Friday, June 08, 2007

The Patum of Berga for Independence of Catalonia

The Patum of Berga is a popular festival whose origin is to be found in the celebrations and parades accompanying the Corpus Christi processions of the Middle Ages. It takes the form of a series of theatrical performances and parade of a variety of effigies through the streets of this Catalan community north of Barcelona.

The Patum takes place every year during the week of Corpus Christi, between the end of May and the end of June, and comprises several parts: an extraordinary meeting of the municipal council, the appearance of the Tabal (a large and emblematic festival drum presiding over the festivities) and the Quatre Fuets announcing the festivities. The following days see numerous celebrations, the most important of which are the parades, the ceremonial Patum, the children’s Patum and the full Patum. The Taba (tambourine), the Turks, Cavallets (papier mâché horses), Maces (demons wielding maces and whips), Guites (mule dragons), the eagle, giant-headed dwarves, Plens (fire demons) and giants dressed as Saracens are all allegorical figures and representations that parade one after the other through the streets, performing different acrobatic tricks and spreading light and music among the joyous audience. All the figures join to perform the final dance, the Tirabol.

The Patum of Berga is a religious ceremony that has preserved its pagan roots and has perpetuated a profane ritual in spite of the religious and civil institutions’ bans on it. Certain elements re-interpreted by the Catholic Church have retained their essence and original character through the centuries. This tradition stands out from other similar festivals of the region that have come down from the Middle Ages because of the its variety, the persistence of its medieval street theatre, ritual sequences and, above all, the continuity which it has been able to achieve for nearly six hundred years.

The continuity of the celebration seems to be ensured. The Patum of Berga is however threatened by transformation, distortion and loss of value in a general context marked by strong urban and tourist development that tend to reduce the Patum to a mass phenomenon. These factors risk denaturing the Patum ritual by encouraging its organization in areas and at dates that are not authentic. Moreover, the hundred year-old Patum figures that require care and restoration by artisans who possess specific secular knowledge and know-how, risk being replaced by modern replicas devoid of all artistic and historical value.

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