If there’s been a common theme thus far with the Spanish festivals of European Bazaar, it has been the definite need of earplugs.
In March, at Valencia’s Las Fallas, it was the likelihood of having your eardrums popped like bubblegum by your close proximity to any one of a million fireworks. At the Mallorcan festival of Es Firo it’s probably going to be because there is a man dressed as a pirate and he appears to have bought his own shotgun to the festival…BOOM…
And that is only the beginning of the craziness.
In Part 1 of this blog, we had a look at the beautiful town of Sóller and its surrounds. The people of Sóller are a proud bunch and every year they honour the most famous episode in the town’s history: the 1561 invasion of the town by Algerian pirates.
But the people of Sóller aren’t satisfied with half-hearted ceremony; a parade and some speeches just won’t cut the mustard around here. Not when you could instead stage a full-scale re-creation of the battle, complete with explosives, swordfights, plundering and hangings.
And, of course, the very curious Bring-Your-Own shotgun policy.
For kids, there is Christmas; a day that seems designed for the pure indulgence of your fantasies.
For the men of Sóller, there is Es Firo. The look on a child’s face when gets that bike he’s always wanted is nothing compared to the giddy satisfaction on a grown man’s face when you tell him he can dress like a pirate and you hand him hundreds of shotgun shells. Such joy is a beautiful thing to see.
And the men waste no time in firing their weapons into the air like the final scene of a spaghetti Western, each trying to make more noise than his fellows.
The men of the town are split into two groups, the Moorish pirates, led by the Pirate King, and the Catholic inhabitants of Sóller, marshalled by their tall, imposing Captain Joan Angelats, a local with the disarming smile and a gusto for his role.
Key to the celebration is the memory of the Valentes Dones, or ‘Valiant Women’ who, when the pirates did invade in 1561, managed to kill and chase off the invaders attacking them and their properties. Unfortunately this, and the general level of sexual equality in Spain, seems to mean that the women of Sóller are restricted to their roles as demure, but albeit gutsy, peasant women, fit for being carried off as spoils or cheering their heroic saviours.
Through hazes of smoke witness the hooting, cursing, blacked-out faces of the barbarian pirates as they cause whatever mischief they can amongst the crowd, smearing black grease paint on the unwitting, firing their weapons over the heads of the unwary.
By far the pirates’ favourite pastime was stealing people’s hats, mounting them on the end of their shotguns and then blowing the hat to ribbons. Or, if the owner was lucky, having the hat returned to them with a new flip-top lid.
As twilight drifts down over the mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana the day’s events climax in Sóller’s main square. The assembled crowd goes quiet as the sound of distant shotgun shots comes closer. All of a sudden pirates are streaming into the plaza; shouting, firing, wild eyed and frenzied.
They waste no time in bringing out their battering ram, to bash down the door of the church (conveniently replaced with a paper door for the occasion) and dragging out the oddly-Jewish looking priest and several of the womenfolk. Loaded into a cart the captive are harried with weapons and taunts as they are paraded around.
One pirate is fearlessly scrambling up the outside of Sóller’s bank, a rope in his mouth but none protecting him from his death. When he makes the balcony the rope is secured so that others of his fellows can shimmy up. Showering the crowd with the chocolate-coin spoils they find in the bank, they hoot and scream their victory over Sóller.
Other of the Moorish invaders have brought a lashed-together ladder and are climbing onto house balconies, threatening women and throwing stuffed effigies of their men to the mercies of the crowd below.
In a pull-no-punches homage to the actual brutality that the pirates brought upon Sóller and towns like it during the 16th century, two men are theatrically hanged from one of the trees in the square. They thrash in their death throes, to a background of acrid gun-smoke and the caterwauling cacophony of shotguns, firecrackers and guttural cries. It is an incredible, surreal experience and we are smack bang in the middle of it!
But hark! Is that the sound of drums coming from beyond the square? The returning Sóller men. Cheers go up from the crowd as the local militia return to find their town sacked, their women captured and their fellows the strange fruit hanging from the trees.
The armies square off and in a huge rush the Christian army, under the red and white pennant of St George’s Cross, charge into the pirates. A hammed up sword fight takes place on the stage in front of the Town Hall between our noble Captain and the Pirate King.
Es Firo is chaotic and utterly unique. Very quickly the borders between participant and audience dissolve and you’ll be immersed in the shifting fates of Sóller. You’ll find yourself cheering for both sides of the fight, taking up the football chants favoured by the crowd, pumping your fists at the impassioned victory speech of Sóller’s noble Captain.
And offering up fervent thanks to your earplugs.
When: The Monday after the second Sunday of May
Where: Soller on the island of Mallorca, Spain
Why: Pirate Invasion Festival…’nuf said.
Click on any of the images below to see the full explosive gallery!
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PS: The racial and religious undertones of the festival are too murky to deal with in a short blog post but if you’re a prudish PC-type then Spain is probably not a country you should be in the first place. Briefly put: any culturally ‘inappropriateness’ (ie. Blacking out of the pirates and any perceived racial stereotyping) of the festival seems to be an historical reflection and unintentional. Best to go and make up your mind for yourself.
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