Welcome to the history page. This week it is our honour to offer you an interview
with the illustrious historian, scholar and author, Joan MarÝ Cardona. Don Joan
has written 18 books on island history, contributed countless articles to the
local press, hosted conferences, lectured widely, served as a judge for various
literary competitions . . . the list goes on. Last but not least is his collaboration
with LiveIbiza. In the midst of pressing schedules he has shown uncommon willingness
to give interviews (often at short notice), provide written materials, answer
phone queries and generally invest a liberal amount of time to any who come
to him in pursuit of knowledge.
MarÝ also served as the unsalaried president of the Institute for Ibicenco
Studies during nineteen years until he resigned in 1995. He has continued, however,
in his capacity as director of the Cas Serra Home for the Elderly. He himself
is 75 years old and I have often marvelled at how a man of that age can stay
so sprite and fit, with no reduction whatsoever in his mental prowess. Despite
his sharp intellect, Don Joan is a very gentle person, and it is touching to
see how kindly he speaks to the residents of the home who come to his office
to collect their pensions or simply to share a slice of life with their benevolent
In the following interview, Don Joan discusses his roots, his formation as
a young theology student, and his philosophy on life. It was inevitable, however,
that at some point the dialogue would shoot off on a historical tangent, and
indeed, way before mid-stream, the 21st century was left far behind. Hope you
enjoy this fascinating voyage through the island's distant past, recent past
and current situation.
LiveIbiza: Did you come from a family of clerics and intellectuals?
Joan MarÝ Cardona: No, I come from a very normal country family in San
Rafael. They were literate, but none belonged to the clergy or intelligentsia.
LI: How did you become interested in history?
JMC: I was already a priest when, in 1953, Isidoro Macabich (see Weekly
Edition 002) proposed that I take over his post as cathedral archivist. Sorting
through the files, I saw that some families tended to cluster in certain places.
The MarÝs grouped in the north - Sant Joan, Sant Vicent - and to some extent
in Sant Josep. The Prats grouped around Sant Antoni, the Cardonas in Sant Rafel,
the Guasches and the Colomars in Santa EulÓria. I wanted to locate these family
names and retrace their steps as settlers. I've been to all the pertinent archives,
Aragˇn, Tarragona, Madrid, piecing together data.
LI: The island was conquered by the Catalonians in the Middle Ages
(1235). What sort of records were kept on the identity of people and how faithful
JMC: Property records were kept - so that the king could collect his
taxes! The poor were lost in the shuffle, but land owners were kept good track
of. Property registers have been kept since the beginning of civilization .
. . Here, look at this. (He takes out one of five boxes of photocopied records.)
LI: The handwriting is beautiful - but what language is it?
JMC: Up until about 1600 Latin was the language of official documents
in countries allied with the Vatican. After that, the language of each place
was used, in our case Catalan until 1700 when Felipe V outlawed all local tongues
and instated Castillian Spanish as the national language.
LI: I gather you read Latin?
JMC: Oh, yes. In the seminary here and later at the Pontifical University
in Salamanca our instruction was solely in Latin - the lectures, class discussions,
all our exams and written work. I was thoroughly versed in it. Many of our young
historians come to me for help in translating their medieval texts . . . (still
leafing though the box of records). Look, here - 1478 - an auction. This man
went into debt and his property was auctioned off. It was a fairly common occurrence
- foreclosures and auctions have been going on since time immemorial. In Ibiza
they took place in the Plaza of the Cathedral. They auctioned everything - figs,
grain, nuts, slaves. That's where the big money was.
JMC: Yes, mostly North Africans, some Turks - prior to Lepanto (1571),
that is. Not many Negroes. Only what our Corsairs could capture in local waters.
Human booty was the most lucrative. Of course, that applied to us too. When
pirates invaded the island it was people they were after, not gold - of which
there was very little. They snatched a bit of food, and rounded up as many heads
as they could, usually by setting fire to everything and forcing the folk out
of their homes - those who couldn't reach a tower in time.
LI: (Horrified) I thought the Corsairs only fended off lurking pirates.
I didn't know they were slave traders.
JMC: Oh yes!
LI: What differentiated Corsairs form pirates? It sounds like pandemonium.
JMC: Corsairs were legal - they had permits to terrorize the seas! In
return they gave one fifth of their booty to the king. Pirates were snipers.
In theory, Corsairs could only attack ships from enemy countries, but there
was a lot of cheating. (Laughs) Despite the regulations it was really each man
for himself. It sounds barbaric, and it was, but it was the law of life. For
four centuries the primordial object of Ibicenco life was staying alive. That
came before food. If you were still alive, you could think about getting something
to eat, but the main issue was clinging on to dear life. If you were captured
and sold as a slave in a distant port, anything resembling human existence came
to a halt in the most final way. You became a piece of property to be bought
and sold until your death. On rare occasion, slaves were freed upon their master's
death, but this was the exception rather than the rule.
