Monday, May 08, 2017

The Bragging Rights Of May Fairs

Neighbours enjoy having bragging rights over one another. They are nowadays more commonly voiced by the ordinary citizen than by officialdom. Town halls search for cooperation whereas once they were only too willing to attempt to get one over their neighbours.

In the case of Inca and Sineu, it's not been much of a contest for years. Inca, built on leather and in a more strategic location, courtesy of being to Sineu's left, grew to what it is, one of the small number of municipalities in Mallorca that might vaguely fall into the category of being large (all things being relative). Sineu, more easterly, had no such strategic place in the scheme of things. Moreover, it retained an essentially agrarian economy, lacking what ultimately became Inca's diversification into the high end of the leather trade and its export.

The two towns do, though, share a common heritage: that of the fair. In bygone times, the fourteenth century, they acquired a duopoly over fairs in the "part forana" (anywhere but Palma, then known as Ciutat de Mallorca). They guarded this duopoly jealously, while at the same time being rivals in claiming which town had the better fair. Quite some time later, Inca triumphed. It would have been called it earlier, but 1807 provided the first record of its Thursday fair in autumn being "Bo". Sineu didn't have such goodness to brag about.

Nevertheless, and because it suited the two towns to have done so, they sought to maintain their duopoly against a new rival - new in the sixteenth century, that is. Llucmajor wanted a fair of its own. The town was to entreat the Holy Roman Emperor, Carlos V, to grant it one. Inca and Sineu consulted their lawyers, thus proving that the current-day dominance of the judiciary being required to arbitrate on absolutely everything in Mallorca, was an already well-established process getting on for five hundred years ago.

Despite the lawyers, Carlos sided with Llucmajor. Holy Roman Emperors were not for crossing. Carlos never set foot on the island. His troops did this for him on the rare occasions when the Empire remembered that Mallorca was a component, such as - and most notably - when the imperial forces crushed the Germanies uprising. Llucmajor thus got its fair, and the town has, for the past 474 years, being telling anyone who cares to listen about its victory: its own bragging rights.

Before Llucmajor muscled in on the fairs' scene, Inca and Sineu had been attracting the island's farmers and artisans to its grand fairs - basically, markets that were bigger than normal. And it is the longevity of the fairs which still arouses some rivalry. Which of the two towns stole a march over the other?

Sineu's fair took place yesterday. It is considered to be the older of the two. The town can point to documentary evidence that 1318 was the year when it started. But in a sense, it's all a question of definition. Inca can demonstrate that its market was earlier than Sineu's - by around forty years. Market? Fair? They were essentially the same insofar as they were occasions for trading.

Eventually, Inca was to allow Sineu to stamp its own mark over the May fair. At the start of the last century, Inca's Dijous Gros was dropped: it was revived a few years ago. The autumn Dijous Bo had become the pre-eminent fair in the calendar, and Inca let everyone know that it was, including Sineu. What one can probably say with certainty, therefore, is that Sineu's is the oldest, uninterrupted May fair. It will be 700 years in 2018. The ballyhoo will be significant.

The two May fairs, somewhat inadvertently, contributed to a legend assigned to another neighbour of Inca's, the small village of Búger. It own fair was also yesterday. It is not on the scale of Sineu or Inca's Dijous Gros (which is this Thursday), but then you wouldn't expect it to be. Sineu may only have a population some 2,500 or so greater than Búger, but those 2,500 make a hell of a lot of difference in fair terms, plus Sineu has all that history on its side.

The Búger fair is the Jai, meaning old person but specifically the figure of a grandfather. The Jai of the modern day appears on a cart and dispenses sweets to the village children. Back in the day, though, the Jai (and Mrs. Jai) would return to the village with their cart full of goods from the Sineu and Inca fairs, and supreme among the goodies were shoes for the kiddies. So the two fairs contributed to the story of the Jai. A question is, though, which fair provided more shoes? Aren't they Inca's bragging rights ... ?

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