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
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
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.