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Anthropological View

An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

Aïgu y Agua and Water
Water and Water and Water

Part One



Unbeknownst to the teeming thousands of tourists thronging the beaches, restaurants, bars and discotheques of the island at this time, the height of the tourism season, isolated and traditionally-orientated areas of Eivissa (the real name of the island, ‘Ibiza' is a mainland Spanish and English misnomer) have been and are going through their annual period of important ancient ritual activities at isolated water sources. Scattered throughout the island are natural springs and wells that, from time immemorial, have provided the source of life, Agua in Castellano, Aïgu in Eivissenc.

Eivissenc is a rare and early sub-dialect of eastern Catalan language and is the real language of the island. Even today many elderly Eivissencs (called ‘Ibicencos' by Castellano-speakers from the mainland or by the English), particularly those of Pagès (peasant) origin from the interior, speak it as their main language and may not be able to speak Castellano - isolated rural life has never really made the learning of mainland Spanish (or the mainland form of Catalan) a necessity. Linguistic terms used in this and forthcoming articles will, as far as possible, be in Eivissenc and written in italics. This does pose certain difficulties, however, as Eivissenc has not traditionally been a written language and even many younger Eivissencs today who are literate in Castellano and Catalan may have certain difficulties in deciding on correct spelling of Eivissenc terms. Moreover, at the beginning of the 20th century, geographical isolation and normal processes of linguistic change in a society that was essentially an ancient pre-literate oral society had complicated the situation to the extent that there were then thought to be 16 or 17 regional variations of Eivissenc spoken on the island. Compilers of dictionaries can, unfortunately, sometimes be the destroyers of these myriad linguistic variations as they have to somehow make a decision on which variant of a term they will put in their work as the ‘official' form of the word, thus possibly dooming different forms of a term to disappear eventually forever. This has happened with many European languages, including English and German.

Back to Aïgu. On a small, rather dry (although it was not always so), island such as Eivissa and to an even greater extent on its smaller sister island of Formentera, fresh water, its sources, distribution and control assumed much greater importance than in parts of Europe that might have more plentiful resources of it. Water came to have a spiritual force associated with it and the origin of the present-day water rituals and ceremonies on Eivissa may go back beyond Christian and Islamic times into the depths of its Punic (Phoenician and Carthaginian) past - or possibly even earlier. Although these water rituals on the island are each now (and since many centuries) usually linked with a Catholic Saint's day, it was common practice in the early stages of Christianity throughout Europe to rather deftly overlay a pre-Christian ritual with one blessed by the Church. This procedure tended to minimize tensions during the conversion process but also enabled ‘those converting' to essentially continue their traditional rituals whilst letting the leaders of the ‘new religion' think the old beliefs had been forgotten.

The spiritual force behind water and its sources traditionally needs to be thanked and thus persuaded to continue providing its bounty. Eivissa's traditional water source rituals and festivities can be seen anthropologically as a local aspect of a ritual phenomenon found widely amongst traditionally-oriented societies around the world.

Some of the most important fonts (springs in Eivissenc) on the island are protected by ancient stonework coverings that are almost shrine-like in nature, as are some of the ancient wells (pou, singular). It is at and around these sources and structures that the dances and rituals are held, and there is no doubt that these sites have been of ritual importance since ancient times. Up until at least the late 1950s the Font de C'an Micalet near Sa Fruitera (Santa Gertrudis, in the geographical centre of the island) contained within its interior structure lime-painted walls covered in ancient ochre designs. Some of the designs in ochre, which had obviously been re-done over the centuries possibly up until the 19th century, may provide links back to the times of the ancient cult of the fertility goddess T'nit (known as Tanit in the archaeological literature), a cult of which the island was a focal point during Carthaginian times.

Most Fonts and Pous have their water at a level some distance from the surface: one would have to either bend down to fill up one's pottery water container from a font or let down a bucket on a rope to fill it up from a pou. All of this type of water collection still exists in the most isolated areas of the island, or is within living memory for the majority of the Eivissenc population. ‘On tap' running water in houses is a relatively recent innovation in many rural areas. Another type of water source is a broll, essentially a font, spring, but from which the water springs forth under pressure and in much greater volume. On the evening of Sunday 29th July, a major traditional pagès (peasant) harvest and water festival was held at Es Broll de Buscastell, in its rather isolated valley - possibly the most beautiful valley on the whole island - in the northwestern interior of the island.

