Over the past few years I have been documenting, recording, and photographing the most unique winter festivals of the Iberian Peninsula. Inspired by my love of the many cultures and history of Spain and Portugal as well as my contact with the community of other photographers, anthropologists, and organizers, I felt drawn to yet another region of the peninsula – Galicia. Located in the far northwest corner of Spain, Galicia until the 1980s when major freeways were constructed to connect Galicia with the rest of the country remained isolated and largely deprived of many of the resources distributed throughout the rest of Spain. Hemingway in his short story, The Capital of World, referred to Galicia in its relationship to Madrid as “…the abandoned country… a poor province.” While this may have been true in earlier times, Galicia’s status and importance to Spain as well as the rest of world is irrefutable. With its famous and well-documented historical pilgrimage to the Church and City of Santiago de Compostela, the Camino a Santiago (Way of St. James), Galicia has received much fame and attention. Saint James is and has been the patron saint of the whole of Spain. With the historic outmigration of its citizens, Galicia has also received much notoriety – so much so, that many Spaniards regardless of where they come from in Spain are called gallegos (Galicians) throughout Latin America.
Location of Verin and Viana do Bolo in Ourense Province
Ourense province is one of four provinces that comprise the region of Galicia. It is a mountainous, heavily forested region in the southeast corner of the region. Due to its topography and its landlocked situation, Ourense has historically been isolated. Although economically challenging for its citizens, this fact has perhaps allowed Ourense province to retain many of its unique traditions. As in many of the regions I have visited in the peninsula, Ourense boasts a very unique style and form of winter celebration and is undoubtedly both the largest most colorful of the all the traditional Iberian carnavales/winter festivals/Entroidos I have witnessed. The term Entroido, according to the Galician Department of Culture and Education (Conselleria de Cultura, Educación e Ordenación Universitaria) is the regional term to describe the ancient agricultural pagan rites and traditions that have been celebrated to continue the cycle of Winter into Spring and fertility or as it was explained to me in Spanish in Verin, the entretiempos or between times. The Entroido, like so many of the other traditions throughout Early Christendom, was also co-opted by the Catholic church and was made into a regional representation of the more popularly labeled Carnaval. Sergio Navarro Arriola in his expansive description of Spanish fiestas, Fiestas Populares de España Tomo 1, 2002., describes the Entroido as:
El entroido (o antroido) gallego es tal vez su fiesta más universal, donde la
tradición ha ido uniendo la creación con las creencias, para alumbrar una
festividad con personalidad propria que en cada zona presenta ritos y símbolos particulares.
El origen del entroido o carnaval puede buscarse en antiguas creencias gallegas de
reminiscencias celtas relacionadas con la existencia de espíritus malignos,
aunque tampoco faltan recuerdos de la tradición grecolatina difundida a través
del teatro medieval. Lo profano y lo religioso se funden en el entroido dando
paso a una de las manifestaciones culturales festivas más importantes de la historia.
The entroido of Galicia is perhaps the most universal of its festivals where one finds that this
tradition has brought together its creation with many beliefs, resulting in a festival that has
brought to light its own personality that in each region presents its own unique rites and
symbols. The origin of the entroido or carnival can be found in ancient Galician beliefs
reminiscent of Celtic traditions related to the existence of evil spirits, although one must
not forget the influence of the grecolatin tradition spread through medieval theater. The
profane and the religious become one in the entroido giving way to a manifestation of one
of the most important cultural celebrations in history.
After pouring over the map of Spain and Portugal and reading through numerous books and sites for several weeks, I realized that I had been putting off Ourense Province, Galicia for far too long. Carnaval in this region takes on perhaps the most colorful and vibrant of all the traditional Carnaval celebrations in all of the Iberian Peninsula. Unable to attend all of the numerous celebrations throughout Ourense province, I selected the towns of Verin and Viana do Bolo to witness and develop an understanding of these unique Galician traditions.
After some investigation, I found that the town of Verin had not only a Tuesday entroido, but several weeks of celebration leading up to its conclusion on Ash Wednesday. The penultimate Sunday before Ash Wednesday is called Domingo Corredoiro and is perhaps the best day to see Verin’s unique carnaval character, the Cigarrón. Battalions of Cigarrons, each from a particular extended family club descend on the town. I arrived in town Saturday of the day before and had the opportunity to meet the knowledgeable, well-known local bookstore owner, Paco Luis Dasairas Valsa. Paco, provided me a very thorough introduction to Verin and its unique traditions. Exemplifying his pride and family familiarity with the ethnographic traditions of Ourense province, he shared with me a book written by his brother Xerardo Dasairas, O Entroido en Terras de Monterrei, 1990 (in Galician). Later in the day, I also had the great opportunity to meet, José Manuel Ferreira of the city run Casa de Cultura/Tourism Office and his friend, the anthropologist José Rodriguez Cruz, who both gave me the honor and permission to photograph and learn about their morning dress preparations for the Domingo Corredoiro.
Verin’s character, the Cigarron, is a figure whose meaning and origin have been lost in its evolution through time. I spoke with several experts on the subject as well as consulted some secondary sources and was unable to receive a definitive opinion or a universally concordant one. One interesting origin story that I was told was that the Cigarron is a parodic representation of a medieval regional tax collector – a universally and historically despised personage! Dasairas quoting several sources, explained that its origin simply evolved from its pagan origins to its current manifestation that had been influenced by the Catholic church. Fidalgo Santamariña in his chapter “Las Caras del Carnaval” in Máscara Ibérica vol. 1, 2006 shares two academic opinions: one of the entroido having its origins in the ancient Roman Saturnalia and Lupercalia festivals and the other stating that its origins are of a principally medieval origin with traces of earlier pagan elements. Without a doubt, the contemporary manifestation of this tradition in Verín and throughout the region is a passionate one and from firsthand observation, one where its participants share a common pride in its both its display and preservation from both young and old and men and women alike.
Early on the Sunday morning of the Corredoiro I joined José Manuel Ferreira and José Rodriguez in their locker room to witness their preparation for the day’s festivities. The dress ritual was amazing. Every piece of the costume had a special name and correct way to put on. The costume was finally topped with the most important part, the mask or carauta. The Cigarron mask is similar to other villages such as Laza, Maceda, and Cualedro. The wooden mask is a semblance of a mustachioed sarcastic smiling man with large metal headdress cap called a pantalla. Each pantalla has its own animal represented. I was told by José Rodriguez that the animal represents the bestial side of each of us. Paco Dasairas explained that it was perhaps a symbolic form of intimidation used by the ancient tax/tribute collector. The rear backside portion of the mask is an imitation animal skin such as lynx which includes a tail.
After the laborious but animated session in the dressing room, the Cigarrons poured onto the street. I then found it difficult to remember who was who and had to remember everyone’s pantalla animal. I ran with them as they entered the town square and watched them disappear into the masses of ostentatious Cigarrons. Mustachioed smiling eagles, and bears mixed with a parade of hawks, falcons, wildcats, lions, stallions and tigers. The townsfolk were there as well and cheered them on as they ran back and forth in the town square and throughout the narrow streets of the old quarter of Verin. The purpose of this pre-Carnaval celebration was more than to simply show off their costumes but converge onto the church and wait for mass to end. As the parishioners leave the church the Cigarrons lightly hit them with their whips thus announcing the beginning of the Carnaval season.
As the shadows grew long on that unusually sunny warm day, I left Verin satisfied that I had seen the beginnings of a vibrant and lively festival.
Viana do Bolo
Color. I love shooting in monochrome, but I couldn’t bring myself to cover these Galician entroidos in black and white. These lively bright celebrations could only be shown in the most vivid of color. While some celebrations that I have covered in the past have been complemented by monochrome or sepia and have appeared somewhat mysterious, I have felt compelled to show these celebrations through a vibrant Fuji Velvia.
Prior to the weekend preceding Ash Wednesday, I contacted who I found out to be perhaps the hardest working man in Galicia, Jorge Dominguez of Punxeiro, a nearby parish village in the county and town of Viana do Bolo. Thanks to Jorge my entrance into the local Galician culture was not only profound, but also heartfelt and intense. Jorge is the organizer, coordinator, planner, and “drill sergeant” of all the numerous facets of the Entroido of the Viana do Bolo. I did not truly appreciate what he was in charge of until I saw what he fielded on Carnaval day – a massive, impressive display of regional intangible culture deserving of international recognition.
Viana do Bolo and its satellite villages are not right off the main highway. It is located deep in Ourense province in a very lush, hilly (bordering on mountainous), well-watered land with many rivers and lakes. A truly beautiful setting, I could imagine the many numerous Gallegos that have emigrated or migrated pining to return to this gorgeous landscape. As in many areas around the Iberian Peninsula that have maintained these Carnaval traditions, being “off the beaten trail” and away from the direct pressures of globalization often contributes to the maintenance of these unique, ancient traditions. According to the Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, the Entroido of Viana do Bolo is the “probably the oldest of Galicia” and one of the “most authentic [carnavals] of Europe.”
