Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Giants Of Mallorca

Anniversaries are occasions to be celebrated by some advance sprucing-up, some improvements, some restoration. Everything has to be right on the night or the day, including ensuring that a piece of ear that has gone missing is returned to where it should be, next to the face.

On 20 July this year, Sa Pobla will, as is customary, be honouring the feast day of its patron, Santa Margalida. One of the main attractions on the day will be Margalida. Not the saint Margalida, but the giant Margalida. She is one of a male and female gigantic couple. She takes her name, unsurprisingly, from the saint. Her partner, Toni, is named after Sant Antoni, ancient Egyptian monk, hallucinator of devils and inspiration behind the January night of fire.

The Sa Pobla giants first appeared in 1984 at the Santa Margalida fiestas. Thirty years on, they are being given a touch-up, a clean-up and a replacement. The piece of Margalida's missing ear will no longer be missing. Toni and Margalida will be able to perform their "dance", safe in the knowledge that they are once more fully intact, have been lovingly re-glossed with paint and have had bumps and scratches, accumulated over three decades, de-bumped and de-scratched. Local artist Andreu Company will have seen to it that they have been restored to their original painted papier-maché and wooden glory.

The origins of Toni and Margalida were not in Sa Pobla. They weren't made there and nor were giants invented there. They were assembled at a workshop for fiestas in Zaragoza (yes, there really is a workshop for fiestas) and shipped across to Mallorca, a pair of giants to tread a similar path and dance a similar dance to that which giants had performed well before them. The first Mallorcan giant was that of Sóller way back in 1630.

But Sóller cannot claim to have been where giants first turned up at fiesta time. Over two hundred years before, in 1424, Barcelona had arranged for a giant to appear at the celebration of Corpus Christi. Or rather, the church had arranged the giant's participation. It was all a way of providing some additional entertainment and so attracting greater numbers of the faithful. The tradition of the giant was, therefore, linked to Corpus Christi, but the giant wasn't the only entertainment. Other objects appeared as well, one of them having been the eagles of Pollensa. No one is quite sure when that tradition started. It is said to date from mediaeval times, in which case it was centuries before Pollensa first acquired a giant - at the end of the eighteenth century.

Sóller's 1630 Corpus Christi celebration was not confined to the adoption of a giant. The town also introduced "capgrossos" (aka "caparrots" aka big heads). Once Sóller had got in on the giant act, momentum was such that it took a further 23 years before Sineu got one. But, by 1734, Palma could boast four pairs of giants, and in 1763, Sant Llorenç took the revolutionary step of giving a giant a name - Puput (after the bird presumably).

Giants come in different styles. There are five main groups of Mallorcan giant. Perhaps the most traditional is the farmer's husband and wife, and it was Inca which first had a peasant pair - Abdó and María. (Abdó or Abdón is one of the town's patron saints.) Sa Pobla's Toni and Margalida are part of this farming wing of giant traditionalism. Of other groups, there are giants who have been inspired by legend and tales and those who reflect local trades or crafts. Capdepera has a fisherman and a "llatadora", a female worker of palm fronds to make wicker products. A further group is made up of historical figures, such as Calvia's King Jaume I and his wife, Violant d'Hongria (Hungary). The fifth group is a sort of miscellany, examples of which are Manacor's Vicenç, who is a Moorish soldier (he has a farmer's wife as a companion or perhaps she is his wife), and Muro's two pipers, Toni and Joan.

The giants are gigantic enough to stand, in the cases of Sa Pobla's Toni and Margalida, 3.9 metres tall, which is, for those still not entirely up to speed with metric measurements, 12 feet, nine and a half inches. They are, therefore, slightly less tall than if two Steven Finn cricketers were to be joined together. Their measurements appear, as do those of other giants, in their "ficha técnica". They both weigh 50 to 52 kilograms, which seems rather imprecise. Or do they put on weight occasionally?

Still, it is just as well that they don't weigh an awful lot as they do have to get moved around a fair bit, which probably explains why a bit of ear can go missing. They travel over land and sea as well across Mallorca to gather and dance together. The wonderfully weird giants of Mallorca.

* Photo of Margalida and Toni is from

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