There’s a workshop for giants in Zaragoza. | Pere Bota


There was a gathering of giants in Palma at the weekend. Transport companies of Mallorca must have been grateful for the business. A giant isn’t the sort of thing you can strap to the roof of a Ford Focus. A giant requires careful and professional handling, as giants have been known to get damaged.

Take Sa Pobla’s Margalida, for example. A piece of one ear once went missing. This was the excuse for her and her giant partner, Toni, to be given a touch-up prior to the Santa Margalida fiestas in 2014. It had been thirty years since Toni and Margalida had debuted, so some restorative work was required. The couple had arrived in Majorca by ship; very careful handling needed. There’s a workshop for giants in Zaragoza. That’s where giants come from - Toni and Margalida, at any rate.

Gatherings such as Palma’s occur elsewhere on the island, albeit not with as many town hall giants represented as is the case in Palma. And when not gathering and mingling with other giants, the pairs make their appearances at fiestas and fairs. Accompanied by pipers, there are processions and dances. Yes, giants dance, which takes a bit of doing. There are people inside giants, you know - structures of more than four metres tall and weighing some 50 kilograms.

How do you come to be someone inside a giant? Is special training required? The human ingredients of giants are mysteries of Mallorca tradition. Demons are less bashful. De-masked gangs sometimes make their presence known. Other demons discover that they are attracting unwanted de-masked attention, such as the Grand Demon of Arta, whose naked selfie once managed to find its way onto social media.

Giants fall into various categories. Perhaps the most traditional is the farmer’s husband and wife. Inca can boast having had the first peasant pair - Abdó and María (Abdó or Abdón is one of the town’s patron saints). Sa Pobla’s Toni and Margalida are part of this farming wing of giant traditionalism.

There are giants who have been inspired by legend and tales and those who reflect local trades or crafts. Capdepera has a fisherman and a “llatadora”, a female worker of palm fronds to make wicker products. A further group is made up of historical figures, such as Calvia’s King Jaume I and his wife, Violant d’Hongria (Hungary). The fifth group is a miscellany, examples of which are Manacor’s Vicenç, who is a Moorish soldier (he has a farmer’s wife as a companion or perhaps she is his wife), and Muro’s two pipers, Toni and Joan.

The giant tradition has been around for hundreds of years. In Mallorca, the year was 1630. The place was Soller. The occasion was Corpus Christi. In that year, the Bishop of Majorca, Baltasar de Borja, attended the Corpus Christi procession in Soller. To mark this honour, two giants appeared. It cost three of your Mallorcan pounds to create the heads of the giants. By 1645, spending had increased. Forty-eight pounds were dedicated to giants and other trappings of the procession.

It would seem that the Soller giants - one of them anyway - were based on a military order. They were knights. By the seventeenth century, giants had started to diversify from origins as religious figures. Knights, kings, warriors were therefore emerging, the first ever giants having been Goliath (plus a smaller David) and Saint Christopher, of whom religious legend has it that he was of gigantic stature.

The bishop wouldn’t have had any problem with giant characters taking part in the Soller procession. In fact, it is reckoned that it was he who insisted on there being giants. For some two hundred years prior to Mallorca’s first giants stepping out, there had been giants elsewhere. Saint Christopher, it is known, was in the Barcelona Corpus Christi procession of 1424.

Giants were but one element of the processions, and the church was happy to play on pagan and magical cults and superstitions; these appealed to the parishioners. Many a tradition can actually be traced back to Corpus Christi - the figure of the demon, for instance. These characters were a form of entertainment. Attract the people with giants and what have you, and their presence might also be ensured for the religious acts as well.

While there was apparently a knight giant in Soller, it is quite likely that he had a female companion. The first known female giant was in 1548 in Tortosa, Catalonia. But pairs of giants weren’t truly established in the seventeenth century. After Soller in 1630, the next recorded giant was in Sineu in 1653. Just the one, and he, moreover, had nothing to do with Corpus Christi. He was for the fiesta of Sant Roc in August.

Giants thus started on their route to fiestas and fairs, but in Palma the first ever giants were for Corpus Christi. It was 1734. There wasn’t just one couple of giants, there were four. Eight in all. It was, you might say, the first gathering of giants in Mallorca.