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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
LI: Do you have a new book in the
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
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,