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Astigueta, F.D. (2000). Tango and Its Meaning for a Culture. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 28(3):483-500.

(2000). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 28(3):483-500

Tango and Its Meaning for a Culture

Fernando D. Astigueta, M.D.

Culture is a formulated, although diffuse, social structure that stems from a particular way of living together. Latin expresses this as convivere, or living happily together and at ease in the company of others. Cultures must have certain characteristics that make them unique and easily identifiable. These values, attitudes, or institutional practices are shared and make sense to all members. If this happens, the culture develops through time. If non-convivere exists, the culture will come to a halt; communication will be interrupted. I have selected the tango with its music, lyrics, and dance to understand the meaning of the rioplatense culture.

The Tango

The tango emerged 130 years ago on both sides of the Rio de la Plata, in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Its origins are unclear and mostly hypothetical. The word tango might come from the Spanish tañir (clink) or from the quechua tambo. It is now believed, however, that its origin is African. Tango is a phonetic deformation of the word shango, or “god of thunder” in the nago language of the Yarubas in Nigeria. Its music, with the typical four-by-two compass beat, is the final expression of sentiments comprising three subcultures:

1.   the mass of native Argentines who were defeated by the liberal forces in 1853;

2.   the European immigrants, mostly Italian, who came to Argentina in the 1860s to find a better life; and

3.   African blacks and their descendants who brought their rhythms and their percussion instruments.


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