Tuesday, June 16, 2009

El Cóndor Pasa

DSC02034 Andean Condor

We heard it everywhere we traveled on our trip to South America. Every establishment we entered played it, either live or piped in from the sound system. They played it on the street in Quito, on our ship in Galápagos Islands, in the hotel in Lima, in restaurants in Cusco, and on the train to and from Machu Picchu. It was a tacit agreement, it must be present in every playlist. You could change the instrumentation, you could change the tempo, you could sing the lyrics, or not, but play it you must.

We started placing bets.

“I think it’s coming up next.”

“Nah, too soon.”

If it came up unexpectedly, we briefly shot each other a knowing look with index finger in the air. It always drew a smile.

Thank goodness it’s a great song - a classic, timeless, ancient. Or at least that’s what I thought. According to Wikipedia, El Condor Pasa (Flight of the Condor, literally: The Condor Passes Through) was written less than one hundred years ago, in 1913, by Peruvian composer and ethnomusicologist Daniel Alomía Robles. The song has an ancient sound because Alomia Robles wrote the song based on the Andean folk songs he studied and collected.

Simon and Garfunkel popularized the song by covering it on their 1969 album Bridge over Troubled Waters. I always felt that the English lyrics that Paul Simon composed for the song were incongruous to the title and the strength of the song, but I am grateful to him for bringing this wonderful music to our households. Simon first heard El Cóndor Pasa performed by the Peruvian musical group “Los Incas” while he was in Paris. Here is “Los Incas’” 1963 version of the song:

One day, while in Cusco, we came face to face with the subject of this song, the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus):

DSC02032 Andean Condor

Domesticated, sadly. Seeing this magnificent bird anchored to the earth by its clipped wings poses a dilemma. On the one hand, your heart aches as you wonder whether this wondrous bird will ever soar over the Andes Mountains again. Can one justify taming this near-threatened vulture as part of wildlife education that is so critical for conservation? On the other hand, I wonder how many family members of this enterprising young man is able to feed with the tips tourists give him for the privilege of taking a photograph. Is it ever ethical to domesticate wild animals in today’s world?


Yoli said...

In today's world, yes I think so. I was not of the mind years ago. As a matter of fact I was fierce in the knowledge that no wild animal should ever be domesticated and kept. However, they are disappearing fast, education is crucial as is preservation. The only way to ensure they are safe is by manipulating their environment. We can no longer hope and pray they will fly free. I think ultimately, if the world and next generation is not educated, the only place we will see these animals will be at the zoo, this will be a great loss.

Elizabeth said...

First I thought, never heard that song but a little bit later I recognized it. Didn't know the background so learned something today.

I'm with Yoli because we take more and more of the natural habitat of animals away. Now we still have a choice, either learn as much as we can about them or let nature disappear because we need .....

rochambeau said...

Thank you for this post Dutchbaby. The history to this song is an enlightenment. I like it both ways.
But, while listening to this youtube, I was reminded of the beautiful songs I heard in Guatemala.
About domestication. I love Yoli and may have a point, but I don't like seeing freedom taken away from nature.
It always breaks my heart.


Dutchbaby said...

Dear Yoli,
I guess that is the sad reality now. As long as the animals are treated well and it is in the interest of species preservation, I will have to accept this.

Dear Elizabeth,
You'll probably recognize the Simon and Garfunkel version more quickly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuG35Tbrtbw

Dear Constance,
I have never been to Guatemala; I hear it's beautiful there. Do they play the pan flute there also?

I'm with you; domestication appears to be a necessary evil but it's heartbreaking, especially for flying creatures.

A Cuban In London said...

My answer is no, you should not tame such a beautiful bird. And as much as I like the S and G version, you're right, the lyrics never mae much sense to me. In fact I remember being in my first year at uni and using the words to practice my listening skills.

Many thanks for such a fantastic post and such beautiful pictures.

Greetings from London.

Tepary said...

