Over the last decade, the topic of aïgu
(water) - or lack of it - has become a major discussion point
amongst the pagès Eivissenc (Ibicencan peasant) population,
particularly those declining numbers still involved in agriculture.
The weather patterns are changing: the island is becoming
increasingly arid. The island's expanding resident population,
now thought to be around 94,000, is too much for the local
water resources to easily support. Bear in mind that traditionally
the population hovered around 25,000 and even then during
times of drought and famine it was common during the 19th
century for younger sons to emigrate to, say, Cuba, to relieve
the population pressure. Combine that now with anything between
one and two million tourists here each year during the summer
months using water as if there is no tomorrow and the result
is inevitable. The island's precious water table is thought
to be in a precarious state. In Vila (Ciutat Eivissa, Ibiza
town) and Portmany (San Antonio) the tap water is usually
OK for washing and other chores, but not necessarily for drinking,
although desalinization plants are hopefully beginning to
make a difference.
Most of Eivissa's desperately needed rain
falls between October and February, but last winter the rains
failed to arrive in sufficient quantity, to put it mildly.
This whole decade has been one of gradually decreasing rains
or of rains coming in a torrential form that runs off the
soil rather than penetrating deeply. It is not just rain that
is needed, but a particular type of rain that seeps nourishingly
into the soil and then helps to replenish the water table.
The whole of the Balearic islands have been affected, but
particularly Eivissa and Formentera (which are actually part
of a Baleares sub-group of islands known as Ses Pitiusas),
and there has unfortunately been little practical regard for
water conservation amongst Eivissa's developers until very
recently. On the evening of 23rd August 1993 the main channel
(TVE 1) of Spanish Television announced the just-released
predictions of the British Scientific Institute regarding
possible climatic change in southern Spain and the western
Mediterranean, thought then possibly to be the most drastic
in Europe. Within 10-15 years, it was said, the area would
be receiving 5-15% less rain annually, and much of that would
be coming in heavier storms (i.e., less suitable for agriculture).
The Baleares Government, based in Palma de Mallorca, quickly
produced (in 1993) a sticker in five languages, "A Balears
hi ha poca aigua. No la malbarati" in Catalan - "In
the Balearics (sic) water is scarce. Do not waste it".
But this prediction seems to have come true with a vengeance
for Eivissa, and more quickly and drastically than originally
envisaged. Periodically in the past the pagès would
sometimes ask the local Catholic priests on the island to
organise pregs (more commonly known as `rogativas' in Castillano/Spanish),
for rain if drought became severe and the more ancient harvest/water
rituals mentioned in last weeks article did not seem to be
having their desired effect.
Some of the Catholic rituals for rain on
the island centred around the ancient figure of a special
female saint or Virgin - called by some the Virgin of Sa Talaia
(the area of Sant Josep), which was supposed to be very effective
in inducing rain. Elderly pagès laughingly recount
the incident when one time the ceremony was too effective
too quickly, and torrential rains drenched the gathered pagès
crowds who angrily told the priest that he should have warned
them to bring umbrellas. For some reason or other it seems
that this figure of the Virgin, small and very old, disappeared
during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and has been keeping
a rather low profile ever since. After hearing about it for
many years I finally found out in June that it is stored (not
displayed) in a particular church on the western side of the
island. These stories may be an amalgam of several female
saintly/or Virgin figures that are believed to have/have had
connections with rain/water. Maybe it is about time to bring
the Virgin of Sa Talaia - or whoever - out of hiding.
However, the harvest/water rituals at the
fonts (springs) and pous (wells) mentioned in Part One (Weekly
Edition 025) have their origins in pre-Christian times and,
now combined as being associated with a particular saint's
day, had been the main spiritual ritual form of thanks and
celebration of the bounty brought by water. During the 1970s
and 1980s some of these rituals began to fall into disuse.
New ideas brought in with sudden tourism development made
some islanders feel that these ceremonies, not easy to organize,
might not actually be of any use and were `old fashioned and
out-of-date'. But it is good to see that old ideas die hard.
As weather conditions dried out, elderly pagès, as
for example in the area of Balansat (Sant Miquel), felt a
need to revive the ballades for the fonts and pous. Traditionally
more than 60 of these ceremonies took place each year on Eivissa
and Formentera, those on Eivissa beginning from the night
of Sant Joan on June 24th and finishing mostly in late August.
