Ibiza History & Culture

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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Joan Marí Cardona

People in History

Welcome to the history page. This week it is our honour to offer you an interview with the illustrious historian, scholar and author, Joan Marí Cardona. Don Joan has written 18 books on island history, contributed countless articles to the local press, hosted conferences, lectured widely, served as a judge for various literary competitions . . . the list goes on. Last but not least is his collaboration with LiveIbiza. In the midst of pressing schedules he has shown uncommon willingness to give interviews (often at short notice), provide written materials, answer phone queries and generally invest a liberal amount of time to any who come to him in pursuit of knowledge.

Marí also served as the unsalaried president of the Institute for Ibicenco Studies during nineteen years until he resigned in 1995. He has continued, however, in his capacity as director of the Cas Serra Home for the Elderly. He himself is 75 years old and I have often marvelled at how a man of that age can stay so sprite and fit, with no reduction whatsoever in his mental prowess. Despite his sharp intellect, Don Joan is a very gentle person, and it is touching to see how kindly he speaks to the residents of the home who come to his office to collect their pensions or simply to share a slice of life with their benevolent patriarch.

In the following interview, Don Joan discusses his roots, his formation as a young theology student, and his philosophy on life. It was inevitable, however, that at some point the dialogue would shoot off on a historical tangent, and indeed, way before mid-stream, the 21st century was left far behind. Hope you enjoy this fascinating voyage through the island's distant past, recent past and current situation.

LiveIbiza: Did you come from a family of clerics and intellectuals?

Joan Marí Cardona: No, I come from a very normal country family in San Rafael. They were literate, but none belonged to the clergy or intelligentsia.

LI: How did you become interested in history?

JMC: I was already a priest when, in 1953, Isidoro Macabich (see our LiveIbiza Archive article Weekly Edition 002 of Saturday 10th March 2001) proposed that I take over his post as cathedral archivist. Sorting through the files, I saw that some families tended to cluster in certain places. The Marís grouped in the north - Sant Joan, Sant Vicent - and to some extent in Sant Josep. The Prats grouped around Sant Antoni, the Cardonas in Sant Rafel, the Guasches and the Colomars in Santa Eulària. I wanted to locate these family names and retrace their steps as settlers. I've been to all the pertinent archives, Aragón, Tarragona, Madrid, piecing together data.

LI: The island was conquered by the Catalonians in the Middle Ages (1235). What sort of records were kept on the identity of people and how faithful were they?

JMC: Property records were kept - so that the king could collect his taxes! The poor were lost in the shuffle, but land owners were kept good track of. Property registers have been kept since the beginning of civilization . . . Here, look at this. (He takes out one of five boxes of photocopied records.)

LI: The handwriting is beautiful - but what language is it?

JMC: Up until about 1600 Latin was the language of official documents in countries allied with the Vatican. After that, the language of each place was used, in our case Catalan until 1700 when Felipe V outlawed all local tongues and instated Castillian Spanish as the national language.

LI: I gather you read Latin?

JMC: Oh, yes. In the seminary here and later at the Pontifical University in Salamanca our instruction was solely in Latin - the lectures, class discussions, all our exams and written work. I was thoroughly versed in it. Many of our young historians come to me for help in translating their medieval texts . . . (still leafing though the box of records). Look, here - 1478 - an auction. This man went into debt and his property was auctioned off. It was a fairly common occurrence - foreclosures and auctions have been going on since time immemorial. In Ibiza they took place in the Plaza of the Cathedral. They auctioned everything - figs, grain, nuts, slaves. That's where the big money was.

LI: Slaves?

JMC: Yes, mostly North Africans, some Turks - prior to Lepanto (1571), that is. Not many Negroes. Only what our Corsairs could capture in local waters. Human booty was the most lucrative. Of course, that applied to us too. When pirates invaded the island it was people they were after, not gold - of which there was very little. They snatched a bit of food, and rounded up as many heads as they could, usually by setting fire to everything and forcing the folk out of their homes - those who couldn't reach a tower in time.

LI: (Horrified) I thought the Corsairs only fended off lurking pirates. I didn't know they were slave traders.

JMC: Oh yes!

LI: What differentiated Corsairs form pirates? It sounds like pandemonium.

JMC: Corsairs were legal - they had permits to terrorize the seas! In return they gave one fifth of their booty to the king. Pirates were snipers. In theory, Corsairs could only attack ships from enemy countries, but there was a lot of cheating. (Laughs) Despite the regulations it was really each man for himself. It sounds barbaric, and it was, but it was the law of life. For four centuries the primordial object of Ibicenco life was staying alive. That came before food. If you were still alive, you could think about getting something to eat, but the main issue was clinging on to dear life. If you were captured and sold as a slave in a distant port, anything resembling human existence came to a halt in the most final way. You became a piece of property to be bought and sold until your death. On rare occasion, slaves were freed upon their master's death, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

LI: When was slavery abolished in Spain?

