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Els Enfarinats: Egg-throwing Roman slaves revolt in flour-filled uprising
SNOW was lying thick on the ground in the tiny Alicante-province town of Ibi yesterday (Friday), despite the unseasonably-warm late-December temperatures.
Or so it seemed: actually, it was mostly cake-mix.
Despite December 28 being Spain’s equivalent of April Fool’s – Holy Innocents’ Day – the dense, white ground-covering in the land-locked toy-manufacturing village was not just an attempt to wind up visitors and check their gullibility levels.
(Unlike in Jávea, in the north of the province, where local reports claimed the town’s name was going to be engraved in huge, Hollywood-style letters on the Montgó mountain in the same way as in Cullera, 70 kilometres up the motorway in Valencia, and which turned out to be an inocentada, or ‘December Fool’).
In Ibi, December 28 is the scene for an ancient Roman-style battle (with vans instead of chariots) as this diminutive community celebrates its world-famous annual fiesta, Els Enfarinats (literally, ‘the floured ones’).
Probably Spain’s biggest food fight after the Tomatina in August in Buñol, near Valencia, Els Enfarinats is thought to have its origins in the days of the Roman Empire when, for just 24 hours, a legal role-reversal saw slaves giving orders to their masters – although the earliest-documented celebration is said to be in 1636 and, after a ban in the 1950s during the dictatorship of General Franco, it was officially revived 37 years ago.
It all starts the night before, when the Enmantados (‘the blanketed ones’) tour the village by chariot – although these have more recently been replaced by vans – acting as mobile town criers, satirising current affairs and politicians and dressed, as their name suggests, with blankets over their shoulders.
Then, the next day, they become the Enharinados, or Enfarinats in the regional tongue, valenciano; the real stars of the show and the perpetrators of the messy mock battle.
Typically dressed in period costume in flamboyant colours, with hats and painted faces, they take on the roles of mayor, judge and secretary, and sheriffs or clerks of court.
The most senior fiesta figure, the mayor, wears a top hat, medallions, sashes, and carries an extravagant staff with onions, garlic, carrots and other, similar vegetables dangling from it, whilst the judge and court secretary carry court hammers and giant books of ‘society offenders’ and fines.
Sheriffs each have one job: as custodians of the prison keys, as trumpeters or drummers to announce the banns, or carriers of the bags of flour and fireworks – the latter two of which always get them arrested – and at least one bears a net used for transporting straw, known as an Aixavegó, but which is used instead to capture townspeople in the judges’ books who have not paid their fines.
Spoof laws you can’t avoid breaking
Fines are levied and arrests are made for anyone who breaks the laws of Ibi – laws made up on the spot and which only apply on that day.
Announcing that ‘all the laws of Ibi are abolished’ and ‘power is tiring, but we can sort it all out in a day’, the Enfarinats impose their own legal framework - such as banning anyone from standing, sitting or walking in the shade and also in the sun, making it illegal to be either indoors or outdoors, or other spoof impossible-to-comply-with ‘legislation’ – as part of their grass-roots coup on the village authorities.
Opposition members, whose job it is to stop the Enfarinats getting above their station and defeat them, start a giant fight with literally tonnes of flour and eggs, then let off fireworks and shoot sparkler-guns at the insurgents, engulfing them in orange – which, although it appears to break every health and safety rule ever invented, does not actually cause any damage or even singe anyone’s clothes.
But the opposition, who represent the temporarily-deposed Roman slave-owners, always loses the battle and have to slink away with their heads low and shuffling their feet – probably to the nearest shower and washing machine to relieve themselves and their clothes respectively of their claggy coating of biscuit-batter.
Neutral participants are the King and the Viceroy, who officially open and close the fiesta and act as representatives of the dance groups and musical bands – two completely fundamental sets of people at every Spanish festival.
‘Fines’ for charity (and a chance to insult politicians)
In more recent years, with the financial crisis which started in 2008, critics of the Els Enfarinats celebration have often said it is in poor taste – wasting such huge quantities of flour and eggs when so many Spanish families had to rely on food banks – but in practice, a whip-round takes place throughout the day, and visitors to Ibi rocket on December 28 which brings in extra cash, and all funds raised from the festival go to charity – as well as the money amassed from fines for being in the sun or the shade or breaking other spontaneously-passed laws, which helps boost the humanitarian coffers.
And the colourful-costumed, egg-throwing, flour-scattering, unelected officials and their sudden seizing of authority in Ibi has often been a welcome release in the past, especially in the early part of Franco’s fascist regime before he imposed a ban on the celebration which lasted over 25 years.
“We’d rip politicians to shreds,” says local pensioner Santiago Cifuentes, 74.
“As it was the only day of the year when we could, we milked it for all it was worth.”
(Luckily, milk is one ingredient that does not end up in the pancake-dough plastered three inches deep throughout Ibi’s streets; the result of the coup, confrontation and authorities’ defeat is already difficult enough to clear up).
Els Enfarinats attracts TV reporters from as far afield as Japan and South Korea – and, of course, the UK; a clip of the festival is normally aired on the BBC world news slots after it’s over – but Santiago Cifuentes hopes this global fame will not wreck the fun, local and community-spirited nature of this rambunctious, rowdy event.
So far, it hasn’t, and Ibi town hall is not planning on charging tickets or advertising its festive flour fight on an inter-continental scale.
“What we don’t want is for it to turn into a Tomatina with flour instead of tomatoes,” Santiago admits.
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