaba Sea to the gold mines of Solomon.  Their dhows were coastal vessels, unsuited to deep water, hugging the contours of the land masses, docking at night and setting out the next morning, staying a day or two at most to take on cargo and refurbish their supplies. 

The Moors controlled a vast empire from northern Africa which, until the dissolution of their military and scientific unity in the twelfth century, included Spain, Sicily, parts of Italy and Portugal.  Moorish verse, music and instrumentation influenced western medieval philosophy, science and the arts long after their citizenry had returned to Africa.  Certain kingdoms in Spain remained under their rule however such as Granada, the last to fall before the Christians under Ferdinand and Isabella, during the holy war of 1492.  Spaniards preserved much Arab literature, including verse and ballads of Moorish origin.  The texts of pieces such as the melancholy “Verses To My Daughters” are laced with the perfumed language of romance, culture and refinement, poignant in the twilight of defeat.


With jocund heart and cheerful brow

I used to hail the festal morn,

How must Mohammed greet it now?

A prisoner helpless and forlorn.


While these dear maids in beauty’s bloom,

With want opprest, with rags o’erspread,

By sordid labors at the loom

Must earn a poor, precarious bread.


Those feet that never touched the ground,

Till musk or camphor strewed the way,

Now bare and swoll’n with many a wound,

Must struggle through the miry clay.


Those radiant cheeks are veiled in woe,

A shower descends from every eye,

And not a starting tear can flow,

That wakes not an attending sigh.

Fortune, that whilom owned my sway,

And bowed obsequious to my nod,

Now sees me destined to obey,


The Bullfight Of Gazul


King Almanzor of Granada, he hath bid the trumpet sound,

He hath summoned all the Moorish lords, from the hills and plains around;

From vega and sierra, from Betis and Xenil,

They have come with helm and cuirass of gold and twisted steel.


'Tis the holy Baptist's feast they hold in royalty and state,

And they have closed the spacious lists beside the Alhambra's gate;

In gowns of black and silver laced, within the tented ring,

Eight Moors to fight the bull are placed in presence of the King.


Eight Moorish lords of valor tried, with stalwart arm and true,

The onset of the beasts abide, as they come rushing through;

The deeds they've done, the spoils they've won, fill all with hope and trust,

Yet ere high in heaven appears the sun they all have bit the dust.


Then sounds the trumpet clearly, then clangs the loud tambour,

Make room, make room for Gazul---throw wide, throw wide the door;

Blow, blow the trumpet clearer still, more loudly strike the drum,

The Alcaide of Algava to fight the bull doth come...


Contact with ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Persians, and later on with the Ottomans brought the Arabs in close contact with cuisines of other sophisticated dominions.  This multi-cultural infusion combines sweet and savory and comes from the Arabian Gulf. 


Meat and Walnut Nadi with Dates


3 tbsp. butter

1 lb. ground beef

1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped

2 chicken stock bouillon cubes

3/4 cup water

5 tbsp. lemon juice

1/2 tbsp. lemon zest, shredded

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup dried dates, chopped

3 tbsp. molasses

2 tsp. ground cumin

Good pinch of ground black pepper

Salt, if needed



Heat the butter in a saucepan.  Add the meat and coriander leaves, and sauté for 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add bouillon cubes and water and simmer for another 10 min until the meat is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Add the lemon Juice, lemon zest, walnuts, dates and cumin and cook a further 5 minutes.  Place in the center of a large serving plate and surround with plain rice.


Morocco and Tajines:

Morocco’s landscape is rugged, with slopes that gradually descend into plateaus and valleys.  The Atlas mountains dominate the central part of the country, while its southeastern region is blanketed by the Sahara Desert, North Africa’s sea of sand, extending over an area of more than 3,600,000 square miles.


Moisture symbolizes life itself, particularly when deep wells must be dug to reach the water table.  Water shortages influence the cuisines of many arid regions.  Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish, together with vegetables, spices, nuts and dried fruits.  Traditionally cooked in a tajine pot with a domed or cone shaped lid, this unctuous combination of meat and fruit, serves 4 to 6.


Moroccan Tajine with Prunes

2 lb. tender beef or lamb, cut into serving pieces, or chicken legs

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. saffron

1 tsp. turmeric

2 four-inch pieces cinnamon stick

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup chopped coriander



1/2 lb. prunes

1 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. sugar

1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

1/2 cup toasted almonds


Heat the oil and butter in a casserole over medium heat and gently brown the meat of choice.  Remove from the pot, add onions and garlic and half the coriander and allow to deglaze.  Cook gently until golden, then add salt, black pepper, ground ginger, turmeric and cinnamon sticks. Return the meat and stir to coat with the ingredients.  Add enough water to cover and the rest of the coriander.  Bring to the boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to simmer.  Cover and simmer for two to two-and-half hours (less for chicken), adding a small amount of water during cooking, if necessary, until meat is very tender.  Halfway through the process, remove and reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid.  During the final cooking stage uncover and reduce until fairly thick.

