Ibiza History Culture

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Anthropological View

An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

Thinking About Money

Part One



Money has been a lot on the minds of much of Europe's population recently with the much- publicized changeover to the Euro well into the pipeline. My wife and I left Eivissa on 19th December, before the changeover, and returned here on the 16th December, yesterday as I write this, when the new currency is in use. Today, 17th January, is a public holiday in Spain as it is the Saints day of Saint Antony, the patron saint of animals. Called San Antonio Abad in most of Spain, Sant Antoni Abat in Cataluna, and often Sant Antoni des porcs (Saint Anthony of the pigs) in Eivissa. Six kilometres down the hill from our house here the summer tourism centre of San Antonio is in full festive swing, with no tourists to participate in the celebrations. But more than half of my life since the early 1970s has been spent in Vanuatu, in the south-western Pacific, where pigs are the real traditional money/currency, so one's mind makes connections that most inhabitants of Europe might find a little strange.

Here on Eivissa, when one thinks of Saint Anthony, one thinks about pigs and the story of Sant Antoni ï es porquet (Saint Anthony and the piglet). Saint Anthony was a virtuous hermit with a love for animals. He was tempted by the Devil, but refused to fall into sin. On mainland Spain early Christian representations of the Devil often show him in animal form - as a male goat, or dragon or snake or as a wild boar. Statue representations of Saint Anthony often have a pig at his feet (as in the famous statue inside the church of Sa Coruna-Santa Inès, in the north-west of Eivissa), symbolizing his victory over the Devil. Wild boars were known in mainland Spain, and in Cataluna such a beast is called a 'jabali', but such animals were unknown in Eivissa and the word or term was unknown in Eivissenc language, although the terms porc fer or singular might be understood and used if Ibicencos on a rare visit to the mainland saw such a creature. Consequently, there was not necessarily ideologically such a close connection here on Eivissa between pigs and evil. According to one old story, Sant Antoni saved the life of a gorrinet (piglet), which then followed him around continuously and eventually dug the saint's grave with its furga (snout) as the saint was dying - and then the pig buried him in it. This concept of the friendly pig ties in well with peasant concepts of the pig as a creature with whom one can have a close relationship - and many are the pagès (peasant) stories based around this.

Ibicencos from Vila (Ibiza town) or some forasters ('foreigners') often made (some even do so today) a point of despising and joking about the peasants and their pigs, an attitude rightly resented by the pagès eivissenc. It is sad that such prejudices still persist here. On 18th December, an elderly pagès woman was hit and killed by a car in San Carlos. Later that morning I was in the Town Hall of one of the major municipalities on the island and happened to mention this sad event to one of the officials working there, who laughed and said, "Ha, entonçes queda una menos"! ("Ha, so there is one less"!). This attitude shocked me, but the attitude is not unusual amongst certain segments of the population who sometimes seem to regard the peasant as a separate species on its way to extinction. I must admit to a great amount of sympathy with the view of certain pagès/peasants that maybe individuals with this point of view should consider finding a home elsewhere than Eivissa.

Back to money. In Vanuatu, pigs (at least male ones) are money (see certain of my past articles about pigs in this newsletter). But as an anthropologist, I have come across many forms of currency in many different societies over the years, from 18th century Dutch silver Thalers still used as payments to highly-respected 'sacred' prostitutes from one isolated north African tribe; salt blocks and copper ingots in one part of the Sahara; coca leaves in the Peruvian Andes; 'Tavuliae' stringed shell bride-price money from Malaita in the Solomon islands; fruitbat wingbone stringed beads in New Caledonia to tusked male and hermaphrodite pigs in Vanuatu. I have come across isolated groups with no knowledge of western currency, another that would only accept banknotes that were green in colour, groups that hoarded 19th century English gold sovereigns and other groups that knew of modern currency and had potential access to it but refused to use it. Most traditional currencies have a symbolism that our modern type lacks, and some can be used for purposes other than an economic one. The introduction of our type of modern money into traditional societies often brings with it-increased tensions and problems and can, in many cases, actually do more harm than good. It can actually increase poverty, or introduce poverty into societies where poverty - or even the concept of it - did not exist before. Modern economists often make the mistake that 'poverty' is to do with lack of money, or, more usually, that if one has no money, one is poor. This is not true: I have come across quite a number of isolated groups around the world who had no modern money at all, but I would certainly not call them 'poor'- some had/have a contentedness or quality of life better than many of the stressed-out inhabitants of our modern societies.

But just as maybe one group is painfully coming to terms with modern currency, a new trickster comes out of the pack. The credit card. Jolly useful, yes, for those of us in the 'modern' world (well, I assume so: I have never used one but I am told they can be of assistance), but of course also useful if unscrupulous individuals, institutions or governments want information about the card holder. Also useful, of course, if one of the aims of the card companies, banks, governments, etc, is to entice the public to spend more. An interesting series of studies done in the UK in the early 1990s showed that individuals/families of credit card holders of similar socio-economic status to non-card holders tended to spend approximately 30% more than the latter. It's all good business - and good for business. It's good for credit card holders to know that they are actually spending more than they should (well, I suppose most of them know that already as it seems to me that inordinate numbers of people today in the modern world are really just working to pay off their credit card and other debts).

In last Saturday's issue (The Electronic Ibiza History Culture Edition 046, Saturday 12th January 2002) our editor, Gary Hardy, gave information regarding the changeover from the Spanish peseta to the Euro. I would like here to deal with some slightly less practical aspects of this transition. Introduction of the Euro into the 12 countries mentioned in Gary's article will certainly benefit travel and trading within this area. How much it will actually benefit the ordinary 'man/woman in the street' as opposed to big business corporations and governments is another matter, though. One suspects that a sort of Murphy's Law pertains to all such changeovers: if at all possible, the rich will get richer and the poor poorer and the ordinary citizen will just have to get used to it. Economists can 'spin drive' their way around this pitfall by saying that there will be a 'dribble-down' effect in which more money being held by those already wealthy will gradually filter down to those less fortunate. An analysis of the effect of the billions of $s of financial aid handed out worldwide over past decades by the World Bank and IMF (see some of my past articles) shows that this is rarely the case, usually living standards of the poor seem to deteriorate whilst those of the rich rise.

Many in Europe, though, have been looking forward to the arrival of the Euro, and the Spanish government assured its citizens last year that its introduction would not entail price rises, although one Spanish television channel broadcast in November last year indicated prices might rise between 1.7-3.4%. Watching television in Germany a week ago we came across a segment of a programme that seemed to indicate a rather more drastic situation in certain sectors. This particular German TV channel had sponsored two rather sophisticated German girls in their early twenties on a 'night on the town', something they both were wont to do before the introduction of the Euro. The girls followed their pre-Euro routine: afternoon coffee and cakes, then an expensive bar, then a similar restaurant and finally a few nightclubs. When the reckoning came, all were shocked to find that the new prices for this evening out averaged between 20-28% more expensive than a similar evening out in December! So let the buyer beware! At the moment in Eivissa prices seem just about the same, at least in the larger stores an supermarkets (although I must admit we have not been back here long enough to really check properly), although local friends who met us at the airport on Wednesday told us that prices have risen a bit more in the smaller, more 'local' shops. The crunch will probably come at the end of February when the peseta is no longer valid currency and when certain store owners, etc, will no longer need to display prices in both pesetas and Euros.

The bigger crunch will also probably come on Eivissa at the beginning of the summer tourism season, when more profit-minded restaurant, bar, nightclub and luxury shop owners will be sorely tempted to raise their prices again for the summer trade. As the UK is not at the moment part of the Euro bloc (and a nation-wide survey in England just before Christmas indicated that nearly a third of the population were unaware that most of Europe was converting to a new currency on 1st January 2002!) some of these owners may be counting on the fact that English tourists will not be familiar with Euro values and will therefore more easily spend it freely. Therefore those of you planning to come to Eivissa this coming summer should keep your wits about you. There are supposed to be government guidelines regulating the price changes, but as we all known, human nature being as it is, one can guarantee that at least prices will not be lower than last summer!

Kirk W Huffman