10 May 2017

36. Malgareo

Tanajara, the vantage point above El Pinar from which the young men called out the misdeeds of the villagers.
You’ll be told that you can leave your front door or your car unlocked. Perhaps that’s truer here than in central London, but don’t. It is true that in the past, delinquency in El Hierro was mostly a question of ‘misery delinquency’ – petty theft of food and so on. But, even so, there must have been mechanisms that ensured most people followed the accepted the standards of conduct the community expected of them.

One such mechanism was the ‘malgareo’ – the local equivalent of the English ‘skimmington’ or European ‘charivari’. Whereas in other parts of Europe the tradition was abandoned long ago, in El Pinar it is part of living memory. I don’t know if it was practiced in other parts of El Hierro or even on the other islands. A group of young men – some say chosen, others say friends – would, on a still and dark night, go up to the top of a hill overlooking the village from where, disguising their identity with falsetto voices, their cries could be heard in every house. Amid laughter and laments, they would butcher an imaginary goat or ass and offer appropriately chosen cuts to different villagers: I shall leave it to you to imagine what cut went to the adulterous wife, to the cheating shopkeeper, to the husband beater and nagging wife, to the cuckold, the drunkard, the village trollop, the lecher, the trespassing goatherd, the gossip, the pilferer, … Unlike elsewhere, this was not accompanied by rough music – the banging of pots and pans and bawdy songs – and the victims were not paraded around the village, but, even so, it must have been a very effective deterrent to misbehavior. How would you like all your neighbours to know you had been awarded the donkey’s tail?

There were other benefits. Most importantly the responsibility for upholding and transmitting the standards of behavior expected in their rural society was bestowed on the young people, especially the young men. Pretty good schooling, I would think. Perhaps we ought to reinstate the tradition!

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