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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

By José P Ribas

Myths (Part One)
Follets & Fameliars
Ecology Of The Language
The Folklore And The Traditions


Ibiza Ecology

Our page of Ecology this week is about the popular culture and the ecology of the language ("Cultura popular i ecologia del llenguage," Gabriel Janer Manila, 1982).

"Berrugets" is a word deeply rooted in the Island's oral traditions, which we all often use when we speak about Eivissa's popular culture.

Because of this, we have had several e-mail asking us to clear up the nature of this word and for more information about these fantastic beings.

Gary Hardy, our editor, has asked me - as the only Ibicenco on this weekly on-line-publication - to write more about them.

I will present it as part of the Ecology, as I understand Gabriel Janer, in his interesting essay, says the ecology of the language is a necessity of the oral traditions and the popular culture for the survival of our ancestor-islander society. If the language of our oral traditions dies, a good part of our culture, if not all, will disappear with it.

"Barrugets," "Follets" and "Fameliar" are, basically, the only three familiar spirits that appear in the Eivissa-Formentera mythological culture. To others they are all different forms and appearances of the same "Barrugets".


The "Berrugets" is, without doubt, the most popular and representative of them all in our short mythological space. They are responsible for most of the fantastic and magical facts and affairs of the Balears Islands.

They haven't been seen by anybody that we know of, but until not long ago the "Barrugets" were part of our everyday life, like our home-made bread, sobrasada sausages, cheese or wine. They were known and familiar to all the island society, in the merchants' and bureaucrats' houses of "Vila" (Eivissa's Capital) and by all the peasants and fishermen of both Islands of Ibiza and Formentera.

Sitting around the table, during family celebrations or in the old black kitchen by the fire, in the long winter nights, peeling the almonds or twisting the already battered, long esparto leaves to make string and rope, the grandmother, or the eldest of the family, used to tell histories or sing songs, ("Rondaies") about "Berrugets" and the happenings.

Even in our little islands, it is amazing to see the amount of "histories" and tales about "Berrugets", though these histories can be the same ones happening in different places.

For example, in "Balafi" or Sant Llurens, they can tell us a history of barrugets that happened in Sant Antoni and in Sant Antoni we can hear the same facts, the same story of what happened in "Balafi" or Sant Llurens. But there is always somebody who swears to know exactly the family and the house and where and what happened.

The "Berrugets" live in a parallel world with us, in the houses, best in the rainwater cistern or in the coal-hole, in the stables with the horse and mules, in the holes of dry-stone-walls, in the forest or in little caves by the seaside.

They can't be seen, unless they want to be. (The ones who swear they've seen them talk about a very small man, less then a foot, but stronger then four big men together, moving and dancing very fast, with long arms, hair and beard, a very big mouth, with deep, loud, rough voice and a funny sarcastic giggle). And they don't interfere in a human's life if they don't get pushed into it, or they see something that they dislike in the house or in the behaviour of someone in the family. Sometimes they feel and act just like real hooligans, without an understandable reason, just for the sake of it and this is when we know of them.

But "Barrugets" are not really evil spirits. They don't do real harm; at the most, they molest women when they try to get water from the rain-cistern. If there is one in it, he will hang from the bucket's rope, giggling and laughing, and she won't be able to pull up the bucket with the water. Sometimes there are several buckets and jars left in the bottom of the cistern because of this.

They can take the bedclothes off the bed by night, so she will catch a cold, they chase young children to make them cry, especially at night, keeping everybody awake. Also they can really create a disturbance by hiding, mixing and changing things out of place (the coffee-pot, always kept in the kitchen, disappears, nobody knows where it is, until it appears later hanging from the water-cistern rope. The tools and furniture of the kitchen are found upside-down, all over the place. Sugar and the red pepper is all mixed up. The wool-clew and the knitting needles appear hanging from the roof by the sobrasadas. The pot, left under the bed by night, is found upside down in the morning, with the urine all over the floor, etc., etc.).

The Barrugets also had the power to change themselves into other animals, when they want to show themselves in front of people without being noticed. Goat and buck used to be the most common.

Whenever something not very serious happens in the house or at work, that hasn't got a logical answer, something that nobody can explain away and why it happened, the Ibicencos always say: "Pareix cose de Barrugets" (this looks like a Barruget's job) and then everybody understands. If it is a Barruget's job, it is completely useless to try to find a logical answer for it; there is no answer. Only the Berrugets knows it. So we accept it, then we can forget about it.

Sometimes they keep on molesting so much that the family has to move into another house, if they don't know the formula to stop them.

To calm the "Barrugets", to stop all their annoying activity, the formula is to leave at night a slice of bread and cheese nearby where they live, the coal-hole, the well or a hole in the wall. Then peace returns into the house and the family can rest.

But, where do the Barrugets come from? How did they get into the Island culture, into our society?

