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Peru's national anthem: A colossal bummer?

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Peru's national anthem: A colossal bummer?

Movement afoot to rewrite Peru's anthem, critics say it damages national psyche

LIMA, Peru — Critics contend "The Star-Spangled Banner" is hard to sing, glorifies war and is set to the music of an English drinking song. But that's nitpicking compared to the problems with Peru's dirge-like national anthem which invokes slavery, humiliation and horror — all in the first stanza.

"For a long time, the oppressed Peruvian dragged the ominous chain," the song starts out. "Condemned to cruel servitude, he quietly whimpered."

With Peru riding a decade-long economic boom, there's a move afoot to rewrite the anthem to render a more optimistic tribute to the nation. Leading the way is Julio Cesar Rivera, a retired government auditor who has spent 10 years and thousands of dollars researching and writing about the hymn.

Rivera, 69, says the anthem ought to be a patriotic homage to the fatherland. Instead, he says, it's a colossal bummer that damages the national psyche and creates an inferiority complex.

"The words are not at all positive and it's one of the factors affecting our national spirit," Rivera said. "We need a song that unites us."

As part of his crusade, Rivera has self-published two thick books about the national anthem. The song was commissioned in 1821 by independence hero General Jose de San Martin. It's a mini-opera, long and dramatic but ultimately inspiring as freedom fighters rise up and seize independence from Spain.

(Listen to the Peruvian national anthem in the sidebar)

But just as few Americans get to the last verse of the Star-Spangled Banner — who remembers: "O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand"? — few Peruvians sing all seven stanzas of their anthem. Thus, they never delve into the heroic parts of the song.

Rivera wants to scrap the lyrics and replace them with three new verses — set to the old music — that he has penned. Rivera's lines make Peru sound like a South American utopia. "We live in happiness, with peace, equal rights and freedom," goes the first line. Rivera has even cut a CD of his new anthem featuring the voice of Antonio Maldonado, a Peruvian classical tenor.

It's not the first time Peru has tried to overhaul its anthem.

At the start of the 20th century, the government held a contest to come up with new verses to rid the song of its bellicose language toward Spain since the two nations were by then at peace. But the changes were never adopted.

In 1959, Peruvian singer-songwriter Chabuca Granda wrote a new first verse for the anthem but it was also ignored. Likewise, Rivera's efforts have been rebuffed by traditionalists.

Lima political analyst Jose Luis Sardon calls the anthem's bleak words appropriate given Peru's often tragic history. It was here where Spanish conquistadors crushed the magnificent Incan Empire. The nation has lost or tied many of its wars, including the War of the Pacific in the late 1800s when the defeated Peruvians surrendered a huge patch of mineral-rich territory to Chile.

As a result, Sardon said, "For most of our history, Peruvians have been a very depressive people … . The war with Chile was especially traumatic."

Newspaper columnist Sinesio Lopez, who has written about the anthem debate, said that before retooling the lyrics to reflect a more positive point of view, Peru itself must change.

Despite the economic bonanza — which is based on mining, tourism, agriculture exports and massive foreign investment — about 35 percent of Peruvians still live in poverty. Racism, especially against the country's large and mostly poor Indigenous population, is rampant.

"For the underclass, nothing has changed," Lopez said. "And that goes against this optimistic outlook."

In 2009, the Peruvian government, with the military's support, tweaked the national anthem. But instead of changing the lyrics, officials decreed that the sunnier sixth verse should be played or sung in place of the oppressive first verse.

Rivera prefers his own composition but he recently showed up on the first day of classes at a Lima high school to listen to a student choir sing the retooled version. With its references to the red-and-white Peruvian flag and the magnificent Andes Mountains, the new lines are more cheerful.

Jaime Becerra, the school's music professor, said the original version was so depressing that it was hard to get students and teachers to sing the anthem. "But the new verse is a lot more forceful," he said. "My goal is to get everyone singing the national anthem, as if they were singing in church."