LI: When was slavery abolished in Spain?
JMC: At the end of the 18th century. For this reason, travel between
the islands was unthinkable. Formentera remained deserted for about 300 years
because it was so flat it was a ridiculously easy mark for pirates. The settlers
had no chance whatsoever. Travelling was only undertaken out of dire necessity,
and then it was literally an undertaking. All vessels had to be armed to the
gills with artillery and cannons. Even when I was a little boy almost nobody
had ever been to Majorca or Formentera, much less the mainland.
LI: Did Ibicencos ever swim in the sea?
JMC: No, hardly ever, and then only the little ones. I lived in the
interior of the island and we went to the seaside once a year. That was it.
The women prepared the food, the men washed down the animals, and the children
splashed around. I never saw a grown-up person go into the sea. What's more,
the women were terrified of the sun and hid in the shade behind large hats.
Also, I never heard anyone say, "What a beautiful island this is!" A new boat
in the harbour would arouse interest, but the landscape never. On Sundays no-one
ever went on an outing to the country. We lived in the country and didn't take
any special relish in it. After Mass, everybody stayed indoors: the men played
cards and the women knitted. Tourism opened our eyes to the beauty here.
LI: I suppose we'd better get back to the here and now.
JMC: (Laughs) If you say so.
LI: Who founded the Institute for Ibicenco Studies?
JMC: The late Isidoro Macabich founded it in 1949 along with MariÓ Villangomez
- who is still living - and a few other (now deceased) Ibizaphiles.
LI: What is its aim?
JMC: Our general mission is the diffusion of the Ibicenco culture and
language. To this end we bring out the quarterly magazine Eivissa which deals
with island issues, but always in an apolitical light. We also aid in the publication
of books about our island and written in our language.
LI: The Institute was founded in Franco's time when Catalan was outlawed.
Were you still able to publish in Catalan?
JMC: No. At the start everything was done in Castilian, including my
first books. But towards the 60s there was a slight liberalisation of policies
and we were allowed to publish part of the magazine in Catalan. It started with
poetry, as that was considered the most politically innocuous genre, and eventually
the entire text of the magazine followed suit.
LI: Apart from publication, what other spheres of activity does the
JMC: In the 60s we initiated an annual Conference of Ibicenco Culture
with guest speakers from off the island. At the same time we set up Catalan
classes for non-speakers and for those who spoke the language but lacked written
skills. In fact, I went to these classes for three years, because I had never
learned to write Catalan. I remember we had to study on the sly, always at night,
because the authorities of the day did not approve of Catalan. It was a highly
charged political issue. In about 1965, when cars became a more common occurrence,
we began to organise field trips to visit sites of historical importance. We
don't do that anymore. People are too busy. In the 70s we started the festival
Nit de Sant Joan. First we put on a big popular fiesta with a concert and dance
in Ibiza Town. Then we give two literary prizes and an honourable mention to
the year's best works about the island in Catalan. People have written about
ancient beliefs, natural medicine, navigation, songs and sayings of yore . .
LI: Do you sponsor any other literary awards?
JMC: Yes, the Nit the Sant Jordi Prize goes to a person or institution
that has made an important contribution to the diffusion of our culture. We
also offer the Balade Prize which is given every November to an outstanding
work of research in Ibiza. One year there was a very interesting thesis written
by a journalist named Llull who disclosed the little-know presence of Ibicencos
in Nazi concentration camps.
LI: You are still quite able and active. Why did you resign from the
JMC: I resigned because institutions should not become identified with
individuals. I was becoming synonymous with the Institute, and that's not right.
The former vice-president, Mariano Serra Planells, took over for me but I continue
to work as much as ever. I left only the administrative side.
LI: Do you have a new book in the pipeline?
JMC: Indeed, I have. I'm working on a joint project with another researcher.
We've been tracing out the island's original family trees based on the surnames
that appear in the earliest records.
LI: Did you ever receive any wages in your presidential capacity?
JMC: No, never. I was sent by Bishop Gea in 1976 as a volunteer, and
that was the way it stayed. I feel that, in life, if you don't do anything for
others, there's a kind of emptiness. And of course we ourselves are "the others"
in respect to the kind deeds that come our way. Investigation is a service,
but you've got to make it a more human thing - there's so much inner satisfaction
Well, you can't complain this time. There was something for everyone in Don
Joan's words. Next week, we will discuss the Saint George's Day as he is celebrated
in Spain as well as in England - a connecting link between two very different
lands. Hasta pronto,