photographs by RACHEL FOX

 Sollerweb WebsiteThe history of Majorca is written by cleverer, more knowledgeable people than me.  My contribution is really a question about the basics of our incomer’s lives.  Do we really understand what makes this place tick or the significance of some of the events that has made Majorca what it is today?

For instance take the stories of the pirates and smugglers of our Island.  The old pirate stories are celebrated with vigour every year and the stories of what happened around 1512 are firmly imprinted on the Solleric mindset.  For the purposes of this story I am more interested in the thriving bootleg market that kept Soller, Deia and Valldemossa going in the forties, fifties, sixties and beyond.  The caves of our shoreline made the smugglers profession a deeply honoured one in the Hidden Valley.  Alongside church attendance the other thing that bound this community together was the receiving and disposing of smuggled goods.   The justification for the trade was all the usual ones with the dominant feeling being one of taking back by the ordinary people a little of the wealth held by the few.  This was something that Mr & Mrs Average could get involved in especially as they knew their coastline so well.  The corner shops selling cigarettes and lottery
tickets were known (in the past) for the other things you could order and everyone appeared to be directly or indirectly part of the scene.  The black economy has its roots in the gains from smuggling and it is very hard to move away from.  The smuggling of this era has passed to be replaced by the very different issue of drug smuggling.  This is altogether a different scene and I am not suggesting that local people are involved in this. 

Another interesting seismic shift in the Hidden Valley is to do with being Jewish.  A few weeks ago a play was produced in Soller called ‘The Jews’.  It was preceded by a tasting of Jewish food prepared by the local school kitchen.  This production caused great interest here because it is said that before being Jewish was banned that Soller had the highest proportion of Jews on the Island. The history of Spain has a large chapter on how the Jewish people were made to renounce their faith and ‘convert’ and explain in part why there are so many Jewish families in Gibraltar which was one of the places they could flee to and keep their faith.

There are many who can list the Mallorquin/Jewish names that exist proving that in generations gone by an individual would have been Jewish.  This story has been part of the history of Spain for a long time but things are beginning to change.  There is a move afoot to reclaim  Jewishness by this generation.  They want to avenge their forefather’s deaths and persecution for being Jewish and reclaim their heritage.  Some of the most vocal people on this matter are Sollerics and that is why the play that was produced and the tasting ceremony were just so significant.  At present the synagogues in Mallorca are based in Palma but if this movement gathers the momentum that is being predicted there will be a need for a few more and there are many who would like to see the next one in Soller.

Every generation has to apologise for the sins of the past before going on to create their own problems that another generation will apologise for.  The issue that falls into this category in the Hidden Valley is slavery.  Much has been written about the collective shame of Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol and how their money was made from trading slaves.  This was equally true of the trading done with the Spanish colonies where the boats from Liverpool left with goods to trade in Africa before picking up slaves and depositing them in the America’s.  South America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other places that had Spanish interests were all part of the slave run.  The Sollerics who went off to run the sugar plantations of Cuba and the like dealt in and made their money from slaves.   When these people made their fortune and returned to retire in Soller some of them built large houses and acquired estates in the surrounding areas.  They soon became known as the
‘Slaver’s houses’ and local people had trouble coming to terms with what they did.  A small place has long memories and there are those who could walk you down the Soller streets and tell you the tales of the original owners of the houses.  Of course that era has long gone and now these stories are confined to the history books of Soller. A history that many would like to wish had not existed.

To understand the culture, roots and features of another man’s country is almost impossible.  We exist in the confines of our own experience and our own interests.  Many people have no wish to even read what I am writing here.  They prefer to think that the Mallorca of 2014 is what it is and how it appears today.  Of course it is that too but the recent past is absolutely fascinating and holds the key to the attitudes and personalities that we deal with every day.  I hope I have whetted your appetite for a little more recent local history – under development now … coming soon.

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