Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Taste Of Honey And Olives

Caimari is an odd little place; odd insofar as, though it is recognisable and known as a village, it isn't a village in its own right. It, with its 700 or so residents, forms part of the vast conurbation of Selva village (population roughly 3,900). This village federation means that not only do the component mini-villages have their own council delegates they also have their own fairs, and Caimari is blessed by having a councillor for its fairs called, remarkably enough, Caimari. Pere Segui of that ilk will have been a busy chap lately. Caimari is holding its annual olive fair this weekend.

They've been staging an olive fair in Caimari since 1998, but the olive tradition goes back very much longer in time. Olive oil has been produced in the village since the Roman era, though it wasn't to be until the sixteenth century and then especially the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the production of oil really took off. The olive oil of Caimari is, and woe betide you suggest otherwise to a native, the finest you can get anywhere in Mallorca if not Spain or indeed the world.

The current-day fair has established a tradition of its own in that, year after year, the programme for the fair is remarkable for its artwork, be it painting, drawing or photo. The imagery is highly evocative of the rural past (and indeed present) - olive trees or, as is the case this year, an old oil crusher (at least I assume that's what it is). But this imagery hasn't concentrated solely on the olive industry. It has also focused on other traditions of Caimari, and one in particular - that of coal making, or more accurately charcoal burning.

Caimari's location at the foot of the Tramuntana is such that it is close to forests of both pine and oak, and it was the oak wood that the "carboners" of Caimari cherished. Once upon a time, charcoal was the principal (if not only) source of energy, and the memory of the charcoal burners is kept alive at the Caimari Ethnology Park, where there are examples of the kit that was used and the "barraca" huts in which the charcoal makers lived during their spring and summer season of labour. This hut was a rudimentary construction of dry stone with a sort of thatch affair of branches as a roof. 

The employment of "carboners" was such that between 1900 and 1920 there was an increase in their number of 67 - from 32 in 1900 to 99 in 1920. There were also during this time seven coal or charcoal merchants in Caimari. The skill of the "carboners" saw them seek pastures away from Caimari. Some emigrated to South America, for example, but gradually of course, with the arrival of electricity and other sources of fuel, the number was reduced. At the end of the 1960s the last of the Caimari "carboners" abandoned his "barraca" for good.

While Caimari is celebrating its olives and remembering its other rural traditions, in Llubi, separated from Selva by Inca, they are hard at it in celebrating honey. It's the fifteenth honey fair of Llubi today.

Llubi is a village more associated with its capers, but its beekeeping and so honey making would appear to have been a strong part of the village's economy since around the fifteenth century; there is evidence of exports of honey having been made to France. So when Llubi's mayor, Joan Ramis, speaks, as he does in the programme for this year's fair, about the village's "traditional fair", he is not wrong in that there clearly has been a long tradition of honey, if not a fair actually devoted to it.

Away from the fair, this tradition manifests itself in the Llubi museum of apiculture, i.e. beekeeping - and yes, it really does have such a museum - which is a collection of hives and what have you that are of Mallorcan origin and from further afield. If you would like to visit the museum, you typically have to ring and make an appointment, and only four visitors can be accommodated at any one time. But, you get an hour's worth of beekeeping history and tradition, so it's worth the effort for the apiculturists among you.

The museum is a reminder though, if one is needed, of the often unexpected that resides in the villages of Mallorca, and the fairs - those of Caimari and Llubi - are reminders also of rural traditions, some of which, especially with the production of olive oil, have become contemporary industries that have given Mallorca international recognition which goes way beyond that of its sun and its beaches.

Photo: An example of a carboner's barraca hut.

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