The Balearic tourism ministry was proudly announcing at the World Travel Market that "traditional" fairs are to form part of its promotional efforts for the low season. An immediate question that this raises is why they haven't apparently been considered important in the past. While it is true to say that what generally lamentable low-season attempts have been made until now have included the fairs and also fiestas, an impression given is that this has been done simply because they exist rather than because they demand being pushed in a coherent marketing fashion.
A further impression, for far too long, has been that low-season occasions, such as fairs, are solely Mallorcan affairs; what visitors there might be have been treated as a bonus or nuisance, depending on point of view. Yet fairs are also part of the wider culture and heritage of Mallorca, something which has been promoted in times past, but which was far more of a focus in promotional terms in the first half of the last century (at least until the war anyway) than was subsequently the case. The ministry now plans to give culture and heritage more of a centre stage.
It's not as if parts of the island haven't recognised that there is genuine value to be extracted from occasions like fairs. But this value has still been determined by the limits of tourism seasons. In Alcudia, for example, an old fair that used to be held was revived in 1989. Initially it was in November. It was moved forward by a month because no tourists were going.
November qualifies as low season, aka and misleadingly the winter season (Mallorca's tourism defies seasonal convention by only having two seasons). In the middle of it is the biggest fair of all. Subject to arguments with Sineu (and Sineu can offer strong proof), it is the oldest fair - Dijous Bo.
This does, however, require some qualifying of a geographical nature. Palma had fairs before either Inca or Sineu emerged. Dijous Bo is, therefore, a champion of the "part forana", i.e. all of the island except Palma. Both towns were accorded royal privilege in the early fourteenth century to hold fairs, a duopoly that wasn't to be broken until Llucmajor's challenge to it in the mid-sixteenth century.
In the case of Inca certainly, its fairs and markets became a focus for tensions that existed with Palma. For current-day promoters of the island's culture and its traditional fairs, it should be instructive to explain how Mallorca became in essence two separate entities - Palma and the rest, a division which still very much exists. The late fourteenth century artisans of the part forana treated Inca as the principal expression of their separateness from Palma. Such was the antagonism with the capital that in 1463 there was a plot to assassinate members of the government who were going to the fair. This owed no small amount to a several decade dispute over taxes derived from the town's market.
None of this explains, however, when Dijous Bo started. The fourteenth-century angle is somewhat misleading. The traditional Thursday market can with some certainty be traced back to 1258. It is logical to assume, therefore, that a grander market, as in a fair, piggybacked onto the Thursday market. But Dijous Bo, as in the name, was a much later invention, while its definitive place in the November calendar has to do with the Llucmajor intervention. The compromise that was reached once Inca (and Sineu) had failed to overturn in the courts the granting of a fair to Llucmajor in 1545 led to the scheduling of the four Inca fairs as they now are. The Thursday in November when it is held is erroneously attributed to it always being the third Thursday in the month. It isn't; it is the fourth Thursday after the feast of Saint Luke (18 October).
The first time that there is any written evidence of the name Dijous Bo comes from an 1807 work by historian Josep Barberi. This says that the Thursday fair of the sequence was locally referred to as "bo" because of the amount of business that was done. Although the word "bo" can mean good, it was taken more to mean convenient, as in suitable for purpose. A later interpretation was that it meant much or most, because of its sheer scale and therefore because it had become the most important market in Mallorca.
Despite uncertainties over its origin, there is no doubting the fact that Dijous Bo is the island's most important fair. It is also, regardless of the modernity it now has, the most traditional. How well will it be promoted?
* Dijous Bo is this coming Thursday, 17 November.
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