Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Am Of Mallorca, Catalan Island

"Amid the sea, my land rises to touch the sky, that leaves in the Sierra, flags of blue. I am Balearic, I am of Mallorca, Catalan island. All of my past that history puts away, the dye of glory, the Grand Catalonia. In the deep roots of my people, a conqueror is carried by the wind, the ship that left the moorings of Salou following the four bands of the flag. I am of this race, ancient and giant, that scares from the seas the Saracen people. I am of the Fatherland of the brotherhoods, Joanot Colom, old ancestors, heroic defender of traditions that drowned in blood, Austrians and Bourbons."

This is part of a poem, the next verse of which starts "heroes of Mallorca, Catalan heroes", that is entitled "I Am Catalan". Apologies for any translation mistakes, but it's a reasonable attempt in expressing the sentiments of something which could quite easily be written nowadays but was in fact written just a short time after the outbreak of the Civil War. In a few lines, it is a poem which manages to pack in references to Mallorca's natural environment - the Sierra of the Tramuntana - and to key moments in history, i.e. the conquest by Jaume I, the Germanies ("agermanats") uprising led in Mallorca by Joanot Colom, and the War of the Spanish Succession, with all the consequences that this had for Catalonia and Mallorca.

The poem was written by Pere Capellà. He died sixty years ago, and there will be events to commemorate his death, especially in the towns of Algaida and Montuïri as well as Palma later this year. He lived in all three. And the remarkable thing about Pere Capellà is that he ever got to live in Montuïri and Palma and that he managed to die of natural causes at the early age of 47.

As other prominent members of the Republican Left party in the Balearics were shot, it is quite possible that Capellà, who was the leader of this party in Algaida, would have also been shot. To make him an even more likely target for the firing-squad, it wouldn't have gone unnoticed that his literary career had taken off in 1931 when he had penned "Cançons republicanes" (Republican songs). However, when the coup took place, Capellà was able to flee Mallorca and head for Barcelona. He fought for the wrong side and was in Madrid when the city fell to the Nationalists. He was arrested and sentenced in 1940 to twenty years' imprisonment.

But it is at this point that Capellà's story took a turn that in some ways contradicts what might generally be thought about post-Civil War Mallorca. For starters, he served only three years of his sentence. He was released on parole and returned to Mallorca but not to Algaida. The authorities there were reluctant to let him come back, fearing that things might kick off with the local Falange. So, the town hall in neighbouring Montuïri let him come to their town. He was to live there for eight years before moving to El Terreno in Palma, and by that time he was a celebrated dramatist as well as poet.

His involvement with the theatre was through a company called Artis. In 1949, this company staged a production in Palma's Teatre Principal. It was a great success and it was attended by officials from the Franco regime. Despite the difficulties presented by the political system, he was able to write using colloquial language, which meant Mallorquín. He also wrote for a newspaper under the pseudonym Mingo Revulgo, initially in Castellano but then in Catalan. The name was taken from what had also been the pseudonym of a writer of satirical verses who had criticised the Castilian king, Henry IV, in the fifteenth century. These verses were known as "glosas", a word from which the Mallorcan "glosador" folk performer comes, and Capellà was himself also a glosador.

It was evident, even earlier than when Capellà was staging his theatre productions, that glosadors were tolerated by the Franco regime. Though Capellà would have preferred to have been using Catalan and not the colloquial language, it was better than having to use Castellano. But it was clear from his poem, "I Am Catalan", where his sympathies lay, i.e. with a greater Catalan nation. As such, he was expressing precisely the views that some today express. His theatrical work, through expedience rather than desire, used the colloquial language, which is precisely what the Balearic Government would today prefer to Catalan.

The Franco regime wasn't entirely stupid. It couldn't afford to alienate local cultures, and so it allowed Catalan dialects. Capellà was an accomplice in this, though he would have hated having being so. But in having being so, he wrote more than just plays or poems. He wrote, against his instincts, the sub-plot of today's contentious and tragi-comedy play - Mallorquín versus Catalan.

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