This move to revive the ballades at springs and wells received
support from the Consell Insular (Island Council/Government)
particularly from the time that Joan Mari Tur became the Consell
de Cultura (Cultural Councellor) in 1992 - these rituals had
always been of great interest to him and, as an Eivissenc
from the area of Sa Talaia (Sant Josep), he well knew the
critical importance these rituals had for island life. The
ballades rituals for springs and wells are growing back in
importance now in these critical times when they are most
needed, not just as a major statement of cultural identity
but as a functioning series of ceremonies that have the island's
most critical resource at heart.
It seems they are working. Nobody expects
rain on Eivissa in July (although a minuscule 1mm of rain
did fall in the western part of the island on 28th July 1991).
Monday the 16th of July was a rather special day here this
year: islanders woke up (most tourists were still sleeping
off hangovers or whatever) to black cloudy skies and rolls
of thunder. Cloud lightning (where one does not actually get
visible bolts of lightning) - a form more common much later
in the year - announced a thundery outbreak of rain lasting
nearly four hours that blessed the island with 92 litres of
rain per cubic metre around Escubells in the western part
of the island to 54 litres/cubic metre in the area of the
airport on the eastern side. It was the heaviest total July
rainfall on the island since 1979, and all in one day, too!
As much rain fell that morning as during the whole winter
season when it is supposed to rain! Moreover, in spite of
being a heavy rain, the ground was so dry and the rain of
a particular type so that it soaked into the soil rather well
in many parched corners of the island. The pagès were
overjoyed (not so some of the 'We pay for sun' tourists, nor
those in San Antonio and Ibiza Town where the antiquated drainage
systems collapsed, as usual, and flooded the towns). These
rains saved the island from a probable disastrous summer of
dangerous forest fires (there had been a vast one over in
the northeast of the island in early June).
But the island's water table is still a
major concern. In June and July many Eivissencs (Ibicencos)
in their 60s and 70s who had traditional family wells said
they had never seen the well levels so low. Some isolated
areas or houses (not all houses have wells) are now supplied
by water trucks, but of the two major water companies supplying
such water, one company is now rumoured to be supplying slightly
salty water, indicating saline encroachment into that company's
water source, not a good sign. In early August it was officially
announced that the main drinking water supply well in Santa
Eularia had run dry, the other supply wells were extremely
low, and that water rationing might have to be introduced
in the area, although the latter has not (yet) come into effect.
The drought has brought out the islands ants with a vengeance,
and some rural houses have become inundated with moltas formigas
(what would be called 'una plaga de hormigas', a 'plague of
ants' in Castillano/Spanish - but Eivissenc language /dialect
seems to have no exact equivalent of 'plaga'). We are a couple
days away from the festivities of Sant Bartomeu in Portmany
(Sant Antoni) focused around 24th August (see Emily Kaufman's
History of Ibiza article in Weekly Edition 025); traditionally
it is supposed to rain at that time, so let us keep our fingers
If you are a tourist already on the island
reading this, or a potential one overseas getting ready to
come, please bear in mind the water situation on the island.
If your hotel or tourism representative has not already given
hints or advice about not wasting water (and also being careful
about not throwing away lighted cigarettes in a potentially
fire-prone area), you might politely suggest to them that
they do so. The future of this island - for its nature, wildlife,
residents, both Eivissenc and 'foraster' (foreigner), and
tourists hangs from one rather thin liquid thread - aïgu.
Asking tourists in the future to each bring a 5-litre bottle
of water with them to the island in the future might sound
like a joke, but it may not be in the future!
Apologies to my dear friend José
P Ribas, our Ecological correspondent, for possibly encroaching
slightly on his territory here - but those who read my column
last week can see the links between culture and the environment.
It's often rather difficult to have a clear cut-off point.
Eivissa's major environmental organization, Amics de la Terra
Eivissa, are planning a special seminar on the island's water
situation later this year and I hope that Jose can cover that
for you. Next week I will touch upon some anthropological
aspects of water in some cultures around the world, but mainly
try and make some sense about some rather disturbing reports
beginning to surface regarding certain multinational companies
beginning to look at the world's water supplies as a marketable
resource that they might want to control and manipulate. So
it may eventually affect you even if you don't come to Eivissa.
After that I will be getting back to more purely cultural
With gratitude for the work of Joan Marí
Tur (`Botja') and Marià Torres Torres.
Kirk W Huffman