Although Formentera is a small island, its inhabitants have a very special way of living their festivals and traditionsThese celebratory events serve to remember and perpetuate rural traditions and keeping old customs alive.
To keep the customs and the memory of Formentera country folk and fishermen alive, dances are held across the island, with residents dressed in traditional costume and folk tunes played on local instruments. These events are aimed at passing down the island's ancient traditions to the younger generations and as well as tourists.
Formentera's traditional dances are intimately linked to those of their Balearic sisters, and reflect the different cultures that have made their home on the islands. The most famous are the ‘curta’ (short), the ‘llarga’ (long) and ‘les nou (o dotze) rodades’ (the nine or twelve turns). In these dances, the man jumps around the woman without every turning his back on her while she keeps her head low and holds her long skirt with her hand while taking little steps. The male dancer never touches the female dancer to show his respect and admiration.
No-one really knows for sure where these folk dances come from. There are a number of theories about their origins. Some people attribute the men's jumps to an old oriental war dance, others interpret the dance as an ancient ritual for the gods in which the woman symbolises the figure of a goddess or even the moon.
The island's older inhabitants can still remember when these dances were performed at home at family celebrations, at the annual pig slaughter or at weddings.
Nowadays, there are a number of folk groups known as ‘collas’ who dance at annual town festivals and on special days in the calendar. At local weddings, this traditional dance is often performed for the bride and groom, and the ‘colla’ encourages the newly-weds to dance with them.
Traditional costumes used to include the clothing worn by the bride and groom at weddings: he would wear an embroidered shirt, white trousers, waistcoat, scarf and red belt; she would wear several floor-length underskirts under her dress, an apron, a pretty embroidered shawl and a headscarf. The bride would also wear a lot of jewellery, including valuable necklaces and 24 gold rings to symbolise her dowry. While the origins of the dances aren't really very clear, the island's costumes and adornments are reminiscent of Punic traditions, plus there are also hints of the Middle East and other regions of mainland Levant.
Musical instruments are an essential part of dances in Formentera and the Balearic Islands. They are all percussion-based and are hand crafted using local materials.
They typically include ‘castanyoles’ (large castanets made from juniper wood), the drum made from savina juniper wood, flutes made from oleander branches, the ‘espasí’ or sword blade without a hilt that is struck with a dagger and the most popular of all, the ‘xeremia’. This last instrument is a sack made from leather or other material and belongs to the bagpipe family. It has a penetrating sound and has been played at the island's local festivals since time immemorial. Basically, it's an essential part of any celebration. The xeremia player is called the xeremier and is usually accompanied by a flabioler, who plays the flabiol (a kind of small piccolo). The flabioler plays the flabiol with their left hand while playing a small drum called a tamboril with their right. These instruments play a vital role in the island's songs and dances, with percussion frequently predominating over the tune sung by a human voice, which sometimes prolongs the verses with a distinctive kind of syllabic stutter.