I had the honor of having lunch with Jorge Dominguez and his family and friends the Saturday before the Viana’s big Sunday at the large family house in Punxeiro. Seated at a massive wooden table with bench seating, the ambience was warm and welcoming as well as all of the homemade servings of hearty traditional round bread, grilled pork chops, and green salad from the family garden. Galego (Galician) was spoken all around me – which I was able to follow and participate in (up to a point) with my knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese. For me the five hour journey to arrive there was worth it alone just to share and take part in this very special family experience. I can’t thank Jorge enough for this special privilege. It was my first introduction to Galician family culture.
I spent the day watching the preparations and fitting of the masks for the entroido. Also I learned of the importance of the traditional drum, called a bombo. The bombo is not only a traditional local carnaval instrument, but is said to have been a form of communication between the valleys and hillside communities of the Viana do Bolo region. The evening proved to be very interesting when Jorge organized a meeting for me to visit the house of one of the most well known local mask makers for carnaval, Maria Nieves Fernandez. A fascinating woman, Nieves showed me her workshop of her fabulous wood carvings. It was here that I learned in more detail of the uniqueness of the Viana do Bolo carnaval personage, the Boteiro. As with many of the Galician carnaval figures, the boteiro has a mask with a large headdress. The Viana do Bolo headdress, called a pantalla, is perhaps the largest and heaviest of all the headdresses in the region. Nieves explained that each headdress and mask has a specific meaning to the creator. As she went around and explained the meaning of each of her beautiful works of art, one in particular stayed with me. Nieves, I learned is also a pastor of sheep. A few years ago an Iberian wolf killed a large portion of her flock and left her emotionally devastated. Using her art to compensate for the tragedy, she constructed a striking wooden mask of a vicious wolf face with a pantalla in blood red representing the massacre with a centerpiece of a real sheep’s skull surrounded by a field of a white human skull. The mask was both frightening and beautiful. The following day I also had the opportunity to see her husband and son using two of the masks from her collection.
Traditional Bombo drums of Viana do Bolo
Traditional mask maker of Viana do Bolo, Maria Nieves Fernandez
Returning to Punxeiro I went to bed impacted with the numerous cultural icons and stories that I had witnessed and heard that day. The morning of the Sunday entroido began with a downpour. While the weather concerned me for awhile, the local residents were nevertheless busy preparing despite whatever mother nature was going to throw at them. By 1230pm beginning on the Plaza de Boteiro and continuing down the Rúa de San Roque, I was delighted to see not only the traditional boteiro of the Viana do Bolo, but also other mask and costume styles from other villages that were uniquely different with stories of their own. Each town has its own group performance called a Folión. Towns such as Fornelos de Filloas, Buxan, and A Pobra de Trives had Folións also accompanied by their specific bombos group.
In addition to the traditional masks and costumes of the region, the entroido also served to satirize current politics, government institutions, and infamous people with several very creative and interesting floats.
As the afternoon went on the processions continued down the Rúa de San Roque and converged on the main plaza of Viano do Bolo as the sound of the bombos increased and finally subsided with only the cheers of crowd’s excitement remaining at seeing the colorful and lively boteiros dance and posture around the plaza. Finally the town revelers began to make their way to the convention halls of the town where the final part of the entroido would take place, the Festa da Androlla or community lunch of the traditional entroido meal.
The seating arrangement inside the pavilion was organized according to parish community. Sitting with Jorge’s extended family and friends, after such an intense weekend I already felt and was made to feel part of the Punxeiro group. The shared meal was incredibly organized and consisted of the androlla – a pig’s tripe stuffed with cured pork meat, chorizo sausage garnished with cachelos (boiled potatoes) and turnip greens. I will not share my consumption of this menu with my doctor!
I had to eat quickly as my time was running out. A very long drive awaited me to get home. Jorge’s family gave me food and commemorative bowls and cups of the Entroido 2015. I left through the door saying thank you and giving handshakes, hugs, and kisses to the Punxeiro group and found Jorge waiting for me outside, my first contact and last person to say goodbye to. He was almost omniscient of everything occurring around him! I left Viana do Bolo – left Galicia filled with not only the fine shared food of the Festa da Androlla but with an incomparable experience of having a window into a very proud, rich culture of numerous traditions. I have to go back!
All images Copyright © 2015 Kyle Hearn, All Rights Reserved