Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Seven Sins Of Saint John

Sant Joan is a town in the middle of Mallorca with just over 2,000 inhabitants and is one of a smattering of municipalities which owes its name to a saint. And he's not any old saint. He is, or rather was, John the Baptist, very much a member of the biblical A-list.

As befits a town with this name and patronage, Sant Joan honours John the Baptist with having fiestas not once but twice. Along with much of Mallorca, the town has the midsummer Sant Joan, a time of fires on the beach (not in the case of Sant Joan, it probably doesn't need to be pointed out), all manner of demonic carrying-on and, where the town is concerned, appearances by one of the Hairy Johns - Sant Joan Pelós - and the Corb (crow) de Sant Nofre.

Most of Mallorca does not, however, concern itself unduly with the second of these fiestas. In fact, hardly anywhere else does. Maybe it's due to the fact that midsummer coincides with John the Baptist's birth, whereas 29 August is the date of his death, i.e. his beheading. This said, saints' deaths aren't necessarily reasons to be reticent in having a shindig. There are a number of sticky ends that get the Mallorcan fireworks and DJs in the squares treatment.

The beheading does, nevertheless, suggest that the Sant Joan Degollat (beheaded) fiestas should be somewhat more solemn affairs than the cavorting of midsummer. A glance at the programme for today, the eve of John the Baptist's demise, might indeed hint at such solemnity. What is the "condemna" if not his  condemnation?

Well no, it isn't. And nor does the subsequent "sortida rabiosa" (rabid exit, if you like) have anything to do with a manifestation of wild behaviour in light of any condemnation. The thing is that the good folk of Sant Joan have turned the whole episode into an occasion for demons to be taught a lesson and for demons to have a go at the locals.

Many a long year ago - who can say exactly when - the people of Sant Joan (once upon a time known as Sant Joan de Sineu) started having a festival of demons to coincide with the Baptist's headlessness. Way back when, there was a single "grand demon" who would appear amidst the folk of the village and terrorise them (the sortida rabiosa). Such was the apparent fear to be struck into the hearts of the locals and such was the demonic nature of the demon, it was not uncommon for a ringer to have to be brought in from another village to perform the task. For a "santjoaner", it was hard to be a beast and be utterly beastly to the neighbours.

Gradually, or in fact many years later (as in the 1990s), the solo demon was replaced by a gang of demons - seven of them to be precise. They were to represent the seven deadly sins - lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride - and they are what you now have on the eve of the decapitation of the Baptist. What once may have a genuine attempt at striking fear has been replaced by the (half-hearted) strikes of a rope against the legs and ankles of taunting locals by the seven deadly sinning demons.

The rabiosa has thus become like a football crowd with its songs combined with a lot of jumping up and down and the pipers and whistlers doing what all good pipers and whistlers do, which is to pipe and whistle for a great length of time. Plus, of course, there are the demons who nowadays aren't terribly terrorising. And if they don't cause enough terror, the locals let them know about it.

Demons come in different guises and different styles. The really frightening ones are those who play with fire. Others can be almost comical, and the Sant Joan demons - for the rabiosa anyway - fall more into this category. But they are also part of a class of demons who chase and kidnap - the ones of Alcudia for Sant Antoni in January are a good example.

The demons are looking to get their own back. This is because prior to the rabiosa, the condemna entails demons being grabbed and put into a carriage of the type that might once have been used to transport those heading for execution (by losing their heads or other means). Consequently, a demon who might have been enjoying a refreshing libation (in honour of the devil no doubt) in a local bar suddenly finds himself being dragged out of the bar and dumped in the carriage.

After all this demonic activity, everyone - demons and all - head off to the bar, wait for the fireworks and then the DJ to crank up in the square. The demons for Sant Joan Baptista Degollat are an old, old tradition; the DJ rather less so.

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