JMC: At the end of the 18th century. For this reason, travel between the islands was unthinkable. Formentera remained deserted for about 300 years because it was so flat it was a ridiculously easy mark for pirates. The settlers had no chance whatsoever. Travelling was only undertaken out of dire necessity, and then it was literally an undertaking. All vessels had to be armed to the gills with artillery and cannons. Even when I was a little boy almost nobody had ever been to Majorca or Formentera, much less the mainland.

LI: Did Ibicencos ever swim in the sea?

JMC: No, hardly ever, and then only the little ones. I lived in the interior of the island and we went to the seaside once a year. That was it. The women prepared the food, the men washed down the animals, and the children splashed around. I never saw a grown-up person go into the sea. What's more, the women were terrified of the sun and hid in the shade behind large hats. Also, I never heard anyone say, "What a beautiful island this is!" A new boat in the harbour would arouse interest, but the landscape never. On Sundays no-one ever went on an outing to the country. We lived in the country and didn't take any special relish in it. After Mass, everybody stayed indoors: the men played cards and the women knitted. Tourism opened our eyes to the beauty here.

LI: I suppose we'd better get back to the here and now.

JMC: (Laughs) If you say so.

LI: Who founded the Institute for Ibicenco Studies?

JMC: The late Isidoro Macabich founded it in 1949 along with Marià Villangomez - who is still living - and a few other (now deceased) Ibizaphiles.

LI: What is its aim?

JMC: Our general mission is the diffusion of the Ibicenco culture and language. To this end we bring out the quarterly magazine Eivissa which deals with island issues, but always in an apolitical light. We also aid in the publication of books about our island and written in our language.

LI: The Institute was founded in Franco's time when Catalan was outlawed. Were you still able to publish in Catalan?

JMC: No. At the start everything was done in Castilian, including my first books. But towards the 60s there was a slight liberalisation of policies and we were allowed to publish part of the magazine in Catalan. It started with poetry, as that was considered the most politically innocuous genre, and eventually the entire text of the magazine followed suit.

LI: Apart from publication, what other spheres of activity does the Institute uphold?

JMC: In the 60s we initiated an annual Conference of Ibicenco Culture with guest speakers from off the island. At the same time we set up Catalan classes for non-speakers and for those who spoke the language but lacked written skills. In fact, I went to these classes for three years, because I had never learned to write Catalan. I remember we had to study on the sly, always at night, because the authorities of the day did not approve of Catalan. It was a highly charged political issue. In about 1965, when cars became a more common occurrence, we began to organise field trips to visit sites of historical importance. We don't do that anymore. People are too busy. In the 70s we started the festival Nit de Sant Joan. First we put on a big popular fiesta with a concert and dance in Ibiza Town. Then we give two literary prizes and an honourable mention to the year's best works about the island in Catalan. People have written about ancient beliefs, natural medicine, navigation, songs and sayings of yore . . . etc.

LI: Do you sponsor any other literary awards?

JMC: Yes, the Nit the Sant Jordi Prize goes to a person or institution that has made an important contribution to the diffusion of our culture. We also offer the Balade Prize which is given every November to an outstanding work of research in Ibiza. One year there was a very interesting thesis written by a journalist named Llull who disclosed the little-know presence of Ibicencos in Nazi concentration camps.

LI: You are still quite able and active. Why did you resign from the Institute?

JMC: I resigned because institutions should not become identified with individuals. I was becoming synonymous with the Institute, and that's not right. The former vice-president, Mariano Serra Planells, took over for me but I continue to work as much as ever. I left only the administrative side.

LI: Do you have a new book in the pipeline?

JMC: Indeed, I have. I'm working on a joint project with another researcher. We've been tracing out the island's original family trees based on the surnames that appear in the earliest records.

LI: Did you ever receive any wages in your presidential capacity?

JMC: No, never. I was sent by Bishop Gea in 1976 as a volunteer, and that was the way it stayed. I feel that, in life, if you don't do anything for others, there's a kind of emptiness. And of course we ourselves are "the others" in respect to the kind deeds that come our way. Investigation is a service, but you've got to make it a more human thing - there's so much inner satisfaction in that.


Well, you can't complain this time. There was something for everyone in Don Joan's words. Next week, we will discuss the Saint George's Day as he is celebrated in Spain as well as in England - a connecting link between two very different lands. Hasta pronto,

Emily Kaufman