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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Two

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. This week we will resume our examination of Pitiusan society prior to the outbreak of civil war. In our last instalment we learned that, due to fundamental differences in the islands’ social organization, Ibiza and Formentera had developed along completely separate political lines, the larger island defending the status quo and the smaller island challenging it. We also noted that the reason for this divergence rested on the fact that Ibiza’s peasantry had abided for centuries as tenant farmers under the yoke of the landowning class, whereas the settlers of Formentera - out of sheer necessity - had established a ‘society of solidarity’ in which most families personally owned the small patch of land on which they lived and worked. The result in political terms was that Ibiza leaned heavily to the right of the spectrum while Formentera leaned almost just as heavily to the left.

Searching and Fearless Historical Inventory

Undoubtedly, I skimmed too lightly over Ibiza’s agrarian set up last week, perhaps painting a portrait of social injustice where none existed. It has since been brought to my attention that, in fact, Ibiza’s landowning oligarchy was largely a benevolent one - arguably so if the vast majority of the island’s peasantry did not join forces with the leftist/socialist organizations that were sweeping up adherents all over Spain - neighbouring Formentera being no exception. In order to rectify my reportage and present a clearer picture of how Ibiza’s agrarian society actually functioned, I have availed myself of an excellent article written by the Ibicenco lawyer, Bernardo Cardona, in Missèr, the Balearic Bar Newsletter.

Sharecropping in Ibiza

According to Cardona, sharecropping was the agrarian custom most widely practiced in Ibiza, coming down to the 20th century, basically unaltered, since the early days of Catalan rule. The laws governing this practice were so implicitly understood by all members of society that written contracts were considered unnecessary and verbal covenants formed the basis of land-leasing arrangements. These covenants, generally made in the presence of two third-party witnesses, were considered valid and binding in a court of law should disagreements arise between the landlord and the sharecropper.

How It Worked

One of the primary considerations in the ceding of fincas to tenant farmers was the age and number of children the perspective farmer had sired. Male offspring were especially valued as the entire family was expected to work the land to its maximum yield. As a rule, the period of exploitation of a given farmstead was left undetermined, the only stipulation being that the occupation of the land invariably commenced on St. John’s Day (24th June) and ended on the same date should either of the parties choose to discontinue the tenancy. In most cases, however, agrarian tenures spanned many generations with the right of exploitation passing directly from father to son upon the elder’s death.

The sharecropper - or mayoral in local parlance - was entitled to half of the farmstead’s gross yield, either in kind or in coin should any of the surplus have been sold at market. He and his family were also entitled to live in the farmhouse rent-free for the duration of their tenancy. Moreover, the mayoral was at total liberty to choose which crops he would sow and how much tillage he would allocate to each crop. In return, the tenant was expected to provide his own farming implements and beasts of burden, either mules or horses.

The Upkeep of Animals

Two sets of conditions existed in regard to the maintenance and repartition of 1) plough animals, and 2) those types of livestock destined for consumption. In the first case, the sharecropper was responsible for supplying his own utility animals which, though held to be his personal property, were entitled to feed freely off the produce of the finca. The landlord was subsequently entitled to a third of any brood of work animals that was born and raised on the farm. In the case of consumer-destined livestock, animals such as sheep, goats, cows, chickens, etc. were supplied in equal number by tenant and landlord each. These animals were also entitled to feed on the produce generated by the finca, however, as the livestock was owned jointly, the landlord received half (rather than a third) of the young of each litter. When, as sometimes happened, the farm’s produce proved insufficient to maintain either category of animals, the purchase of extra feed fell to the tenant in cases of utility animals, but was divided equally between landlord and tenant in cases of consumer-bound animals.

Termination of a Contract

When, for whatever reason, either of the parties in a sharecropping contract wished to conclude the covenant, a process called desvis was initiated. Again, the negotiations were carried out verbally, in the presence of two witnesses, and always with an ample time margin so that each party could make alternate arrangements for the coming year. If notice was given by the tenant, the landlord went about finding a new mayoral for his finca. If notice was given by the landlord, the ousted tenant quickly began to seek a new farmstead on which he and his family could work. Given that the changeover was always effected on 24th June, the latest date on which a desvis could be communicated was 31st December.

By tacit consent, a new mayoral was allowed to visit the farm he would occupy come St. John’s Day in order to prepare it for his occupancy. An outgoing sharecropper, for example, would neither plough not plant any of the fields on the farm he would soon be vacating. Nor was he entitled to collect any of the so-called ‘fruit of St. John’ (e.g. early figs, apricots, tiny pears, plums, etc,), leaving these harvests for the incoming tenant. The all-important question of manure was a two-way street: as of the first of the year, the new mayoral had the right to use any manure produced on the farm he was to occupy; though, in exchange, he was bound to supply the old mayoral with the straw that the livestock slept on and that would eventually compost into manure.


On that note, I shall bid you all farewell until next week when we will carry on with an interesting legal case arraigned against an Ibicenco sharecropper in 1937.

Note: Many thanks to Carlos Espinosa for cuing me in to Bernardo Cardona’s interesting article, published in Missèr, Revista del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Baleares, Num. 54, July 2002, pages 32 and 33.

Emily Kaufman