Moors vs. Christians, August 2006
 
We arrived in Puerto Pollensa, on the island of Mallorca, on August 1, after a delightful 50-mile run from Menorca in 15-20 knots of wind. Shortly after we'd tied Akka to one of the free moorings, we heard that the next day, August 2, was a holiday -- the day of the Battle of the Moors and Christians. These re-creations of the victory of the Spaniards over the Moors in 1492 are fairly common in Spain, but there's been some controversy about them lately, as Spain now has a substantial Moorish population that doesn't appreciate being beaten up every year, even in make-believe. But apparently political correctness hasn't come yet to the little town of Pollensa, or maybe the natives figure the tradition of a celebration 500 years old outweighs the political consequences.

Anyway, we were told that the battle would take place in the evening, so around 6 PM we took the short bus-ride from Pollensa Port to the old town of Pollensa. When we got off of the bus we found lots of people milling about in the main square, some dressed as Moors, but no battle in the offing. The whole town was decorated with streamers of white confetti tied overhead across all the streets, and it was clear that there had been a fair in the square earlier in the day. It was also clear that drinking had been a major aspect of this celebration. We bought a beer at a stand outside one of the local bars and inquired about the battle. They told us that the actual event would be in the nearby football stadium, so off we went through the narrow streets in the direction of the stadium.

Soon we encountered a crowd of about 100 'Christians', men dressed in white pirate pants and white cotton or homespun tunics, brandishing sticks of wood about 8 to 10 feet long. Some of the sticks were forked, and others were really heavy-looking, maybe 3 inches in diameter. The staffs with forks looked like crude pitchforks and frequently had shoes hooked over the tines -- we never did find out the significance of this. Almost everybody had the traditional Spanish white rope-and-canvas sandals on their feet. This crowd of 'Christians' was packed into one of the streets leading to the football stadium, and were shuffling slowly in that direction. Several of the men had shotguns that they fired into the air. We weren't sure what they were loaded with, because they made a quite un-shotgun sound, more of a 'Pfaff' than the 'Pow' we're accustomed to. We watched one group of about 10 men fire their shotguns simultaneously at one of the strings of white confetti, knocking off bunches of it that they then tied around their staffs.

Watching the men mill past were lots of 'Christian' women. They were all dressed in white shifts with pretty embroidery around the necks, and the traditional sandals. There were also several 'Moors' standing around. These men (we only saw about 3 'Moorish' women the entire time we were there) wore brightly-colored vests with no shirts underneath, blousy pants and pseudo-Arab head-dresses made of satin, and had paint on their faces (frequently black, but sometimes blue or red or combinations of colors). The 'Moors' carried wooden scimitars, most of which were painted red on the tips.

We took a parallel road to that of the 'Christian army' and eventually followed them into the stadium. The entire soccer field was covered with fine sand, and when we asked about this we were told that this is the way it always is -- apparently the local soccer team plays something akin to beach soccer (no wonder the Mallorcan team never does very well in the Spanish soccer league). It was a very small stadium, hardly deserving of the name, with only a small set of bleachers. In addition to the people in the stands, spectators were sitting on the wall surrounding the stadium and standing around on the field. Almost all the seats were already taken, so we simply stood on the field near one of the goals. The 'Christian army' kept on lifting their staffs and shooting off their shotguns, but other than that, nothing happened. After a few minutes we spoke to a young woman dressed as a 'Christian', and she said 'Wait, the Moors are just arriving.'

Sure enough, just then there was a roar from the crowd, and the 'Moors' led by a yellow standard with a crescent and star, entered the stadium at a run, bloody scimitars held aloft. The 'Christians' held their ground at first, holding their staffs aloft behind their standard, a black-and-yellow checked design. The band (composed entirely of 'Moors') played a rousing but repetitious march-like tune. Suddenly, the entire mob of 'Moors' and 'Christians' ran across the soccer field in our direction. The crowd fled in front of them, but there appeared to be no real danger -- the 'combatants' were simply moving their 'battle' to another corner so that the people in that part of the stadium could see them.

This continued for about 30 minutes. In each corner of the field, the 'Christians' held up their staffs and the 'Moors' their scimitars, and the two flags confronted each other. The band played on. Occasionally, one of the 'Moors' would break free of the confrontation and come over to accost one of the 'Christian' girls, always winning a kiss for their efforts. This was apparently the raping and pillaging part. There was no actual fighting, anywhere.

Just as we were about to become bored with the whole thing, the 'Moors' broke ranks and ran for the exit, the 'Christians' in hot pursuit. They all ran out of the stadium, the band stopped playing, and the spectators and 'Christian' girls filed out in a mannerly fashion.

Outside the stadium, we caught up with a couple of 'Moors'. How, we asked, did one determine whether to be a 'Moor' or a 'Christian'? He said he wasn't sure, but what he did know is that you don't change sides, ever. 'Once a Moor, always a Moor,' he told us. 'I have been a Moor for 17 years now,' he said 'and we haven't won yet. Maybe next year.' Then he pointed to the young man alongside of him. 'This is his first year,' he told us. 'He's disappointed because he thought we would win.'

Other than the fact that they never win, it's pretty clear to us that it's better to be a 'Moor' than a 'Christian': You get to wear much fancier clothes; you carry a lightweight scimitar instead of a heavy post; you get kissed by 'Christian' women, and while the 'Christians' are assembling in the stadium you get to stand around and drink. True, you don't get to fire your shotgun, but that seems a small price to pay.