FFE Magazine

Spain’s Jarramplas Festival: Flying turnips and Scapegoats

A vibrant costumed man running through the streets banging the tambourine, a group of veggie throwers mobbing after him and countless turnips zipping through the air — these are the ingredients that make up one of Spain’s most bizarre festivals: the Jarramplas.

 

The Jarramplas’ mask is made to look like a devil. He is equipped with a tambourine or a drum which he bangs with sticks to taunt the crowd.

The Jarramplas’ mask is made to look like a devil. He is equipped with a tambourine or a drum which he bangs with sticks to taunt the crowd.

 

The Jarramplas is an annual festival that happens only in the town of Piornal in Extremadura, Spain. It falls every 19 and 20 January, the feast day of Saint Sebastian.

 

Before the festival, 2 young men from the village are chosen as the Jarramplas and are made to wear a costume of colourful fabrics and a mask with horns and a nose. The villagers meanwhile prepare their weapons by importing around 14,000 individual turnips for the event.

 

On the days of the festival, the Jarramplas enters the village and bangs his drum, taunting the villagers who are armed with turnips. The Jarramplas then runs through the village with the villagers chasing after him and pelting him with turnips. As part of the tradition, the villagers must corner the Jarramplas outside the church and pelt him as hard as they can.

 

The Jarramplas is pelted at the church door

The Jarramplas is pelted at the church door

 

Because of the aggressive nature of the festival, men are the ones who generally participate in the pelting of the Jarramplas. The young men unofficially compete for who can throw the turnip the hardest. Black eyes are not unusual in this festival.

 

Once the run is finished, the Jarramplas removes his mask and is cheered by the crowd for taking on the difficult task of performing the character. Becoming a Jarramplas is a source of pride for a villager — this is why the Jarramplas does everything he can to withstand the pounding and pelting of giant rock-hard turnips for two afternoons.

 

The Jarramplas unmasks after a successful run

The Jarramplas unmasks after a successful run

 

After the exhaustive afternoon run, the villagers of Piornal visit the church to celebrate the feast day of Saint Sebastian. The Jarramplas join in this occasion and celebrate with the villagers while in costume.

 

In contrast with the run, the mood in the church is lighter and more jubilant as the villagers sing and play music for Saint Sebastian

In contrast with the run, the mood in the church is lighter and more jubilant as the villagers sing and play music for Saint Sebastian

 

What is most bizarre about Jarramplas is that its origin is not really known. But there are several theories behind the tradition:

 

The first theory is that the Jarramplas copies the native punishment and expulsion method done by American Indians to cattle thieves during the time America was being conquered by Spain. The second theory is that the tradition borrows from the myth of Hercules and the fire-breathing Cacus.

 

A 1545 engraving of Hercules beating up Cacus after the latter stole the former’s cattle

A 1545 engraving of Hercules beating up Cacus after the latter stole the former’s cattle

 

The third theory borrows from the universal concept of scapegoats. A scapegoat is a person who has to bear the blame for a crime and receives punishment as a way of ‘cleansing.’ In modern times, the Jarramplas has been made to look like a devil to symbolise the expulsion of everything bad and negative from the village.

 

Jarramplas is a celebration of tradition and customs that have been passed down from generation to generation. But more than just two afternoons of wild and exhaustive excitement, it is also a celebration of strength and hope for better fortune in the year head.

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