At the start of the 1970s, a “pregón” opening address was introduced to Pollensa’s La Patrona fiestas. The first was delivered by Miquel Bota Totxo, poet and a man so closely linked to Pollensa’s culture that he could have been dubbed Sr. Cultura. The pregón was a great success, which was what Pollensa town hall had hoped it would be. The fiestas were in the doldrums.
Even the Moors and Christians battle failed to arouse great enthusiasm. La Patrona was a victim of a decline in interest in fiesta traditions. Just a victim. This was a Mallorca-wide issue, largely brought about by shifting social trends. For the Moors and Christians battle, the town hall came to appreciate in that decade that here was something that could potentially appeal to tourists.
And the town hall was right. It did appeal. A combination of pregón and battle promoted to tourists was to breathe new life into the fiestas. They’ve never looked back.
In 1989, the neighbouring town hall, Alcudia, revived the autumn fair. While fairs and fiestas clearly serve different functions, much of their detail in terms of attraction is shared. For Alcudia, a strong point for the revival was addressing what by then was already the old chestnut that it has continued to be - seasonality.
The fair would act as a means of attracting tourists, the town hall believed. So they decided to hold it at the start of November. They swiftly realised that this wasn’t such a great idea and moved it forward a month.
Here are two examples, and there have been various others, where tourism was a springboard for reestablishing traditional events. Moreover, and in the case of La Patrona, the roots of local tradition were replanted by the pregón. Bota Totxo spoke of the angels smiling down on Pollensa.
He touched a nerve and reinforced the words uttered at the commencement of the Moors and Christians battle about the Mother of God coming to the aid of the people of Pollensa. Tourist-assisted revival went hand in hand with renewed local interest and pride.
The fiestas are for local people. That is the answer to the question in the title. Or, above all, they are for local people. Yet for all that this is the answer and seems to be the obvious answer, the need appears to be felt for initiatives designed to bring fiestas (and fairs) closer to the local population.
One of these is currently taking place at La Misericòrdia in Palma. It is an exhibition of illustrations in a comic style that relate to twelve fiestas - both the long-established and the so-called “neo-fiestas”, such as Sineu’s Mucada fiesta within a fiesta in August.
At the presentation for the exhibition, Bel Busquets, the Council of Majorca’s councillor for culture, heritage and linguistic policy, said that it will “contribute to the dissemination and preservation of our roots and features of our identity as a people”. “And this is something for which we should be grateful. If today we enjoy the chanting of the Sibil·la and the dances of cossiers and cavallets and if the brave women take a leading role in the Soller fiestas, this is because there has been transmission from generation to generation, often orally or through participation, something fundamental to the folkloric process.”
One accepts all that Busquets has to say. But why is she saying it? Moreover, does she not contradict an apparent requirement to bring traditional events closer to the people by referring to the transmission process? Once the decline in interest in fiesta traditions began to be reversed, the popularity has continued to be strong - through transmission of all kinds.
And it is reinforced precisely by local people. The Mucada was an initiative for a new type of fiesta. It owed nothing to institutions. A revival of instruments, e.g. the xeremia pipes, and of demons came from associations like Albopas in Sa Pobla. The Rei en Jaume fiestas in Santa Ponsa (the version of the Moors and Christians and all) were brought back to life by associations; not by Calvia town hall or by the Council of Mallorca. There are many other examples.
So, are fiestas for institutions like the Council to be able to promote their role as guardians of culture, when the people are perfectly capable of doing this for themselves? And in so stating that for which we should be grateful, is not the complementary role of tourism overlooked?
The tourist angle is a factor. These events are not staged for the benefit of tourists, but tourists enjoy them for exactly the reasons that Busquets has outlined - the traditions. These traditions equate to culture, and so tourist attendance is a manifestation of a much-desired alternative tourism (especially one that addresses seasonality), that of cultural tourism.
This is something to be nurtured, therefore, as it was decades ago in Pollensa.