Now is the time of the year on Eivissa when pagès
eivissenc (Ibicenco peasant) conversation turns to pigs, as readers of my
last two articles will have realized. Pigs in general and pigs in particular
can be discussed, and the annual matançes (pig-killings) begin
to be planned. If one happens to be a tourist at this time of the year, when
most tourists have left the island, then don't necessarily assume that the three
old men standing on the street corner nearby are talking about the situation
in Afghanistan or the possibility of world economic recession, the topic may
be much closer to home. One of the most interesting discussions I had here about
pigs was at the height of the Gulf War, standing outside the Banco de Credito
Balear in San Antonio only a hundred yards or so from the entrance to Es Paradis
Terrenal (one of the biggest discotheques on the island) talking with three
old pagesos from the hills. The discussion ranged from comparisons of
the real island pig (long and low with long snout and black hair) with the relatively
recently-introduced large white pig (which has now almost completely displaced
the former on the island) to quality of new animal feed ('piensos' in Spanish)
available in the local Agricultural Cooperatives to bemoaning the lack of young
traditional matançers (pig killers). Sometimes pig debts might come up
in such conversations: this would be the time when the traditional Ibicenco
men’s walking stick, un garrot (also sometimes called un gayatu, a
term slightly closer to the Castillano 'una gajata') could come into its
ritual use. It is very rare now to see an Ibicenco with a garrot, although
one still occasionally sees one being held by very elderly men
inland, and most traditional houses inland have one or two 'hidden' somewhere.
A garrot is made
from a young thin type of 'sabina' pine tree, cut to about one metre in length.
The thin tapering branches are mostly cut off, each leaving a slightly pointed
base. These points, called ses punches in Eivissenc language (an
early and rare sub-dialect of eastern Catalan, but with other linguistic influences
in it) are an important part of garrot decoration. One or two of the
thin tapering branches are left nearly untouched and are gently twistingly trained
around the walking stick along its length. The bark is carefully scraped from
stem and branches and the new garrot is left gleamingly white. After
years of carrying, the garrot takes on a beautiful yellowish-brown shiny
patina, much admired by 'garrot- connoisseurs'. The thin tapering branches
that gently twine around the walking stick are particularly important. During
discussions such as the one mentioned above one might see an old man quickly
'untie' one of the small branches (its base still attached to the walking stick's
stem) and almost playfully and gently 'whip' one of the other men with it. This
action would indicate that the 'whippee' owed the 'whipper' some form of debt,
probably to do with pigs if that was the topic of the discussion, although such
'whipping' could indicate the owing of any kind of debt. Although almost any
pagès male could make a garrot, some specialized in making them,
but very few are made today. One of the last of the specialized garrot-makers
in the western coastal area of the island died a few years ago aged in his mid-1990s.
Other topics of discussion
could be the quality of the/sa matançera (also known as sa cutxilla
matançera), the pig-killing knife. The traditional island-made (by hand)
matançera, with beautiful traditional designs stamped along the blade,
is, of course, much preferred to modern imported varieties, although the hand-made
ones are now quite rare.
There is quite a long
build-up to the actual pig killing. Everything must be perfectly pre-prepared
and ready. Traditionally the male pagès head of the household and his
eldest son would make a special trip to Vila (Ibiza town) to purchase
the required peppers, salt, spices and nyinyol (particular thread for
tying up the sobressades, botifarres and botifarrons) necessary
for the making of the preserved food from the pig(s). Up until the 1950s, and
later in some areas, this trip could be a major undertaking for some
families: roads were few and far between and transport was usually by horse
and cart. Going from isolated Sa Coruna (Sant Agnès) in the Northwest
of the island to Vila in the Southeast was like crossing the whole world.
Sometimes these trips would take several days, the family at home eagerly awaiting
the voyagers' return with adventurous stories from their trip. Some 'adventures',
of course, could not be told: up until the late 1950s there were at least two
traditional brothels (neither containing Ibicencan women, that would cause too
many local problems) in Ibiza town, one famous one being in the Calle de La
Virgen. One was in a building owned by the Catholic Church (annual rent paid
for the building produced the delightful 'Money received for charcoal delivered'
receipt). Of course I am not saying these were regularly visited by pagesos
on their annual visits to Vila to purchase the pre-requisites for
matançes, I am just saying they existed. Interestingly enough, these
two brothels were closed down by the authorities in 1959 around the time of
the opening of the first airfield on the island. With tourism in its early stages,
it seems the authorities felt the existence of these two 'cultural institutions'
might give the island a bad name: in retrospect this is slightly comical as,
according to some people who know the island well, much of the whole island
has been turned into a vast 'bordello' during the summer season over the last
Red peppers were or are
used in the preparation of the famous sobrassades, giving them their
renowned colour. Traditionally the red peppers are toasted or split and dried
in the sun (I saw a large batch drying in the sun outside a casa pagesa (peasant
house) near Sa Coruna (Sant Agnès) just last Sunday) and are then
crushed into powder. For many years though, packets of pre-dried and powdered
red peppers have been available in Eivissa. Pagèsos are slightly more
wary about what packet brand they buy now as there was a major disaster in 1997.
Pre-packed packets from Mallorca of a special 'pimiento rojo' and 'pimiento
molido' mix have sold for years, Mallorcan peppers supposedly being preferred
over local ones by Ibicencos for this purpose. However, there was something
definitely wrong with the late 1997 mix: Sobrassades made with this mix
lost their reddish colour after a few months. Nobody here wants to eat a non-reddish,
slightly whitish sobrassada (even though it might taste the same), and
people here were furious. Sardonic joking stories circulated regarding another
attempted plot by Mallorca to destroy Ibicenco culture (as such alleged plots
have been going on for centuries this was not considered unusual) and certain
tempers became hot. Such a disaster might be hard for the British to understand,
but put it this way, if you were from the north of England and found out that
the French had secretly found out a way to turn steak and kidney pie green,
or to turn chips pink, how would you feel? In the old days people often went
to war for less. The fact that numerous mallorquins (Mallorcans) got
caught in the same way did nothing to lessen the anger.
Nowadays one can also
buy the pre-packed spices that are to be mixed with the powdered peppers, making
life a lot easier, but traditionally each family might have had (and some still
have) their own secret herb and spice mix which would make their sobrassades
the best on the island (and, by connotation, the world).
Whilst the household head
and eldest son were in Vila purchasing necessities, the women would be
making other preparations. Bundles of brushwood/kindling of sweet-smelling ginebre
or argelaga would have been gathered from the forest (often by men):
bundles of this would be/are used to singe the pig once killed. On the neighbouring
small island of Formentera, where such bushes are rarer, frigoles and
aubada were/are gathered. Bundles of the white estepa ('jarra blanca'
in Castillano) plant were gathered in preparation for scrubbing the pig-killing
board and the various tables and benches to be used. Estepa is a very
useful plant, and most old houses have quite a plentiful supply growing nearby.
It is a natural antiseptic and cleanser and one can work up soapy foam with
it when mixed with water and used as a scrubber - ideal for daily cleaning of
kitchenware and the annual matança requisites. In many households this
has now sadly been replaced by Fairy liquid or similar detergents, which may
unfortunately not be so biodegradable. Estepa is also the traditional
local toilet paper, hygienic to use (and completely biodegradable), but one
has to remember to wipe with it the correct way, otherwise it can be slightly
scratchy (!). On Formentera barrombi or sàlvia plants could also
be used for the cleaning and scrubbing. Other bundles of firewood are prepared,
as on the day of the matançe a large cauldron must be kept on the boil
all day to prepare the botifarres and botifarrons.
The great day approaches.
Many of those invited to the matança - and each will have their own work
to do - arrive the day beforehand to stay overnight as it is an early start
the next morning. If the day happens to be a school day, the children are allowed
to stay away from school (although not all children in rural areas went to school
much until circa the 1950s). The pig is not given any food from at least the
day beforehand so that its 'lower interior extremities' will be easier to clean.
The banc de matar (pig-killing board or bench) is cleaned
and scrubbed ready. I had promised last week to speak more about pigs in Europe,
etc, in general, but as our Editor, Gary Hardy, has prepared some preliminary
matança photographs to go with this week’s article, I thought it best
to at least get the banc de matar cleaned and ready *!
With thanks to many Ibicenco
friends and especially Doña Rita and also Bartolomé Ribas Ribas and also acknowledgements
to the work of Marià Torres Torres.
* If any of you reading
this happens to be one of those English 'suppliers' that annually swamp the
discotheques of this island with Ecstasy (or whatever) and you have been confronted
by an old Ibicenco peasant whom you thought was telling you that your 'bank
was ready', don't assume that means that your bank is waiting for a large deposit.
What he was trying to tell you was that your 'banc de matar' was ready,
i.e. a relatively polite way to say that it was probably about time that you
rather rapidly left the island.
All pictures © Gary Hardy (December