While meat is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan and cover with water.  Simmer over medium heat, partially covered, until the prunes are quite tender - 15 to 30 minutes.  Drain and add 1/2 cup of liquid reserved from the meat.  Stir in the honey, sugar and cinnamon, and simmer the prunes another 10 minutes until they are sitting in a thick syrup.  Set aside.
Transfer the meat and sauce to a large serving dish and spoon the prunes and syrup on top.  Sprinkle with extra coriander, toasted almonds and sesame seeds.


Moorish Spain:


Islamic Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and swept like a desert sirocco onto the Iberian Peninsula in AD 711, renaming the region Al-Andalus.  According to an account of the time:


“The reins of their horses were as fire, faces black as pitch, eyes like burning candles and riders fiercer than wolves in a sheepfold at night!”


The Arab empire spread throughout much of southern Europe.  Andalusian Arabic, its language under Muslim rule, deeply influenced modern Spanish.  Although resisted by fierce Basques of the Pyrenees, most of the indigenous population had converted to Islam by AD 1000.


The Song of Maisuna

(Wife to the Caliph Mowiah)


The russet suit of camel’s hair,

With spirits light, and eye serene,

Is dearer to my bosom far

Than all the trappings of a queen.

The humble tent and murmuring breeze

That whistles thro’ its fluttering wall,

My unaspiring fancy please

Better than towers and splendid halls.

Th’ attendant colts that bounding fly

And frolic by the litter's side,

Are dearer in Maisuna’s eye

Than gorgeous mules in all their pride.

The watch-dog’s voice that bays whene’er

A stranger seeks his master's cot,

Sounds sweeter in Maisuna’s ear

Than yonder trumpet’s long-drawn / note.

The rustic youth unspoilt by art,

Son of my kindred, poor but free,

Will ever to Maisuna’s heart

Be dearer, pamper’d fool, than thee.


Moorish presence initiated a renaissance throughout the sciences and humanities.  Metropolises like Córdova boasted paved streets illuminated by oil lamps, raised pedestrian sidewalks and libraries.  Great universities flourished in Almeria, Córdova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo.


Rifts in ideologies between Christian and Muslim Europe led to prolonged struggles to regain lost territories, known as the “Reconquista.”  The Moors were expelled from Sicily in 1224.  The Kingdom of Granada continued for three more centuries in southern Iberia.  On January 2, 1492, the leader of this last Muslim stronghold surrendered to the armies of recently united Christian Spain under Ferdinand II and Isabella I.


Moorish cuisine endures in the use of honey, almonds, citrus fruits and saffron.  These thirteenth-century Arab breads, deliciously spiced, are folded in half and eaten with the fingers!


Lahm Bi Ajeen

Serves 4


1 cup flour

1/2  tsp. salt

1/2 cup water

Pinch sugar

2 tsp. dried yeast

3 tsp. oil



1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp. oil

1/2 lb. ground beef

1/2 tsp. salt

Black pepper

1 tbsp. chopped parsley

1/4 tsp. allspice

1 heaping tbsp. ground almonds

1 tsp. sugar

1 tbsp. lime juice

Pine nuts or sunflower seeds (optional)


Sift flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl.  Combine sugar and yeast in another bowl.  Heat water to just above lukewarm.  Stir into yeast and sugar.  Set aside in a warm place until yeast is frothy.  Pour yeast liquid into center of flour.  Add the oil, stir to mix ingredients and knead into a rough dough, adding more flour or water, if necessary.  Turn out onto working surface.  Knead about 15 minutes until dough is smooth and soft.  Return to bowl, cover and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size.  Fry onion gently in oil to soften but not brown.  Put ground beef into a mixing bowl.  Combine with cooked onion, salt, pepper, herbs, allspice, ground almonds, sugar and lime juice.  Turn out the risen dough.  Press to force out air.  Take small pieces and flatten with heel of hand to make 4 - 5 inch circles.  Spread a generous quantity of meat filling over top.  Add pine nuts or sunflower seeds.  Place on a lightly oiled baking tray.  Bake in a hot oven (450 F) about 8 minutes until dough is done but still soft.  Avoid browning.  Serve hot.

Contact with the Autor:

Tim Hazell



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