I remember the first time that we bumped into a giant! It was on one of our early trips over here just after we’d bought our house in Mora d’Ebre. We’d called into a neighbouring town and 20 minutes later when we wanted to leave, we couldn’t find our way out because barriers had appeared everywhere, blocking the roads off! So, we thought we’d be clever and nip down a narrow side street to circumvent the barriers. At the other end of the narrow street we turned right and came face to face with a group of giants and several big-heads! Ha! We didn’t feel so clever then! Astonished faces, frantically waving arms and the whistle of a policeman were enough to make us beat a hasty retreat. As you can imagine we were intrigued, so we parked the car and followed the parade but were no wiser at the end of it as to what it was all about! Of course, now that we live here, we have come to know that most towns have their very own giants that often preside over solemn occasions but are more often to be seen dancing and twirling their way through the streets at fiesta time accompanied by drums and flutes.
The history of the giants goes back to the Middle Ages when they depicted religious figures in the Corpus Christi parades. Today, the giants portray archetypal figures of the town, usually in pairs, of perhaps the nobility of old, agricultural figures, kings and queens or something that uniquely represents the town. The Giants are made on a hollow wooden framework and have heads made from paper maché and plaster of paris. The carrier, called a “geganter” walks inside the framework and is concealed by the giant’s full length robes. A square hole is cut into the robes and covered with mesh or lace so that the carrier can see where he is going.For the fiesta parades, the Giants are normally accompanied by several “Big-heads” (“Capgrossos” in Catalan) which are human size with – you’ve guessed it – very big heads!
The Big-heads represent all kinds of imaginative characters and their facial expressions are made to be fun and exaggerated and occasionally grotesque. Whilst the Giants tend to be the more serious and sedate part of the parade the Big-heads are the fun part. The carrier looks through the mouth of the head and interacts with the crowd, especially the children, with whom they will shake hands and do silly things. Some of the Big-heads and Giants have soft cloth arms and as they twirl around you are likely to get a swipe from an arm if you are too near! The parade normally ends in one of the village squares where each pair of Giants will do a short dance routine. Trickier than it looks to balance something so tall and heavy and do some fancy footwork at the same time! In the video below, the guy in the yellow t-shirt is one of the team. He stays close by to give assistance in case the giants lose their balance.
During the fiestas Giants from surrounding towns visit the town hosting the fiesta so there are always a collection of Giants to be seen – not just the giants belonging to the town. The giants below are called Joan and Madrona of Mora d’Ebre. These are a good example of giants that represent the working class. From the rope carried by the male, it is clear that he is a “Sirgador”. Years ago when goods were moved around the territory by boat, a sirgador used to tow the traditional boats called llaguts up the River Ebro.
The Giants Parade is undoubtedly a delightful part of fiesta season which epitomises the Catalan love of their traditions and their sense of fun. If you are visiting Catalonia at fiesta time, watch out for posters advertising the “Cercavila de Gegants i Capgrossos” and then make an effort to go along and enjoy the party!