Thursday, August 24, 2017

David, Goliath And The Bigheads Of Mallorca

As with any week of fiestas or indeed fairs, there are strange characters taking to the streets of Mallorca. Today, for instance, these characters will be dancing in Consell, while in Soller they will be part of a procession with the town's bagpiping xeremiers. Tomorrow they'll be joining more pipers in Randa (part of Algaida); in S'Arraco (part of Andratx), they will be parading and dancing with giants - to a piping accompaniment.

These characters are the bigheads - the "caparrots". No fiesta is complete without them. They parade and sometimes dance on their own. Or they appear with the other characters - the giants and, as is the case with some villages and towns, with yet more peculiar creations, such as dragons.

The giants of Mallorca first appeared in Soller in 1630. The then Bishop of Mallorca, Baltasar de Borja, was to take part in the village's procession for Corpus Christi. A cathedral clerk was charged with the arrangements for giants. The first heads for the giants - male and female - cost three of your old Mallorcan pounds. Originally quite simple, by 1645 there was a cost of 48 pounds. Later on in the century, palm fronds were being integrated into the giants' appearance and manufacture.

It had taken some time for the giants to arrive in Majorca. The first documented evidence of them in Catalan culture comes from 1424. Barcelona's Llibre de les Solemnitats (a guide for religious ceremonies, if you like) provided an exhaustive list of all participants in the Corpus Christi procession. One reference is to Lo Rei David ab lo Giguant - King David and the Giant.

The thinking behind the giants was essentially to make the religious occasion more popular. They have been referred to as providing the hors d'oeuvres for solemn ceremonies. Attract an audience with odd characters, and the public will more obediently take part in the true religious part. Further thinking was to introduce ancient elements of paganism and magic. The Catholic tradition is littered with examples of one what might describe as pragmatic appeal to long-ago folklore, even if these were to undergo periods of banishment for being irreligious.

Another strand of thought was that the giants should represent David and Goliath. Hence what was referred to in Barcelona in 1424. A small giant and a large giant; one good, one evil. But over the decades following this first gigantic manifestation in Barcelona, the giants started to move away from a biblical representation. So, the first female giant emerged. The idea of the giants as a pair, a marital couple in some sense, was planted. And it was this that came to Mallorca in 1630.

The original concept of giants as David and Goliath was lost along the way, but this old juxtaposition of the small and large was to eventually return. David and indeed Goliath had been forgotten about, but not the coming-together of characters with strange heads and with different heights and stature. Enter, therefore, the bigheads.

The caparrots are a comparatively recent innovation. In Palma in 1903 the town hall organised two giants for the Corpus Christi procession (the previous giants had been banned in 1780). These were the Catholic Kings - Isabel and Ferdinand - who were rapidly replaced, the following year, by the farmers Tofol and Bet Maria. On both occasions there were also bigheads. The caparrot was a complement to the giants, and that remains the case today.

In fact, there had been caparrots before this, though the actual evidence isn't great. It is known, however, that dwarf-like characters formed part of the island's folk tale tradition, as did giants. They were mythical protectors of the villages, and by the end of the nineteenth century they were being made real.

It wasn't, however, until 1953 that the bigheads took the giant leap forward. Sa Pobla, as is so often the case with Mallorca's traditional culture, included caparrots in the fiestas for Sant Antoni in that year. Nowadays they are all over the island - some satirical, some reflecting that folk tale tradition: oddball characters like the Mad Miller of Alcudia's S'Estol Rei en Jaume bighead troupe.

Tucked away amidst this bighead and giant tradition is another strange character. As far as I'm aware, it is unique to Manacor and one particular part of the town when it celebrates its fiestas for Sant Domingo in May. This is the Alicorn, which can refer to both unicorn and a stupid man. The Alicorn of Manacor is a religious person with a head like a unicorn. He, the Alicorn, is a story for another day. Meanwhile, there are the bigheads to be seen, a weird mix of the story of David and Goliath, local myth and local satire.

*Photo: The Mad Miller of Alcudia.

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