Moors and Christians

Growing up in the “colonies”, we have to study the history of the coloniser. That means that when you go to school in Brazil, you learn about European history before your own, mostly that of Portugal and Spain. I remember studying the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, and seeing their legacy when I first visited this part of the world back in 1996 with my parents. I was impressed with the stunning Moorish art and architecture of the Andalusian cities, fortresses and gardens.

What I did not know until this visit to Spain was that the tug-of-war between Moors and Christians that extended for centuries is now celebrated with large festivals in Alicante and surroundings, which happen at different times of the year in towns, villages and neighbourhoods. Eli had been talking about it since I arrived and her parents had very proudly shown me photos of their latest participations in their local festival. Paco, who helped out with the costume for La Niña Barro, makes most of his living out of fashioning outfits for the Moors and Christians parades. Everyone that I came into contact with seemed to be involved with these festivities somehow, but I only began to understand them better when I witnessed the Moros y Cristianos parade of San Blas, the Alicante area where our lovely photographer Sandra is based. See, the people behind the festival organised a shop window contest in the neighbourhood and Sandra decided to enter. In order to create an exciting window display for her studio, she wanted to dress up a model as one of the Moors, photograph them and then arrange the photos with props borrowed from the Christians. And this is how I ended up being a Moorish Queen for a day (make-up by Eli):

moros6Sandra came 2nd in the competition and won tickets to watch the street parade from the VIP stands. She would be working, photographing the event, so she gave me and Eli the tickets. We went with Eli’s dad and watched as people paraded their fantastic costumes to the sound of exciting live music, each club, group, and association looking prouder as they went past. It reminded me of the Brazilian carnaval, and I was surprised that I had never heard of something as big. The festival generally happens over two days – one dedicated to the Christians (which we saw) and the other, to the Moors. There are battle re-enactments and a model castle is built to be invaded by the Moors and then taken back by the Christians. The whole celebration is really interesting, not only because of its historical background, but also because of the way history and culture gain new interpretations. You don’t need to have Moorish ancestry or necessarily identify with Christianity to choose which side you want to be on. Instead, people gravitate towards whatever aesthetics takes their fancy, and although there are some clear symbols that must be respected, creativity and imagination are highly encouraged when creating costumes, make-up and floats.

It was yet another enlightening experience of diverse cultures coming together quite nicely, and the use of art to transform a rather gory past into a beautiful and more tolerant present.

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