Cuento is a Spanish word meaning literally "story" or "tale". Cuento may specifically refer to folk tales, a category of folklore that includes stories passed down through oral tradition. The word cuento may also be used as a verb to say "tell", as if you are "telling" a story ("Cuento").
Idioms using this word, translated into English, include:
- contar un cuento - to tell a story
- cuento de hadas - fairy tale
- cuento de fantasmas - ghost story
- cuento de viejas - old wives' tale
- va de cuento - the story goes, or it is said
- cuento folklórico – folk tale
Latin American tales are unique in that they may represent a time before European invasion, and they may combine those traditions with the history and culture that arrived post-conquest. When the Spaniards came to Latin America in the 16th century, the indigenous people were forced to assimilate their culture with the Europeans'. Likewise, the content of the stories differed between the ages. However, there are few resources on cuentos for pre-conquest indigenous peoples in South America. A folklorist specializing in Spain and Spanish-originated folklore, Aurelio M. Espinosa discovered that "most of the Spanish folklore which is found today in the Spanish-speaking countries of America is of traditional Spanish origin". Pre-conquest information can only be found in what is left; this includes archaeological artifacts, sculpture and pottery, stories engraved in bone, shell, and stones, and codices. Only seventeen codices are intact, "fifteen of which are known to predate the Colonial era, and two of which originated either before the Conquest or very soon after".
With the knowledge that the natives in Latin America were made to blend culturally with the Spaniards when they arrived, the similarity of Latin American stories to Spanish stories must be considered. Terrence L. Hansen, a Latin American folklorist, attempted to index 1,747 folktales into 659 indexes such as "animal tales," "magic tales," "religious tales," and "jokes and anecdotes." The purpose of the study was to make "accessible to folklorists both the individual types and the broad picture of the folktale in a large part of Spanish America".
Ralph S. Boggs, a folklorist who studied Spanish and other European folktales, also compiled an index of tales across ten nations, one of these nations Spain. Hansen notes that in Boggs' A Comparative Survey of the Folktales of Ten Peoples, Spain also had a large number of animal tales, pointing out the "marked interest in such tales in Spain and in Spanish America"; however, he indicates that Boggs' study showed Spain with a much lower percent of magic tales. After several such comparisons showing very close similarities as well as almost-opposite differences, he concluded that the index-analysis should be conducted for the other Spanish-speaking parts of the Americas before any explicit conclusions can be made about folktales in Latin America. Whether or not Latin American folktales should be compared to Spanish folktales as if they were a subcategory was not mentioned in the article; however, with differences in religion, tradition, history and other such elements that can turn a story into an entirely new direction, it is possible that folklorists will regard Latin American tales unique to Spanish tales in the future.
- Espinosa, Aurelio M., A Folk-Lore Expedition to Spain, The Journal of American Folklore 34 (Apr 1921): 127-142
- Read, Kay Almere, and Jason J. Gonzalez, Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America, Oxford University Press, 2000
- Hansen, Terrence L., The Distribution and Relative Frequency of Folktale Types in Spanish South America, The Journal of American Folklore 68 (Jan 1955): 90-93