Sunday, January 12, 2014

She's Just A Devil Woman: Demons' traditions

There isn't, or doesn't appear to be, much good rhyme or reason as to why certain towns in Mallorca - apart, quite obviously from Sa Pobla - go big on the Sant Antoni fiesta and others don't. One town which does is Son Servera, the municipality to which Cala Millor (part of it) belongs, and so seriously does Son Servera take Sant Antoni that it has an "obreria" devoted to the fiesta; an obreria, in this instance, being an association which is a sort of guardian of tradition. And very traditional it is in Son Servera. Its obreria was founded in 1775, principally to oversee the maintenance of the chapel of Sant Antoni Abad, which had been ceded to Son Servera in 1698 by the parish of Artà. There's your rhyme and reason then.

Other towns have their Sant Antoni obrerias as well - Sa Pobla, for instance - and the different obrerias of the Llevant and Pla (plain) regions of Mallorca have an annual get-together to discuss matters of a Sant Antoni style. They all gathered in Son Servera's Bar Nou last November for their Antoni-in. Sa Pobla's obreria, one of those at the meeting, gives a flavour of what it does on Sa Pobla town hall's website. The most recent development in its own long history was in 2006 when it was agreed by the town's council that the demons' gang (the "colla") would be dependent upon the obreria for present and future "management". In other words, it is the obreria which has the say as to what is traditionally correct when it comes to demon activity during Sant Antoni, because it, the obreria, is the master of the whole Sant Antoni tradition.

A similar arrangement exists in Son Servera. However, not all is well on account of a controversy which is said to have divided the town. It centres on interpretations of tradition, the two sides in this argument being represented by the town's principal demon of many years standing and the obreria, which was given something of an overhaul last year when new blood was brought in to its membership. Guidelines by the new, improved obreria have sought to get back to traditions which the demon, Joan Llull, appears, over the years, to have broken with. There may not be that many local people truly that bothered, but there are sufficient for some to have taken to daubing graffiti, expressing both sides of the argument, and to engaging in rants on social media.

Clearly, when it comes to tradition, someone has to have the final say as to what actually constitutes tradition and what doesn't. Though the rumpus in Son Servera all sounds a bit silly, it probably isn't. If traditions can't be argued over, then what can be? Mallorca lives by its traditions, and in its small towns they are matters of importance, to the point at which people get worked up into a rare old lather, grab a can of spray paint and find the nearest wall.

The world of demons is not always an harmonious one, but as they are demons, who, tradition itself suggests, aren't always trustworthy and are prone to acts that are less than goodly or even Godly, then total harmony would be surprising. There again, we are talking earthly, dressed-up demons here. But, human nature being as it is, even the earthly demon can feel compelled to strike disharmony.

A few years ago, 2010 to be precise, there was a different fallout and one which had a potentially far more wide-reaching impact on the demons' world. A rival demons' organisation had reared its ugly head, following an outbreak of internecine strife at the Balearics Federation of Demons. There had been an emergency general meeting of the federation in May, and by October, the rival organisation was behind a night of fire in Pollensa that featured various demons' gangs. It was all a little like the world of professional darts, which suddenly found it had two controlling bodies and two separate world championships. Quite whatever happened after this I can't honestly say, but if one takes a look at the federation's blog website, its register of demons' gangs numbers only 26. I fancy that there are others.

A federation of demons might in itself seem odd, but there is, in addition to tradition, a fair bit to being a demon. Not everyone can do the stalky-walky thing they do without having been instructed as to the correct way to stalk. Not everyone can whirl a trident with flames spitting out of it. And the flames are a pretty important aspect of being a demon which needs control. Hence, it is a requirement for all demons, including mini-demons (from age eight), to have a certificate for being an expert in pyrotechnics.

Modernity requires, therefore, that tradition is certificated, but whether it is tradition tampered with by bureaucracy or by disagreements, there is one demon tradition which prevails. One day, concedes the Grand Demon of Manacor, his role could be taken by a woman. Whatever next? "She's just a devil woman ..."

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