Ibiza History & Culture

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Anthropological View

An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

Thinking About Money

Part Three


Traditionally (and in much of the island up until at least the 1960s), an Ibicenco peasant family's 'wealth' was not really measured in terms of money. This would actually have been very difficult to do as so little money circulated amongst these almost self-sufficient people. Real wealth was basically in one's land, one's agricultural produce (e.g. almonds, olives, chickpeas, carob beans, etc), one's house, one's pigs, goats, sheep and chickens, one's rich language and the stored memory of centuries of history, songs, myths, legends and life held by the older members of one's extended family. It is still almost like that today in a very few isolated areas of the island. There was however - and still amongst certain families - another traditional form of wealth, 'ses emprendades', the large gold chains worn around a woman's neck and hanging from shoulder attachments slung across her chest. These forms of chains, whose origins are lost in time - although it is interesting to note that very similar decorations were worn in the same way by women on Eivissa during Carthaginian times - formed part of a woman's dowry or bridewealth, and were handed down from generation to generation. Another form of this bridewealth were the intricate filigree-work gold finger rings, of which a woman could wear up to a maximum of 24 for ceremonial occasions. Transfers of these from woman to woman and generation to generation were one of the things regulated by 'el espolits', the ancient and complex marriage contract formalities of the Pitiusas islands (a note here for new readers: don't be fooled by the formal Spanish designation of Eivissa/Ibiza being part of the 'Baleares' - Balearic Islands: Eivissa and Formentera are actually part of their own island sub-group, the Pitiusas. The Balearic Islands are Mallorca and Minorca). This wealth in gold was traditionally stored (and in a few cases still is) inside the family house in a portable wooden strongbox called a 'baul' (pronounced 'ba-ool'). These 'baules' contained items of the extended family's wealth and were in effect the family bank box. Some families of ancient and distinguished lineage had amassed large amounts of these gold objects over the centuries and there is a possibility that the island has been sucking in gold from around the Mediterranean for ritual purposes since time immemorial.

The existence of these 'baules' is sort of a well-kept peasant public secret: everyone knows which families are supposed to have them, but the actual contents were/are known only to certain members of the extended family belonging to a particular house. It is important to point out here to readers that the concept of a 'house' here in Eivissa/Ibiza is rather different from that of most readers of this column. In further articles I will deal in more detail with traditional eivissenc goldwork and traditional concepts regarding the 'casa pagesa' (peasant house) but suffice it to say here that the peasant house was/is considered to have almost a personality itself. Each house has a particular traditional name, which places it within an ancient social network difficult to understand by outsiders but part of normal life for those still attached to their traditions here. Even today, if two old Ibicenco peasants meet for the first time, their first questions to each other are not "What is your name?" but rather "What house do you come out of?" Once both know which house each was 'born out of', then they can easily calculate the kinship/marriage/relationship structures involved and therefor know whether they are actually distantly related or not. Traditionally in this way one can rather easily distinguish 'relative/friend from potential foe'. The 'baules' were/are part of the traditional possessions of the house itself, which expressed its personality through the living members of the house's patriline (those belonging to the patrilineal lineage of the house). Possession of an important 'baul' was a source of family pride.

Possession of these 'baules', though, could at times be a disadvantage. In the old days - and as late as the first quarter of the 19th century the island was under perpetual threat of attack from almost all sides. Historically, the island has never really been a haven of peace, but has been a magnet for raiders. Barbary pirates from North Africa were probably one of the last major threats, but the last boat from Mallorca to raid the island for women (to work in a chain of brothels in Palma, Lisbon, Barcelona, Rome - and one place in North Africa) came in 1809. The last 'raiders' were/are, of course, the 'tourist invasion' beginning in the 1960s, and this invasion has unfortunately proved the most destructive for traditional eivissenc culture. Most raiders from outside did not necessarily know of the existence of these peasant strongboxes of riches, but at times of invasion a peasant priority was the protection of the household's living members and livestock and the household's 'baul'. Protection of the latter often involved an active male member of the household hiding it in a secret cave.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the situation was slightly different though. The time of the Civil War on Eivissa was a time when many people with intimate local knowledge were involved, and it was a traumatic time for the inhabitants here as well as the time when the contents of many 'baules' disappeared from the hands of their traditional owners forever. The time of the Civil War on Eivissa and Formentera is still a traumatic event that elderly islanders only talk about with great reluctance, if at that. In a small island where basically everyone knew almost everyone or could find kinship relationships, however distant, with most people, events such as a civil conflict are more destructive and remain longer than in larger societies. Much of present-day politics in Eivissa and Formentera (and even, for example, why Eivissa has allowed 'uncontrolled tourism' to unfortunately damage so much of the island whereas Formentera has been much more cautious) can only be understood by having a knowledge of the slightly differing traditional leadership patterns of the two islands plus a knowledge of the events of the Civil War. Actual fighting on Eivissa lasted only five weeks in 1936, from the disembarking of the Republican (anti-Franco/fascist) forces at the Pou d'es Lleo in Sant Carles (San Carlos) on 8th August to the Nationalist (Franco/fascist) aerial bombardment of Vila (Ibiza town) on 13th September. The effect of the bombardment was devastating, and a foreign boat chancing to visit Ibiza town a few days later found the whole city without light, water and food, with most of the stores ransacked and with a terrorized and absolutely silent population. Nationalist forces, coming from Mallorca, landed on the island on 20th September 1936. There followed several years of intense and severe repression followed by decades of silence. Events of those weeks in 1936 and the horrific repression afterwards were such that even today elderly rural peasants may say that in spite of all the good and bad things that happen on the island now, " at least we have peace". Most tourists coming to the island do not know that officially (well, at least up until December of last year) the island is still under military occupation by the Spanish armed forces. When I became a resident on Eivissa in 1990 I had to obtain a clearance from the military occupying forces as well as the Spanish government.

