Sebastià Llull i Melis was born in Manacor in 1930. He was to become a stone mason and it was largely due to his labours, such as digging in quarries, that he developed his physique. By the 1950s, Sebastià was able to pack in the day job. He acquired one nickname and then a second - Samson of Sant Llorenç and Samson of the Twentieth Century. Sebastià Llull, according to the Spanish anyway, was the world’s strongest man. He could lift 125 kilos with one hand. He could lift two men holding onto a pole with his teeth. He could drag a truck with those same teeth.
He took on all challengers to his crown, such as the Canaries’ champion, José Rodríguez Franco, ‘El Faro de Maspalomas’. José, the lighthouse, had to admit defeat. His other challengers invariably also admitted defeat or declined the incentive of winning 50,000 pesetas if they could outdo Sebastiá in the toughest challenge of the lot - ‘the rope of death’. Pulled from both ends by spectators, the rope was wrapped round the neck. Sebastià had to wriggle free without using his hands. He admitted that on one occasion that he almost broke his neck.
After he retired, Sebastiá opened a bar in Manacor. Its name was Bar Samson (or Sansón to be accurate). He swapped being a strong man for more genteel and cerebral pursuits. He became a draughts champion and, strange though it may seem, he once took on Boris Spassky at chess. He died in 2006, having remained a Majorcan folk hero.
Sebastià’s feats were greatly celebrated, with his celebrity owing much to the time in which he lived. He therefore had an advantage in staking his claim to Spain’s strongest ever man when compared with someone who had come before him. And that was En Cocou.
Josep Rosselló Ferrer was also a folk hero, although his celebrity doesn’t appear to have spread an awful lot further than villages near to his home of Santa Margalida. He was born in 1812. What he did for a living isn’t clear - a farmer, most likely - but he developed a reputation which, from the anecdotal evidence, suggests he was in the same league as Sebastià Llull.
He apparently received offers to go off and join the circus, but he had no real desire to leave Santa Margalida. Had he done, then possibly he might have acquired something of the celebrity that Sebastià was to. It also just possible that he might have become a model for a twentieth century fictional superhero - Hulk, aka The Incredible Hulk. Josep, when he put his mind and body it, was seemingly capable of making the buttons from his shirt fly off. It would be nice to think that Marvel Comics knew about En Cocou, although it’s pretty doubtful that they did.
What did his nickname mean? A cocou is a word used for a type of mushroom - ‘Amanita caesarea’, Caesar’s mushroom, or ‘ou de reig’. So perhaps his name came from his skills at looking for and picking mushrooms. Such detail, as with what he did for a living, is lacking. But there are the anecdotes. One of these concerns the torrent of Son Real and an occasion when it was flowing with plenty of water. Josep and his brothers were returning to Santa Margalida from Son Serra.
They had two donkeys loaded with firewood. They and the donkeys had to cross the torrent, so Josep carried the donkeys around his neck.
In Sa Pobla, not far from Santa Margalida, they heard about this strong man, but they doubted that what they heard was true. It would appear that this Sa Pobla disbelief led to a dispute between the two villages. It required settling, and so it was. There was a confrontation next to a torrent with water. Faced with jibes from those from Sa Pobla, Josep stood up and calmly said “since you do not believe what they say about En Cocou, you can always find out by going two by two into the torrent”. Up to twelve men were hurled into the water. They scrambled out the other side and ran off.
Josep wasn’t a man typically prone to violence, though. He was a religious man, of whom it was said that he was “uncontaminated by the vices of the world”. He avoided quarrels. He was described as a “brave man of the world, with a heart of steel and arms of bronze”. He died in 1901 at the age of 88.