Such a traditional festa pagesa (peasant fiesta) involves dance (ball pagès, possibly western Europe's most ancient surviving dance form), food and vi pagès (peasant wine, rather stronger than the wine available in shops, and an acquired taste!). These festes are a form of community thanks for the agricultural harvest and water and a type of ritualized request for future good harvests and abundant water. Each ceremony is organized by the local community and/or a traditional dance group. That at Es Broll de Buscatell on 29th July was organized by the dance group Sa Colla de C'an Bonet who had also invited the group Sa Colla de Sant Mateu to participate. The female participants are stunning in their ancient costumes, their chests bedecked with the heirloom massive gold necklaces, ses emprendades, and their fingers adorned with numerous gold decorative rings. The ceremonies at Es Broll also involved ancient shouted ritual challenges (Ucs) and the playing of shell trumpets (brulades de corn).

This is the real Eivissa/Ibiza - nothing to do with tourism, most tourists coming to the island have no idea that these ceremonies exist, nor do most of the tour guides. As such ceremonies are organized by and for the rural communities, planned dates for the festivities are sometimes rather flexible within certain limits, depending upon the often complex problems of organizing food, wine and transport in areas where many inhabitants may still lack telephones (or, in the case of having recently introduced telephones, messages regarding traditional activities are still preferably often passed by word of mouth). The festivities at Es Broll, for example were originally planned for 22nd July.

A number of these annual activities have already taken place this year: that at Pou d'en Benet in the area of Sa Talaia (Sant Josep) (organized by the group Sa Colla de Sant Josep de Sa Talaia); that at Pou de Labritja near Sant Joan (organized by Sa Colla de Labritja); that at Pou d'Albarqueta near Sant Llorenc; that at Font des Verger near Sa Talaia (Sant Josep) and that at Pou Roig near Sant Jordi (organized by Sa Colla de Sant Jordi), to name a few. Those still to come include ceremonies at the Pou des Rafal near Sant Agusti (organized by Sa Colla d'es Vedrà) and hopefully planned for 2nd September, and those at Pou d'en Micolau near Sant Rafel (organized by Sa Colla de Sant Rafel), planned for the same day.

These ballades (a general term covering festivities including traditional Eivissenc dances) are, because of their nature, usually held in areas that are relatively or extremely difficult of access. Unfortunately, most tourists visiting this island are not at all interested in culture (and numerous rather seedy recent television documentaries - such as the infamous "Ibiza Uncovered" series - tend to indicate the island has no culture: not of course the case, but more truthfully indicating that possibly many of those coming to visit the island have no culture !), but I address the following words to that microscopic percentage of the two million outsiders who will visit this island during this year's tourism `season' who might possibly be interested in the real culture of Eivissa.

If you are interested in seeing certain real traditional activities, your tour guide might not necessarily be the best advisor (unless he/she is real Eivissenc), but the small town halls in most villages should have a list of such activities as should a local tourism office (although they may have to hurriedly search amongst their files to dig up the relevant information). The best bet is the Conselleria de Cultura in Vila (Ciutat d'Eivissa, Ibiza town). Remember that dates can change at the last minute. If you do manage to pinpoint one of these ceremonies and want to go, try and, if possible, find a way to ask permission beforehand. Bear in mind that these ceremonies are part of the real life of the island, mostly hidden to outsiders, and are not organized for tourists. If it looks as if you may be successful in attending one of these harvest/water ballades, don't take along a large group of friends with you, too many outsiders could spoil the atmosphere. Go with respect and politeness. Ask permission to take photos. To show that you want to share in the community's thanks for harvest and water and hopes for more next year, take along a bottle of wine and some local produce to present to the organizers of the activities. Don't expect to hear English, German, French or even Castellano (Spanish) or mainland Catalan spoken, Eivissenc will be the language used (but there will usually be those who might translate for you). An evening spent at one of these ceremonies, their origins lost in the depths of time, will give you more satisfaction and spiritual rewards than any amount of time spent in the islands discotheques or other peripheral entertainment centres. You will then be able to go back overseas and truthfully say, "Yes, I have seen the real Eivissa/Ibiza".

But this short article is just an introduction to water: in Part Two, next week, we will see why these rituals have recently become more important, what water problems the island faces, and what is in store worldwide for this most precious liquid commodity.

With gratitude to many Eivissenc friends, including Joan de Ca Na Joana, Ritu i Ana de C'an Joanot, Turbo i Neus de C'an Partit, Mariano Ribas and Marià Torres i Torres and many more.

Kirk W Huffman