During the events of the Civil War on Eivissa and Formentera, some sad atrocities were committed by both sides. The worst committed by the left-wing Republicans was the shooting of approximately 70 right-wing prisoners (a similar number escaped over the castle walls) being held in the dungeons of the old castle in Dalt Vila. This event took place on the night of 13th September 1936 after the Nationalist (right-wing/fascist) bombardment of the town, which killed 40 people earlier that day. The Nationalists shot more than the number killed in the castle in an extended series of executions held against the walls of the old cemetery of Ibiza town. Nationalist atrocities have been kept much more closely hidden, as they came out the winners and have basically held the political power in Eivissa from late 1936 up until the late 1990s. It is usually the winners of wars and civil wars who decide what becomes the 'official version' of the events of any conflict. In our day and age the general western public tends to accept the American version of events of its recent wars: history will show eventually that these versions often differ greatly from the reality. Having myself been rather 'close at hand' during the events of the US invasion of Panama just over a decade ago, I can vouch for the fact that the US version of events leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. The severe Nationalist (right-wing/fascist) repression on Eivissa and Formentera for some years after this (they even constructed a concentration camp on Formentera which contained 1400 prisoners - many of whom died of hunger - up until late 1940) leaves open the possibility that a longer series of tragic events have still not yet been brought out into the open.

An as yet unknown number of gold-filled 'baules' disappeared during these tragic years. Both sides in the conflict were short of actual money, and as both sides contained rather uncontrollable elements there was always the possibility that certain 'baules' were stolen for purely personal gain. With the time scale involved, though, it is probable that right-wing elements were responsible for the disappearance of more eivissenc gold than left-wing elements. One old pagès (peasant) friend told me that his family gold 'was in Moscow', which would mean that it had been stolen by an individual or group associated with the Republicans (anti-fascist left-wingers). Stories of family gold being taken by elements associated with the Nationalists are more widespread but slightly more difficult to actually pin down (as the Nationalists and their 'descendents' have basically held the political power here until just recently). Many pagesos (peasants), however, hid their 'baules' during this time, only bringing them out of hiding years later when things had calmed down. But sometimes the strongboxes were never recovered. Often only one or two individuals knew where each 'baul' had been hidden. These were usually adult male household heads that had the physical strength to hide them. These, however, were more at risk of being captured/killed or tortured for political reasons - or simply, captured and interrogated/tortured for political reasons but with the added benefit of maybe being able to give information about the hiding place of a family 'baul'. Certain men died under such circumstances and with the situation of the concentration camp inmates in Formentera (whose surviving inmates were dispersed in late 1940 to other such camps around Spain) one will probably never know how many 'baules' were lost as the men safeguarding the knowledge of their whereabouts disappeared. One pagès family I know of in Northwest Eivissa have been looking quietly for their 'baul' for decades: hidden by the grandfather who was later tortured and executed (obviously not telling his captors where his 'baul' was), the family only found the hiding site a few years ago. The grandfather had hidden it in a small cave 20 metres from the top of a high cliff with a sheer drop to the sea, obviously climbing down by rope to put it there. He then closed up the small cave entrance with stones and local cement that looks so much like the surrounding rock that it can be almost impossible to distinguish the difference. It must have been an arduous task.

The coasts of Eivissa abound in ancient secret smuggler caves - by some accounts anything between 150-250, but the secrets of most of them are still kept hidden by their traditional owners. Tourists visiting the island should not expect to get any information about these, nor should they be advised to ask about them. It is nothing to do with you. Some hidden spots may still contain these wonderful boxes of gold, but then again that is no concern of tourists. Yes, there may be 'lost treasure' on the island, but the real 'lost treasure' of Eivissa is its unique mix of ancient language and culture which - although not lost completely yet - will be gone forever in a few short years when the last of the oldest generation pass away. Vestiges of it will survive amongst their descendants in a modified form, but how much remains to be seen. These younger descendants need to develop and retain a pride in their own language and culture. The onslaught of modern tourism has been an enemy of this. I wish them luck.

Kirk W Huffman