Don Isidoro Macabich, the Ibicenco priest and historian, was the first to investigate the word and the origin of this phenomenon. He wrote in his "Historia de Ibiza" in the chapter "Costumbrismo, Del folklore Ibicenco. Espiritus familiares" and also published in the local paper "Diario de Ibiza" in 1943-44:" "Barrugets" are spirits exclusive of the "Pitiusas Islands" (Eivissa-Formentera) most probably where brought, with other names, to the Islands by the Romans. There are quite a few similarities with the evil and bad spirits of the Roman mythology, the "Lares" and "Lemurs", especially with the first one, "Lares" spirits that live in the houses. In some parts of Spain, they still keep the word, "Lar," "Llar" or "Llares," but as a good spirit, protector of the family and the house. The "Lemurs" in Roman mythology were the spirits of dead relatives that remained in the house and they had their own feast, the 9th, 11th and 13th of May, called "Lemuria". At the time, there were about 30,000 Gods, Goddesses and good and bad spirits in Rome."

To other historians, the roots of these spirits is much older, before the Punic (Carthaginian) era, there is in the old Egypt a mythological being "Resef" with more similarities to our Berrugets then anyone else and the Phoenician and Egyptians were coming to the Islands much before the Romans did.

There are also with our Barrugets plenty of similarities with the European "Gnomes" which are popularly known in several countries of this continent. "Lecluy" and "Polevick" are also two similar spirits of the Slave mythology.

Probably the biggest problem we found to know more about Berrugets and its origins, were the religious restrictions, especially in the previous centuries. Berrugets are not mention in the Bible, so they only could be evil superstition.

Don Isidoro Macabich, says in one of his last articles on Barrugets: "I started these articles about Berrugets as a folklore curiosity, in September 1943, reaching a much longer extension and far more people than I expected. Because of this, for the enormous interest of the readers about this subject, according to higher opinions then mine (most probably the opinion of the Bishop of Eivissa) there is the danger that these articles can be a motive of insane superstition for someone"


"Follets" are also familiar spirits of the Islands' mythology, but as there is less character to of them and they are not as powerful as the Barrugets, there is not much known of them. "Follet" - rather then being a body by itself - is a very ethereal spirit, always related to the winds and the water. It is a spirit that can possess the human body and mind, turning them very noisy and dynamic. This spirit is normally more related to the children. When we see a hyperactive child, running, jumping and shouting non-stop, we say "aquest al'lot te Follet" (this young child is possessed by "Follet"). This could happen if we leave the children's clothing hanging outside over night.

Joan Castello says in his book "Rondaies" that the "Follet" is related to the Catalan and French "Follet" and also to the Italian "Folletti"


"Fameliar", is the third of our familiar spirits. If the Berrugets and Follets can be understood as "bad", rather restless, mischievous and noisy spirits, the "Fameliars" are definitely "good spirits".

"Fameliars" are in our world to help us to work hard. Very hard, in fact. Every time they get released from the little black bottle where they are kept by their possessor, they start shouting: "Work or Food! Work or Food!" And they will not stop until we give them one or the other. But not just an ordinary meal or job; when he starts eating, he can eat more then six men together and when he works, he does it harder and faster then ten. As soon as he finishes with a meal or a job, he starts again: "Work or Food! Work or Food!" To keep them quiet we have to keep them eating or working all the time, until they are sent back to their little black bottle. To put them back into the bottle, the possessor had to say a little prayer, but nobody remembers the words nowadays.

There are a few big jobs attributed to the "Fameliars" on the Island, such as an old house, "Cas Prats" about two kilometres from Sant Antoni on the way to "Es Broll". This house was build over one night by one "Fameliar". In "Can Roix" in Sant Josep, a "Fameliar" also did the dry-stone-walls, with stones so big that five men were needed to embrace them, over night. They could reap in a night the entire fields of a big "finca", as it happen in "Fruitera" by Santa Gertrudis, etc.

There is an infallible formula to get your own "Fameliar". You have to go under the old bridge of Santa Eularia River, the night of Sant Joan (23rd June) or the first night of the year, (1st January) with a little black bottle. Under the bridge grows a little herb known as "Herba des Fameliar", which only blossoms with a very small flower these particular nights. You have to put the herb into the bottle and leave it open and alone almost all night, then, before the sun comes out, you go back to collect the bottle and put the top on. The bottle will be then much heavier, which means that the "Fameliar" is already in it. There is still far more to say about these fantastic creatures. Most probably we will go back to them in future editions. Until then, be as happy as you can and keep away from the "flu".


To know more about "Barrugets"

Joan Castelló Guasch, "Barrugets Fameliars i Follet, Rondaies"
Institut de Estudis Eivissencs 1993.

Marià Torres Torres, "Antropologia d'Eivissa i Formentera"
"Mitologia, creences, costums i festes" Volumn 1
Editorial Mediterránia-Eivissa 1998.

Red Cap (Gorro Rojo)
Dame Blanca
Fnkenmanikins y Norgg

All Pictures © 1998 Marià Torres Torres - Antropologia d'Eivissa I Formentera Volume 1

José P Ribas