Over the last few decades, enthusiasm for and citizen involvement in local festivities have greatly increased in many towns and cities of Catalonia. Different generations go out to the streets to take part in festive activities. Huge numbers of people attend the traditional parades and performances by giants, fire-breathing fantasy creatures, and devils. Of these experiences, the most popular activities are those that use fire. The correfocs (fire-runs) are the most successful.
In one medium-sized city located in the conurbation of Barcelona, there is a group of “devils” exclusively made up of women – something very exceptional, as the majority of local devil groups are composed of men – that has already run for 35 years. This group of women has been studied in the ethnographic research of the CHIEF project with the aim of understanding their cultural practices, motivations, and what they have learned from being engaged in a group of only female devils.
To start with, the expression of culture promoted by the group has its roots in the Catalan culture. Since the Spanish democratic transition began in the 1970s, there has been a movement for the recovery of the traditional expressions of Catalan culture, especially local festivities, which have gained a lot of popularity within the community and have become an important part of local culture.
The diablesses is a self-organised and horizontal group, although it belongs to the city council’s network of traditional culture groups. The context of the diablesses group is found in traditional and popular Catalan culture, particularly in one of its most traditional and widespread expressions: the Festa Major (local celebration), which is celebrated annually for a series of days in every town, village and city in Catalonia. The tradition of Festa Major has been known in Catalonia since at least the 13th century, and it has evolved up to the present. The Spanish democratic transition was a turning point for the Festes Majors, as it led, among other things, to a recovery of the festivities.
What did change radically during the 1970s was the introduction of fire to the local festivities: almost non-existent until then, fire-related activities began to proliferate everywhere. Although the first written notice of “devils” in Catalonia dates back to the Dancing Talks of the year 1150, during the democratic transition period they became linked to correfocs. This was probably the greatest invention of the Catalan Festes Majors in the last quarter of the twentieth century. A correfoc (literally “run fire”) is a festive street event in which participants parade amidst and under the sparks of fireworks borne by devils, dragons and other figures of a fantastic sort. This modern creation somehow derives from the concept of recovering the age-old practice of playing with fire, which is very present in festive contexts. Although the democratic transition brought about the possibility for women to join the different popular groups as full members, this is still a controversial subject. Continue reading “Women of Fire”