Sunday, August 7

Samaín: the Galician tradition of carving pumpkins in Difuntos, vampirized for Halloween

Its trail is diffuse. At least his trace prior to 1990, when Professor Rafael López Loureiro began his recovery in Cedeira, north of Ferrol, on the Ártabra Coast. His childhood memories flooded back one day when his daughter came home from school with a pumpkin decorated in Halloween style: he had decorated pumpkins too. And he had also done it towards the end of October. Then, the entry into winter has no turning back, and the Atlantic towns officiate the welcome to the shadows, the time of Samaín. The tradition resurfaced, albeit supported by its ties to the American version and, according to some observers, vampirized by it.

“It is recovering in part due to global influence,” explains Manuel Vilar, director of the Museo do Pobo Galego, a center that “investigates, preserves, disseminates and promotes Galician culture.” Vilar refers mainly to two elements: Halloween popularized especially by US movies, trick or treating and terrifying costumes; and Galicia’s links with the Celtic world. “We need to look for that connection,” he says. In fact, the same word, Samaín, comes from Old Irish and, according to some philologists, it designated the end of summer. Now it is used to name “the festival of skulls”.

This is how López Loureiro captioned his research in this regard, Samaín: a festa das caliveras (Go Indo, 2003). Since then, there have been hardly any other studies on a celebration that, in parallel to this analytical desert, has become enormously popular. Schools and hospitality have enthusiastically signed up, and anthropomorphic pumpkins flood Galicia during the last week of October. Just the one that ends with All Saints’ Day, November 1, deeply rooted in the community and, some experts say, Christianization of “the pagan festival of Samhain.”

Vilar himself also establishes a tenuous relationship between pumpkins and death. Born in Muxía, in the heart of the Costa da Morte, she recounts how children used them to cause fear. “They placed them on the doors, on the roads, in cemeteries, to scare,” he narrates, “but I don’t know of other rituals, which doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.” In his area, the Galician word for them was coconuts. In other places, huts, colondros, melon caveiras, zucchini or calacús. The writer Víctor Vaqueiro went into details in his dictionary Galiza mythology. Lendas, traditions, maxias, saints and miracles (Galaxia, 2011). He also released other performances. “The action of emptying melon heads or pumpkins simultaneously represented an allusion to death, the symbolization of a time in which the living and the dead share certain areas”, he writes, “a children’s joke and the representation of an instant in the one where the lights and shadows meet “. They also exerted a protective function, they scared away evil.

López Loureiro’s works during the 1990s documented these customs, and traced their genealogies. The carving of pumpkins, of which he had detected clues throughout Galicia, coincided with the time of the magostos – popular festivals whose core consists of roasting chestnuts – and the honors of the dead that appeared before Romanization and that Catholicism brought to the Day de Difuntos and Todos los Santos -November 2nd. “In Galicia we find tradition throughout its geography, not lacking in any of its regions and providing similar folklore although giving it different names,” he said 15 years ago in a newspaper article.

For López Loureiro, everything is part of the cultural continuum of Celtic Europe, which other scholars call Atlantic Europe. Manuel Vilar understands, however, that Galicia’s relationship with the Celtic is “conflictive”. Celtism is a foundational part of political Galicianism since Manuel Murguía introduced it in the mid-nineteenth century in his influential vision of the history of Galicia. Faced with the standardization of the Roman Empire, Galician proto-nationalism sought the country’s historical singularities. In any case, this strategy is discussed periodically, also within the nationalist movement. The reality, however, confirms that carved skulls or similar practices are registered in various agrarian societies near the Atlantic Ocean.

Pumpkins and America

It was on this ethnographic basis that the Samaín began its takeoff in the Cedeira of the 90s. Already in the 21st century, self-managed and nationalist social centers joined the initiative. The pumpkins were multiplied by Saints, and with them boys and girls disguised as witches, vampires and other types of fantastic creatures. Some voices criticized him, even harshly. The writer Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín, among the most prominent. Plague halloween titled in 2005 one of his articles in Vigo lighthouse. His thesis was radical: “Someone who has misread Jean Markale [estudioso francés del mundo celta] He must be the author of Cedeira’s nationalist neo-Halloween which, neither more nor less, constitutes a whole reinforcement of our cultural colonization. “Ferrín did not deny the existence of the tradition of carving melon skulls -” we made pumpkin carantoñas, we would put a candle inside them and put them at a crossroads in the Vilanova dos Infantes cemetery (Celanova, Ourense) “- but their link with Halloween.

His texts, contrary to what he called “Celtic ideological current”, aroused some controversy. What is unique about this debate is that Rafael López Loureiro himself, the main architect of the popular recovery of the Samaín, has been assuming a critical position with the Samaín drift. In an interview three years ago in The voice of Galicia he was sincere: “The original idea of ​​Samaín was to fight against Halloween, but he has perverted himself into a Hallomaín, a mixture or directly a Halloween that, due to some kind of shame, is called Samaín”. And that, in his opinion, both celebrations “share a Celtic base.” The imagistic power of the United States – its cultural imperialism – is, after all and still, hardly resistible.