Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Drums, please

I've probably mentioned the frenzy of flour throwing that happens around here in the build-up to Mardi Gras, and will do so again shortly. It's all part of the Latin world's celebration of Carnival which closes as Lent begins, and it's kind of started already.

A couple of weekends back, various groups were invited to Viana from all over Spain to participate in La Mascarada, a parade of fulions (the locals' various drum beats) and masked costumery of all kinds. It's kind of a cultural exchange, showcasing in another town what you all do yourselves during Carnival. The people who were good enough to come and visit all did so out of a love of Carnival and a desire to showcase their own celebrations, and for no financial rewards at all. It was a clear demonstration of how important these annual rituals are that they'd come so far for just a couple of days, some of them sleeping in the local sports hall, to do this.

I've now seen so many of these parades that none of what happens comes as even a vague surprise, but I do wonder how this must look to anybody who's never seen it. The images here, used with the kind permission of local photographer J Luis Ortiz, give a much better impression than anything I could write as to what goes on. As for the sound of the huge drums being beaten to the various Galician villages' own rhythms, you'll have to trust me that you can quite literally feel your entire chest cavity vibrating to the beat. More on those in another entry later - the drums are hugely important to the locals and deserving of their own entry and images.

The first sign that the parade has started (other than the approaching thunder of the drumming, of course) is the sound of bells. Then these guys come charging down the road, clearing the path for the coming parade. 

Boteiros - crowd control Carnival style. Photo: J Luis Ortiz.

The headwear these Boteiros sport are all, of course, hand-made, and can weigh anything up to 20kg. Many of them wear neck braces under the masks to help support the weight, but I've seen just how tiring it is running up and down and pole vaulting with their sticks with that kind of weight on their heads. I'd be surprised if they don't all finish each Carnival a couple of inches shorter.

Once the route's been cleared, the Boteiros shuttling back and forth keeping people back, down come the various groups. If they're from this part of Galicia the group will almost certainly include drummers beating the fulion, but those from elsewhere come in all kinds of finery, from Guadalajaran devils wearing real cows' horns, potato chunks cut into bizarre teeth shapes jutting from their mouths, to whatever this is;

"Where are you taking this... thing?" One for Star Wars fans there. Photo: J Luis Ortiz.
I couldn't see where these horsemen and women came from - each group carries a small sign naming their home town - but they stopped in the main square and challenged each other to a sort of saddled poetry-off. I'd love to tell you what they said but it was all in Gallego, which I still sadly lack as a language, and it was in any case all but impossible to hear them over the cacophony of cow bells, drums and inflated animal bladders being used for percussion.

"Speak up! I can't hear a thing..." Photo: J Luis Ortiz.
The arrival of Viana do Bolo's own 'Alternativo' fulion group signals the end of the parade, and it breaks up into various impromptu drinking and drumming sessions. Everybody who's been part of it heads up to the top of the town, where food and drink has been laid on for them in the sports hall. Later, after a couple of cold drinks in town overnight - it was a Saturday after all - they go and do the same thing again in another village a few miles away, before heading home for their own Carnival celebrations. As for Viana, we can all expect to have our faces covered in flour pretty much as soon as February starts - much more on that in a later entry.

Yeah those aren't balloons. The were once inside a cow and they make a lot of
noise when they're banged together. Photo: J Luis Ortiz.
(Incidentally, as regularly as I've attended this sort of thing now, I was still told by one of the local kids that I 'looked really English' after the parade simply because I was wearing a long, black coat and carrying an umbrella. It was bloody raining!)

See? I told you it was raining. I was hardly the only person carrying a brolly.
Photo: J Luis Ortiz.

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