07 November 2011

Els castellers de Mallorca

[This took place on 15 October - I had problems uploading the video, so I'm finally posting now.]

Already four years ago, in Tarragona, we saw this incredible sculpture of the castellers, and at the time I never thought I'd see the castellers in real life.  As it turns out, the castells were declared as having UNESCO Intangible World Heritage protection status in 2010.

I got to the Plaça de Cort really early, which was good because I got a primo spot on some built-in benches of the Palma city hall, perfect for watching everything.  The building itself is really rather interesting, because of the aforementioned built-in benches and an exaggeratedly large cornice, making it clear in 16-18th century architectural vernacular that it is a publicly-minded building. 

The first to arrive, besides an old lady and me, was the ambulance crew.

Soon enough, people started to arrive wearing similarly-colored shirts, and then all of a sudden I started to hear shouting, chanting, then nasally-sounding instruments, and then gigants in motion!  The castellers were coming down the street, en masse!  The home team, Els Castellers de Mallorca, made a small castell, a pilar, and sent a kid up to the balcony of the city hall, the other two teams, els Al·lots de Llevant, and els Margeners de Guissona, also made pilars, and then the fun began with the castells.

In the video, you'll see the gigants leading the parade of castellers down the street.  Gigants are huge puppets used during festive occasions all over the island, and each town seems to keep theirs on view in the city hall when not in use.  The smaller demon gigant is especially used on Mallorca during the feast of Saint Anthony the Abbot on 17 January.

As they were parading up the streets, the castellers were also putting on their long black sashes, called faixa, which are like cumberbunds supporting their lower backs (important) and are also used as like stairs or footholds when people are climbing up the castell.

At the base of the castell is the pinya, the mass of people at the base.  At the center, they are holding hands in a circle, and then each person behind them supports the arms of the person in front of them, and so on and so on:
The pinya forming

I liked seeing this because I thought it was a lovely metaphor for the kind of world I want to live in, starting from the point that everyone is supporting each other, and people from the different teams join in to support the team who is actually making the tower.  Everyone's prepared to get stepped on a little, and the tower might collapse, but they're all there to stay supportive to the end -- and the metaphor can keep going on and on and on.  Maybe the video will inspire some continuations and/or variations of the metaphor.

In the meantime, there are instruments being played: a drum, and some grallas, which are double-reed instruments making the nasal-sounding accompanying music, called the toc - there are different songs for coming in, and the start of the music announces the start of the castell and seems to help create rhythm for the feat.

Playing the gralla

The each of the three teams took turns making a castell, and then finally the home team made one last attempt:

This is really worth watching, because [spoiler alert] the tower collapses towards the end of the video.  In real life, as on the video, it happened in slow motion, like it was expected but maybe it also would've been fine.  What's also awesome is the end of the end - it's all still a celebration of success and above all, teamwork!

The next Wednesday, I was in the teacher's room at one of the schools where I teach, and I realized that one of my colleagues is a casteller.  I was asking him about it, like why he did it (do you wake up one morning and decide you want to be a casteller?) and in addition to learning that the younger people in the middle sections of the tower are usually the ones who were at the top when they were smaller, meaning that everyone has years of practice doing this (they practice weekly) and there is a coordinating person. It's partly a cultural expression, and partly just a group of friends who hang out doing this every week.  When I commented on the collapse, he said, "oh, people don't usually get hurt just a few bruises maybe.  It's safer than playing football." I replied, "that's like saying it's safer to fly in a plane than it is to ride in a car." His response? "well, it is."  But how many people can say that their hobby has UNESCO World Heritage status?

No comments: