Ibiza History & Culture

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Anthropological View

An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

Ric com un Verga
Of Pigs and Men on Eivissa/Ibiza

Part Two


As our environmental correspondent José P. Ribas mentioned in his article last week (Weekly Edition 031, 29th September 2001), at this time of the year 'the harder jobs are over and local farmers look ahead with confidence, keeping an eye on feeding and pampering the pig that will soon be sacrificed'. Those of you who managed to delve through my last article will have gotten a glimpse of the importance of pigs in the local culture. Pensar es porc in Eivissenc language describes the routine of fattening up the pig for the annual matança (pig killing) and this usually begins anything from two to four months beforehand. As I mentioned previously, they are given special food, especially es sego, a mixture of ordi (barley - 'sebada' in Spanish. Ordi, which grows in relatively dry conditions, was particularly suited for Eivissa's climate) flour mixed with dried and crushed garrovas (the carob bean - 'algarrovas' in Spanish), muniatus (a local type of small sweet potato), beans, pesols secs (dried peas) and figues (figs). An extra special delicacy for the pigs are figues de pic, the 'Arabian fig', called 'higo de Moro' in Spanish. These are the bright red fruits of the giant cactuses that grow near all old traditional Ibicencan pagès houses: such houses had no (and some still haven't) internal toilets, the outside cactus area serving this function. These prickly fruits ripen at this time of the year and are so beloved by the pigs that, when the figues de pic are being brought to them, the sweet smell often alerts the pig, who will begin to squeal with anticipation and even go as far as to stand up on its hind legs to peer over its corral or through its doorway to see these delicacies being brought. Such traditional foods fatten up the pig in a way much better than the modern 'piensos' animal feed bags that can now be bought, but are, of course, more time-consuming to prepare. Both kinds are very successful, though, in assisting the pig to put on weight, although pagesos eivissencs (Ibicenco peasants) recognize that the former type gives firmer, sweeter meat.

The pig fattening process can be incredibly successful, some growing to almost monstrous sizes. Numerous hilarious stories circulate amongst the rural population of the island regarding the enormous size of some of these pigs and the difficulties of getting them out of the small-darkened corrals in which they are raised. It is said that there have been some instances where they have grown so big that it was impossible to get them out through the corral doorway, resulting in one of the walls having to be broken down to get them out to take to the matança - although there might possibly be a bit of poetic license involved here. The well-loved Eivissenc cartoonist 'Franky' (Francoli) in the popular series of his works in the daily newspaper 'Diario de Ibiza' has often featured pigs and peasant life. In one cartoon published at the beginning of the 1992 pig-killing season a pagesa wife pushes her terrified husband through the doorway of the pig's corral with the words "Xicu, a veure si fas via a treure es porc des corral, que sino es fara es solpost I encara no haurem acabat ses matansses" ("Xicu, see if you can find a way to bring the pig out of the corral, because if not the sun will have gone down and we won't have finished the pig-killing". A short note is in order here: the matança and the making of the derived food products has to be done in one day, between sunrise and sunset). In the foreground, looking towards the quaking husband (who has dropped his pig-killing knife and the iron nose hook) growls a gigantic pig. Most foreigners seeing such a cartoon here wouldn't see what was so funny with it, but such situations have confronted many pagesos and many are the stories woven around these annual tricky situations.

As any tourist knows, everything in Spain is weighed in kilos and portions thereof - or at least that is the official story. Not so matança pigs on Eivissa, who are weighed in the ancient scale of rovas. On Eivissa one rova equals approximately 10 kilos, and a normal pig for a matança should weigh at least 20 rovas or more. The rova scale is also used in other Catalan-speaking areas such as Mallorca and the neighbouring Spanish mainland, but each rural area sometimes has its own particular variation. Peasants in Valencia weigh pigs in 'rovas', but there one 'rova' equals approximately seven and a half kilos. All is not equal in the world of pigs. The largest matança pig on Eivissa in recent years that I know the weight of was one of a massive 42 rovas (around 420 kilos!) that took 9 pagès men to get it out of its corral to the pig-killing board. There have been larger ones - some so big they could hardly walk and at least one so massive that it had to be transported by horse and cart and its weight and bulk broke one side of the cart.

Matança pigs tend to be kept slightly more hidden now than before, especially as in recent years legislation has been introduced to prohibit pig-killings without the presence of a food sanitation/hygiene inspector. There are very few of these inspectors available for rural areas of the island and as the famous eivissenc sobrassada, botifarro and botifarra sausages and preserves produced from a matança performed 'at home' are not for sale and are the home food protein source for the extended family for the forthcoming year, many such matançes go ahead without such modern supervision. As the Ibicencan peasant has been doing matançes for centuries before the 'invention' of health inspectors and as there is a typical (and completely natural and understandable) Ibicencan pagès mistrust and disregard for any kind of outside authority or control over these traditionally independent and isolated extended family properties, these annual activities continue much as before, although diminished in extent.

Such pigs for matançes, though, were originally not just restricted to rural areas of the island, but were also common in Vila/Ciutat Eivissa/Ibiza town in the 19th century, where such pigs were tethered (outside) to house doors or tethered in the street. As 'modern' ideas from Mallorca and the mainland crept into the ancient city, a growing number of Senyors de Vila ('Masters from the town') complained that pigs in the streets were not good for the reputation of the city (overseas, that is, pigs in the streets would not be considered unusual by peasants visiting Vila from the countryside as they were one of the few things in the town that made the peasant visitors feel slightly more at home) and posed a health hazard. Things got to such a state that one batle (Mayor - 'alcalde' in Spanish) finally introduced the infamous 'Qui l'agafa es seu' (basically 'finders/keepers') ban. Anyone finding a pig in the street in Ibiza town could keep it and eat it with no legal problems. After this law was introduced Ibicencos in the town had to keep their pigs for matançes in a series of corrals outside the then city limits, in the area of ses Feixes. One could sometimes still see, though, as late as the early 1960s, Ibicenco men walking their pigs near the centre of the town - usually walking them to one of the matança slaughter houses during the cooler time of the year. Before the relatively recent introduction of the electric icebox/refrigerator into the island, the pig and its products were essentially, as one eivissenc de Vila friend told me yesterday, 'Ibiza's icebox', as its preserved products kept well without rapidly deteriorating.

There seems to be a certain amount of opinion amongst academics that the pig and the culture of the pig on this island date basically only from the time of the Catalan reconquest in the 13th century and have much to do with Christians repudiating previously-existing Islamic and, in certain cases, Judaic prohibitions. 'The more pigs we keep to kill and eat the more Christian we are'. This may be true to a certain extent in some areas of Spain, at least in such emphasis, but it is more than likely those aspects of the islands' obsession with pigs have deeper and older roots. Up until the present day certain isolated pagès families will still use specially-shaped pedras fugeras (pumice stones, called 'pedra pomez' in mainland Catalan) for scraping off the pig's burnt hair and cleaning its skin once the pig has been killed and its outer carcass quickly brushed with burning branches of an aromatic plant. This burning (now often done quickly with a blowtorch attached to a gas bottle) enables the work of skin cleaning and scraping to be done more easily. This scraping is a specialised task and needs specialised equipment, for which the rare pedras fugeras (also called pedres tosques) are admirably suited. The original pumice stone was very rare in these islands in the early days and would possibly have had to be imported - although there are stories in the past of pumice stones floating ashore on Formentera (these could possibly have floated from volcanic eruptions in the central and eastern Mediterranean). Archaeological excavations at Ses Païsses de C'an Sorà de Cala d'Hort have uncovered just such pedras fugeras/pedres tosques as have been used well into living memory, and these archaeological finds have been dated to Byzantine times. The Byzantine never conquered these islands, although they did control them for a period from the mid-6th century AD. These finds indicate the possibility that earlier forms of pig matançes were taking place on the island at this period. If such was the case, then such activities may be older yet. I should here remind readers that evidence for human activity on Eivissa now seems certain to have a history of at least six or seven thousand years.

Over the centuries the pig has had a 'bad press', being used as a synonym for dirtiness and gluttony. But not necessarily so amongst the pagès eivissenc, for whom the animal was and is of great importance. The statue of Sant Antoni des Porcs (Saint Anthony of the Pigs) in the church of the isolated village of the area of Sa Coruna (Santa Agnès/Santa Ines) - a village which only got connected to electricity last year - is a monument to the respect in which pigs are traditionally held on the island. Before going into the intricacies of pig-killing and the preparation of the preserved foods on Eivissa, we will next week look into the history of the pig in Europe, try and find out why it has unfortunately become an animal that many Europeans do not think highly of (except for food) and look at some other areas of the world where pigs are highly prized (as in Vanuatu in the Southwest Pacific). There is more in this than meets the eye (or the palate).

With thanks to numerous amics eivissencs, including Xavier Ferari Planas, and to the work of Marià Torres Torres.

Kirk W Huffman