Shouting for joy

A view of San Martín de Unx (Navarre) in the 1970s. Courtesy of Francisco Javier Zubiaur. Labayru Fundazioa Photographic Archive.

Today smileys and pictograms are used in text messaging on mobile phones to express emotions such as joy, grief, surprise or disappointment, but in former times, when emojis did not exist, shouting was a popular form of communication. In San Martín de Unx (Navarre) such a shout, a compromise between a neigh and the expression of a human feeling, was known as relinchido and practised in their youth by those approaching now the age of 80. Young men would whoop and holler on a night out, at festivities, to other working parties while spading the fields, or on spotting a group of girls. “Ahiiiiiiiii, jí!” would be its graphical representation in Spanish. The musicality of the sound, proper to the locality and environs, matches that of the “auuummmm…!” uttered to show admiration or the “ahiiiiiiiiiííí…!” that accompanies a sharp pinch.

The Spanish Academy names it relincho by analogy with the whinnying of a horse, represented by the onomatopoeia “iiiihhhhiiiiihhhhiiii…!”, and yet the typical relinchido of San Martín de Unx resembles more the clucking of a puffed up and proud cock.

Village lads during festive days back in the 1950s. Courtesy of Francisco Javier Zubiaur. Labayru Fundazioa Photographic Archive.

The phenomenon is not exclusive to the mentioned location or other Navarrese villages where it might occur. As claimed by Valdivielso Arce (Revista de Folklore, vol. 25a, no. 293, 2005), the relincho is related to the war cry of the Celts, midway between a factory whistle and the sound of forced laughter. It has received multiple names: relincho or relinchido in Castile; irrintzi or zantzo in the Basque Country; renchillido in Aragon; rinflido or ixuxú in Asturias; riflido, richido or jujeo in Cantabria; rejincho in Extremadura; ijijí, ijujú and jejeo by the Leonese; ajujú in Murcia; ajijido in the Canaries; aturuxo in Galicia; reninys in Catalonia; and albórbola in Valencia. The folk cry for joy, Dionisio Preciado notices, a truly phonetic expansion and emotional outlet of voicing, reached Latin America. So it really is a universal cry practised by many a people and given many different names, sometimes combined with dancing, the zaghareet performed by Arab women being its best-known expression, in this latter case not only to shows happiness but also grief, a sign of approval or farewell to loved ones.

However, the shouting is not just emotional. In the eyes of many anthropologists, a more general meaning attributed to this ancestral practice points towards a sexual motivation, the shout being compared to the mating call used by animals. I shall illustrate this approach with the deep roar of the “ihaaaa…!” let out by lads in my native region on seeing a beautiful lass pass by.

According to Federico Olmeda (Folklore de Castilla o Cancionero Popular de Burgos), the relinchido or relincho, in all its variants, has disappeared for the simple reason that times have changed, perhaps because standards of elegance so required, because it gives away its rural, rustic, rough and unrefined origins compared to the educated ways and means of the city, or most certainly, because its intended recipients displeased it.

In contrast, the traditional Basque irrintzi is a high-pitched trill, single breathed and sustained, used in the Basque mountains to communicate over large distances and still heard in celebrations and festivals as a manifestation of happiness and rejoicing. Possibly an ancient call to battle, the irrintzi would certainly have a psychological effect on deadliest foes.

Francisco Javier Zubiaur – Etniker Navarre – Etniker Euskalerria Groups

Translated by Jaione Bilbao – Language Department – Labayru Fundazioa



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