Peruvian National Anthem

  • Chorus
  • Somos libres!
  • seámos lo siempre, seámos lo siempre!
  • y antes niegue sus luces
  • sus luces , sus luces... el sol!
  • que faltemos al voto solemne
  • que la patria al Eterno elevó
  • que faltemos al voto solemne
  • que la patria al Eterno elevó
  • que faltemos al voto solemne
  • que la patria al Eterno elevó.
  • I
  • Largo tiempo el peruano oprimido
  • la ominosa cadena arrastró;
  • condenado a una cruel servidumbre
  • largo tiempo , largo tiempo
  • largo tiempo en silencio gimió.
  • Mas apenas el grito sagrado
  • ¡Libertad! en sus costas se oyó,
  • la indolencia de esclavo sacude,
  • la humillada , la humillada
  • la humillada cerviz levantó
  • la humillada cerviz levantó
  • cerviz levantó.
  • II
  • Y al estruendo de broncas cadenas
  • que escuchamos tres siglos de horror,
  • de los libres al grito sagrado
  • que oyó atónito el mundo, cesó.
  • Por doquier San Martín inflamado,
  • libertad, libertad, pronunció,
  • y meciendo su base los Andes
  • la anunciaron, también, a una voz.
  • III
  • Con su influjo los pueblos despiertan
  • y cual rayo corrió la opinión;
  • desde el istmo a las tierras del fuego,
  • desde el fuego a la helada región.
  • Todos juran romper el enlace
  • que Natura a ambos mundos negó,
  • y quebrar ese cetro que España
  • reclinaba orgullosa en los dos.
  • IV
  • Lima cumple ese voto solemne,
  • y, severa, su enojo mostró,
  • al tirano impotente lanzando,
  • que intentaba alargar su opresión.
  • A su esfuerzo saltaron los grillos
  • y los surcos que en sí reparó,
  • le atizaron el odio y venganza
  • que heredara de su Inca y Señor.
  • V
  • Compatriotas, no más verla esclava.
  • Si humillada tres siglos gimió,
  • para siempre jurémosla libre,
  • manteniendo su propio esplendor.
  • Nuestros brazos, hasta hoy desarmados
  • estén siempre cebando el cañón,
  • que algún día las playas de Iberia
  • sentirán de su estruendo el terror.
  • VI
  • Excitemos los celos de España
  • pues presiente con mengua y furor
  • que en concurso de grandes naciones
  • nuestra patria entrará en parangón.
  • En la lista que de éstas se forme
  • llenaremos primero el reglón
  • que el tirano ambicioso Iberino,
  • que la América toda asoló.
  • VII
  • En su cima los Andes sostengan
  • la bandera o pendón bicolor,
  • que a los siglos anuncie el esfuerzo
  • que ser libres por siempre nos dio.
  • A su sombra vivamos tranquilos,
  • y al nacer por sus cumbres el sol,
  • renovemos el gran juramento
  • que rendimos al Dios de Jacob.

English translation

  • We are free! may we always be so ,may we always be so!
  • and let the sun rather deny its light
  • its lights, its lights...the sun!
  • Before allow us to break the solemn vow
  • which the motherland elevated to the Eternal
  • Before allow us to break the solemn vow
  • which the motherland elevated to the Eternal
  • Before allow us to break the solemn vow
  • which the motherland elevated to the Eternal
  • For a long time the oppressed Peruvian
  • dragged the ominous chain;
  • sentenced to a cruel servitude
  • for a long time , for a long time
  • for a long time in silence he moaned.
  • But as soon as the sacred cry
  • "Liberty!" was heard on its coasts,
  • he shook off the indolence of slavery,
  • the humiliated , the humiliated
  • the humiliated neck he raised
  • the humiliated neck he raised
  • the neck he raised!
  • Now the roar of rough chains
  • that we had heard for three centuries of horror
  • from the free, at the sacred cry
  • that the world heard astonished, ceased.
  • Everywhere the inflamed San Martín
  • "Liberty", "Liberty" pronounced;
  • and the Andes, rocking their base,
  • announced it as well, in unison.
  • With its influx the peoples woke up,
  • and like lighting ran the opinion;
  • from the Isthmus to Tierra del Fuego,
  • and from Tierra del Fuego to the icy region.
  • Everyone vowed to break the link
  • that Nature denied to both worlds,
  • and break the sceptre that Spain
  • had reclined, proud, on both.
  • Lima fulfilled this solemn vow,
  • and, severe, her anger showed
  • by throwing out the powerless tyrant,
  • who had been trying to extend his oppression.
  • On her endeavor the shackles cracked,
  • and the furrows that she had repaired in herself
  • stirred up her hatred and vengeance,
  • inherited from her Inca and Lord.
  • Countrymen, may we see her a slave no more.
  • If for three centuries she moaned, humiliated,
  • forever may we vow that she be free,
  • maintaining her own splendor.
  • Our arms, until today unarmed,
  • be they always readying the cannon,
  • that some day the beaches of Iberia
  • will feel the horror of its roar.
  • May we arouse the jealousy of Spain
  • since it has a premonition, with want and furor,
  • that in a contest of great nations
  • our country will enter in comparison.
  • On the list formed by these
  • we shall fill the line first,
  • ahead of the ambitious Iberian tyrant,
  • who devastated all of America.
  • On its summit may the Andes sustain
  • the two-color flag or standard,
  • may it announce to the centuries the effort
  • that gave us being free forever.
  • Under its shadow may we live calmly
  • and, at the sun's birth over its summits,
  • may we renew the great oath
  • we rendered to the God of Jacob.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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