Ibiza History & Culture

LiveIbiza Established 198
Ibiza Artists Anthropology Bibliomania Ecology History Features

History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Three

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. This week we will carry on with our examination of sharecropping as it was practiced in Ibiza prior to the advent of tourism. Given the huge social and political importance of agrarian matters in the years leading up to the civil war, Ibiza’s particular modus operandi in this regard is indeed crucial to our understanding of why the island became one of Spain’s anti-republican strongholds. We have already ascertained that public sentiment in Ibiza was rooted firmly in the conservative camp for the simple reason that most of the island’s farmers lived in reasonable contentedness and thus had no particular wish to reform traditional folkways. Unlike other areas in Spain, where the landed oligarchy’s indifference to the plight of the peasantry often amounted to outright cruelty, in Ibiza the oligarchy dealt quite fairly with the pagesos who sharecropped their land, following the mores that over the course of centuries had come to form part of the local legal code.

Sea-Bound Isolation Promotes Fair Farming

Purely practical considerations no doubt accounted for the difference in agrarian conditions between Ibiza and the Spanish mainland. Until quite recently, islanders held the cultivation of land as nothing short of sacred; for, rich and poor alike understood all too well that starvation lurked as an ever present danger should food supplies run out. The annals of Ibicenco history are rife with instances in which such shortages did occur. Death certificates from the 17th century, for example, frequently cited starvation as the cause of death, with the illnesses connected to malnutrition following closely behind.

Your Wheat or Your Life

Further confirming the precariousness of island life is a series of reports dating back to the 1640s. They tell of a ship which, due to a sea storm, was forced to seek safe harbour in Ibiza. Bound for Granada, the vessel was laden with hundreds of kilos of wheat. When the governor caught wind of the precious cargo, he ordered the entire hold to be unloaded and its life-giving contents distributed amongst the people. Although he must have known there would be hell to pay, hunger obeys no man’s law. Sure enough, when the empty ship returned to Barcelona and reported the wheat-snatching incident, the island was brought to trial for the unauthorized confiscation, whence ensued a long, drawn-out legal battle the end result of which was that Ibiza was finally made to pay for the wheat, but at a reduced rate.

To Every Thing There Is a Season

Another interesting lawsuit, tried in 1714, tells yet again of the lenience which was characteristically granted to islanders in dire straits. This case involved a small landowner, Bernat Bufí, who due to personal debts was forced to auction off his only finca. The wealthy new owner, Antonio Martí, made a verbal agreement with Bufí, allowing him to stay on as the mayoral of the farmstead he had just lost. However, subsequent disagreements between the two men (largely influenced by Bufí’s bossy wife, so the story goes) eventually caused Martí to renege on his offer. The case was brought before the magistrates who ruled in favour of Martí: the mayoral was ordered to vacate the premises within 15 day’s time, though naturally he was entitled to monetary compensation for the work and improvements he had done on the farm. Bufí appealed the ruling and ultimately won on the grounds that:

"It is the usage and custom in [Ibiza] that during the month of Christmas the mayoral or peasant who lives in the house of another … is told that on the forthcoming Day of St. John he must leave where he is because the owner wants the house or estate to be vacated. The eviction notice is given with time so that all can find a remedy, because it is in June that folk leave one place and enter another … but in the month of August, when all have found their dwelling for that year and cannot leave until the coming year, it is a grave thing, lacking in fairness and very inhumane, to force a poor man … with many debts to leave in suddenness."

1937: The Dominicans vs. Francisco Planells

Another instance of legal action between landlord and sharecropper occurred during the civil war. In this case, the landlord was the Dominican Order which owned several country estates in Ibiza. These good friars had entrusted the running of one of their fincas to Francisco Planells whom they took to court in 1937 on the allegation that Planells had failed to pay them their rightful share in the sale of two horses. As we learned in last week's instalment, the mayoral was responsible for purchasing his own beasts of burden - which were considered his private property - while the landlord was entitled to one third of any brood born to the utility animals kept on the farm. Therefore, when Planells sold the horses in question to his brother, Juan, the mendicant brothers demanded a third of the proceeds from the sale. In his defence, Planells argued that one of the horses had worked on the farm but had never sired any offspring on it, for which reason the landlords had no legal claim to any profit generated by its sale. Regarding the second, younger horse, Planells claimed that it had always slept and fed on a neighbouring farm, and had therefore consumed none of the produce from the Dominican's estate. Ergo, it was deemed that he owed them nothing.

New-Fangled Ways Eschewed

We can see from the foregoing that, although life in Ibiza was harsh and lean, island peasants were at least afforded the benefits of basic human decency and respect for their important contribution to society. It is not surprising, then, that the agrarian reforms so boldly advocated by the Azaña administration met with little or no enthusiasm in Ibiza. In his article La figura agraria del mayo*, Ibicenco barrister, Bernardo Cardona, confirms that the peculiar brand of sharecropping that was practised in Ibiza "was so deeply rooted that it resisted the obvious advantages that were made available to tenant farmers and sharecroppers via the laws of Rustic Leasing, which dated from 1935 - 1940 and guaranteed longer leases, the right to extend leases ... as well as the possibility of eventually purchasing the property. Despite the fact that the law of '35 allowed sharecropping contracts to be entered in the Property Register, the book set aside for this purpose was never once used in Ibiza."


So end our ruminations for today. Join us next week when we will finally enter wartime proper with the initial Republican capture of Ibiza in August of 1936. Until then.

* Published in Missèr, Revista del Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de
Num. 54, July 2002, pages 32 and 33.

Emily Kaufman