What a spectacular creature. I do find the idea of caging a bird or clipping its wings particularly disturbing.

Found your blog via Help A Mother Out's Twitter feed. Good job on helping a mother out. Will be back. Fabulous images and thought provoking dialog. Always a hit :)

Relyn Lawson said...

I find this bird to be completley amazing. I mean, look at the size of that thing. One of the many things I thought was so interesting about this post was the Latin name for a condor. When I first saw your images I thought, "My. That looks kind of like a gryphon." Well, duh.

My opinion on your question: Yes, it is ethical to domesticate a wild animal if and ONLY if it was injured and would not survive on its own. There is great educational value to zoos and to making the fantastical accessible. For a child, seeing a creature as amazing as that condor brings magic to science, to flight, to the study of birds. Personal observation helps children understand size and species and differences. It brings far off, distant place close and makes it relevant. Zoos can be vital in igniting curiosity and in promoting responsible citizenship of the Earth.

But still, cruelty is never acceptable. For any reason. Hence, my thought that domesticating animals is only acceptable if they would not survive otherwise. Please don't ask me what I think about animals born in captivity. I'm so divided about that.

christina said...

This is an amazing picture. Look at the beauty of that bird. I guess I'm torn. I hate seeing such a beautiful creature being still. I do think it is alright if there could be a chance the bird couldn't survive on it's own.

I can't get over how glorious, this post is.

Ruth said...

I didn't know the background of the song, so thank you! I actually think Paul Simon is maybe the best and most important lyricist of our generation, and while I never "got" his lyrics to this tune, I felt that somehow he expressed something I could relate to. I mean, who wouldn't rather be a hammer than a nail?

As for birds in captivity, clipping wings, etc. - that's a big topic at our house. 1) Don might clip the wings of three chickens that jump the fence, get out, and ravage the vegetable garden. He's holding off until he builds the fence around the garden to see if that keeps them out. Our vegetables are as precious as the animals' freedom to fly out of their chicken yard. They are South American species, interestingly, and they want to get high I guess.

Also, Don takes his 3rd graders to the local zoo for a week-long lesson every spring. I am very conflicted about this zoo, because they do some wonderful innovative things to enrich their animals lives, and they do preserve ones that were orphaned and would have died. BUT, and here's a radical thought in these days, why should we humans "preserve" what Nature would not? Species do come and go, and I am not sure we should tamper with them IF we have not endangered them ourselves. But that is probably the unknowable point, isn't it.

Sorry this went so long, but it's a very interesting topic. Thanks, Dutchbaby.

Wendy said...

I had no idea they were such impressive looking birds. Wow. Sad an interesting story.

Sherri said...

Wow...that is a huge bird! What a cool sight. I love South America. I bet this song brings a smile to your face every time you hear it.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Cuban,
I understand why you take your stand on the taming issue; it is quite a conundrum.

Dear Little Gnocchi (love that name!),
I'm so glad that a kindred spirit came to visit. Welcome to dutchbaby!

Dear Relyn,
When I saw the name of this species I thought how cool it would be if Harry Potter had an Andean condor instead of a snowy owl to deliver his mail.

Thank you so very much for your thought provoking comments on zoos. I would love to chaperone a field trip to the zoo with you and your class.

Dear Christina,
Thank you for your opinion!

You are so kind!

Dear Ruth,
I would also rather be a sparrow than a snail!

Your chickens are escape artists? That's incredible! They should not be eating your vegetables, they should be eating, well, chicken feed.

I would like to chaperone Don's classroom field trip right after I chaperone Relyn's1

Dear Wendy,
It was wondrous to be able to see this bird eye to eye.

Dear Postcards,
I've always loved the song and, yes, wonderful images and memories flood back when I hear this song now.

Anonymous said...

I think what you meant is "EL CONDOR PASA" not El Candor Pasa. literally means "the condor goes trough", not the "Flight of the Condor" flight of the condor sounds more romantic though, but i stick with the thruth.

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