The Fiestas de Sant Joan in Menorca have an air of mystique. A celebration that dates back to at least the 14th century –although there are those who trace its origins back to pre-Christian paganism– unfolds throughout the city of Ciutadella to the rhythm of popular songs, bonfires and horses that flood the town. Groups of neighbors dine on the sidewalks on the eve of the Night of Sant Joan. There is music floating through the narrow streets of centuries-old cobblestones. The scene of a medieval dream.
However, it is precisely some medieval aspects of the protocol of the festivities that have motivated the current councilor for Equality, Carla Gener, not to participate in the institutional acts of this year 2022. Energetic and determined, Gener points out to elDiario.es: “It is inconceivable that in the XXI century there is still a veto on the participation of women in the cavalcade.” Since her assumption, Gener is in the eye of the hurricane. Although she is the first politician to question the macho protocol of the parties, she is not the first from Ciutadellen to demand that women have the right to participate in the parade.
The figures that star in the patron saint festivities throughout Menorca, and that of Sant Joan with greater prominence, are representations of the old estate society mounted on black Menorcan horses: a Caixer Senyor (noble landowner), a Caixer Pagès (representative of the peasantry ), a Caixer Fadrí (young single peasant), the Chaplain (parish priest) and the Fabioler, who leads the procession mounted on a donkey, with a flute and a drum, announcing the start of the festival. In any other municipality on the island, these figures can be represented by women, except in Ciutadella.
Catalina Marquès is 67 years old and is popularly known as Sa Madonna de S’Ullestrar. She belongs to a family of several generations of peasants from Ciutadella. At the age of 15, she saw a woman for the first time participating in a cualcada (cavalcade). She “It was in Ferreries. Consuelo was the first caixera woman at parties and that was 52 years ago. When I saw her I thought I wanted to be like her. Now I’m older, but in my youth I would have liked to go out on the cavalcade. I hope that one day we can see a Caixera Senyora or a Caixera Capellana”.
I hope that one day we can see a Caixera Senyora or a Caixera Capellana
Clara Enrich, a 29-year-old from Ciutadellen, adds: “It is quite ridiculous that today racist, sexist and classist protocols are maintained. Tradition must move forward and be in tune with the present. We are perpetuating roles that make a brutal distinction between different genders, classes and ethnicities.” “Unfortunately, there is an internalized misogyny disguised with the concept of tradition that perpetuates the idea that women should be on the margins of public space,” she adds.
There is an internalized misogyny disguised with the concept of tradition that perpetuates the idea that women should be on the margins of public space
With a conservative migrant father from Argentina and a mother from Ciutadella, councilor Carla Gener knows the recent history of Sant Joan well: “In 1946, the Junta de Nobles was created, an organization that began to influence the organization of festivities after the Civil War. Let’s agree that Menorca was the last Republican bastion, there was a lot of confrontation during the War and both the nobles and the Church were very aware of it in the first years of Franco’s regime”, she comments.
“In 1977, the municipal archivist Josep Pons Lluch wrote ‘the festival protocols’ based, as he himself indicates, on a book called ‘Llibre de les set sivelles’, an imaginary manuscript of which there is no proof that it ever existed ever. Investigating Pons Lluch we found that he was a fervent Falangist militant allied with the local aristocracy, who established that the protocol establishes the Board of Nobles as the body in charge of electing –from then until today– the most important figures of the festival. . Lluch did with Sant Joan what Franco did with Spain: leave everything tied up in favor of the nobles”, he says.
Nando Ferrer is 27, is a bartender (cocktail shaker) and santjoaner lifelong. Like many others, he believes there have to be limits to discussing traditions. “I am not against the participation of women per se, as long as they meet all the requirements. Not everyone can be a Caixer, they must be from Ciutadella and belong to the pagesia (peasantry). If there were a payesa (peasant) woman and from here she wanted to go out in the cualcada (cavalcade) it would not seem bad to me. Yes, I am more concerned about tourist overcrowding. The party receives more and more people, this is getting out of control because many do not know what parties are about. Between the music, the horses and the amount of people at the end there is always a mishap”.
Nando’s concern has a lot of echo among all Menorcan men and women: tourist overcrowding is a nightmare. Earlier this year, a civil association picked up the gauntlet and created the organization Salvem Sant Joan, with the aim of demanding that the Government put a limit on the massive arrival of boats during the festivities. However, in its presentation, one of its spokespersons declared that “in Sant Joan we don’t want politics or – with all due respect – women involved”. An entire declaration of principles. They did not say anything about the massive touristification.
This year, like every year, as always, there will be no women in the qualcada (cavalcade) of Sant Joan in Ciutadella. However, the rumor claiming female participation is growing and who knows, maybe in a few years, Sa Madonna de S’Ullestrar may see her dream come true, and we will have a Caixera Senyora through the streets of the city.