Sant Antoni

16-01-2020P. PELLICER

For 22 euros and were you of a mind to, you could acquire a copy of the 258-page book which detailed the First International Symposium of Mediterranean Fire Fiestas. “Focs a la Mediterrània” is the title of this book, which compiled papers, presentations, discussions and so on from the first symposium in Vic (Barcelona province) in May 2016. It stresses not just the importance of fire as an aspect of fiestas; fire is of “profound significance” to Catalan culture and all the cultures of the Mediterranean.

The symposium considered the variety of fire displays and performances as well as the vitality and popularity of customs that have grown up around fire. These performances are, among other things, symbols of peace, language and culture. The summer and winter solstices are special times for fire, and “a village which celebrates the solstices with fire is a welcoming village, one with roots, a love for the land and hope for the future”.

Fire isn’t just reserved for the solstices. There are the bonfires for Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastià in January; there are the bonfires for Santa Maria la Major in Inca in November. The bonfire-making and the bonfire-lighting have their own rituals, with the lighting across whole villages or towns timed to perfection. There is fire for the end of Carnival - the bonfires for the “burial of the sardine”, which heralds the start of Lent. But the solstices have their special significance. Hence there are the fires on beaches for Sant Joan and midsummer. And there are also of course the demons.

In June this year, the Dimonis de sa Pedrera in Muro attempted to stage their annual summer solstice correfoc. The demons run riot in the square in front of the town hall and church for the January Sant Antoni fiestas, but in summer they take themselves off to the bullring. The summer solstice correfoc is even more of a show than that for Sant Antoni, but the demons hit a snag - more than one.

They were first told that there had to be a disinfection certificate for the arena. As there wasn’t one and it seemingly cost a fair bit to obtain a certificate, the demons offered to do the disinfecting themselves. The Guardia Civil, it would appear, said no. The demons then decided they would stage their correfoc behind closed doors and stream it via social media. It was then that the Guardia apparently said they couldn’t use pyrotechnics. So it was called off. There isn’t a lot of point to a demons’ fire-run if there isn’t any fire.

Dimonis de sa Pedrera is one of 35 demons’ gangs in Majorca which are affiliated to the Federació de Dimonis, Diables i Bèsties de Foc de les Illes Balears. Demons, devils and fire-breathing beasties, such as Palma’s Drac de na Coca, have their own organisation, and they would have been looking forward to gathering with hellish brethren from elsewhere for the latest symposium of Mediterranean fire fiestas in Palma in November. It’s possible that this will go ahead in one form or another, but the demons of Majorca aren’t taking this for granted.

The symposium could be virtual. For a talking shop, virtual is an alternative, but fire activities are another matter. The Dimonis de sa Pedrera attempted virtual but found that it wasn’t feasible. They, like other gangs and the batucada drummers, have to rehearse. Doing that in a virtual fashion is impractical. Staging events has become pretty much impossible. The president of the Balearic demons’ federation, Miquel Caimari, says that demons in Barcelona tried to do a show in a theatre. The requirements were so stringent that this made no sense.

Going into a hall would in any event have meant abandoning the essence of demonic activity - the contact with people. The correfoc and similar are street (or bullring) theatre, for which the boundaries of health and safety can appear to be blurred. It is the nearness to the action that makes the fire-run so special; it is the participation in the action that adds to the occasion, as with the kids who dance under the fire-spitting trident of the grand demon.

The gangs have been redundant. Miquel Caimari adds that small groups have got together and done things, but he recognises that there is a lack of motivation. The correfoc, he stresses, “has reached the whole world, thanks to the fact that we have made a gift of it”. “We feel it is ours. We have gone from being popular to being essential for fiestas. Now, we can’t do anything.

He accepts that demons are not a priority. “Everything we are living through has to be sorted out first.” But there is an obvious sadness at this vibrant, essential cultural activity having been suspended. Fire has profound significance. The fires have been doused.

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