Yesterday I blogged about the MOROS y CRISTIANOS Fiesta in our small Mediterranean town in Spain saying nobody wants to be a Christian because, while the Moors dress up in splendid robes and jewels and swagger down the avenida smoking fine Cuban cigars, the Christians drag along in grey chain mail and a white sheet with a red cross. Well they have solved the recruitment problem.
After a 10 year gap I attended the grand parade last evening and the Christians now swagger first down the avenida smoking cigars and dressed up in shiny armour and winged helmets that owe more to Darth Vader than history – in fact the whole parade in typically Hollywood fashion sacrifices history for effect and became more like glamorous Carnival in Rio.
The parade started with beautiful jet-black Andalucian stallions being ridden at high speed up and down the avenida, stopping occasionally to prance and dance. These are the tallest and most elegant horses you have ever seen – and they still have the pretty head and arched neck of their much smaller Arab thoroughbred ancestors. And the riders dressed like Russell Crowe in GLADIATOR.
Then came ranks of Christian soldiers looking very aggressive in their body armour carrying pikes and huge halberds and accompanied by bands playing with thunderous drumming, wailing fifes and triumphant sounding brass (the Spanish love noise but Alhamdulillah [Thanks to God] we were spared fireworks).
I thought Christianity was about peace and love, but these Christians, particularly the Knights Templars in their faces hidden behind highly polished medieval helmets with the pointed visors closed, and white banners with a black Maltese Cross, looked fuller of hate than love. And then a break from history: ranks of female soldiers with polished breast plates suitably modified and lots of flashing thigh between leather knee boots and micro- mini skirts.
And then another break with history:
A flock of geese being herded by two beautiful young maidens clad only in sackcloth (vestal virgins?), followed by simple little carts pulled by mules and containing goats and attended by more maidens throwing packets of raisins to the crowd – and then donkey carts being attended by Mexican peasants??????
But the Moors had the finale:
First a succession of scantily clad dancing girls waving flimsy veils around their bodies – how did Salome get in there? – or possibly they represented the concubines of the Harem? And close on their heels came the resplendent ranks of Moors looking much less warlike than the Christians, and hell bent on enjoying life. (Let’s face it the dancing girls were just ahead). And the same loud and insistent drumming, and the fifes now playing the sliding quarter tone Arab scales and not the Celtic pentatonics of the Christians – and the brass less triumphant but shouting defiance.
And then the grand finale:
A splendid Caliph in all of his pomp riding a huge ornate float pulled by two magnificent brown bulls (the ultimate Mediterranean symbol of masculine virility) attended by a bodyguard on a camel that also pranced and danced. The camel had multi-coloured hand woven tribal saddle bags and tassles – and the dark skinned rider had the sky blue head dress of the TUAREG – the fiercely independent North African nomad.
For all of its Hollywoodization this Fiesta still has meaning. It is a symbol of the ongoing ideological struggle between Christianity and Islam. But there is no animosity. No priests or Imams or mullahs are to be seen – and after the parade the Moors and the Christians pull the turbans and helmets off their sweaty heads and drink a beer or three, and have a few tapas in one of the many bars that line our Calle de Marques de Campos.
These troops of Moors or Christians, and their associated bands, come from the villages in the hills that surround us. This is the highlight of their year. Throughout the year they meet weekly to design and make the costumes, to rehearse the band and the swaying slow march that owes a lot to the Saudi Arabian Bedouin sword dance.
The women sew, the men march, and little children start at 4 on kettle drum or fife. Teenage girls play flute or clarinet or dance the Dance of the 7 veils (or these days of equality march as soldiers), and fathers play saxophone and grandfathers play trombone or tuba. This is what builds a community and anchors it to its history.
In Sha’Allah (God Willing) this Fiesta will never die, and In Sha’Allah I will see it again before I die.
If my love of human history – and its indomitable spirit of survival in spite of the actions of venal, corrupt and incompetent politicians – is showing, then I am glad. To find out more about how The West has screwed up its relations with the Middle East and Islam read my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind”.
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