The Demon And Wheels On Fire

Two hundred and fifty-four years ago, it was documented that four Majorcan pounds were spent on "thunderclaps and small wheels". The purchase had been authorised by what, in effect, was the managing board of Sant Bartomeu Church in Montuiri. The small wheels were "rodelles". On Friday night (23 August), the rodelles will take pride of fiestas place, as they have done for so many years. The current-day version looks almost like a propeller. The thunderclaps emanate from it as it spins around. Below the spitting fire is a demon who trots up and down.

The documentary evidence comes from the records of the Sant Bartomeu Brotherhood - 1694 to 1849 - but it would appear that Montuiri may well have had its thunderclaps and wheels before 1765. If not in this village, then somewhere else. The Diccionari català-valencià-balear, compiled by Antoni Maria Alcover and Francesc de Borja Moll over several decades of the last century, contains an entry for "roda de focs artificials" - wheel of fireworks - which suggests that the rodelles date from 1720. If so, then this was the first time that fiestas in Majorca had what, in far more recent times, has morphed into the "correfoc", the demons' fire-run replete with fire-cracking, fire-spitting tridents.

The rodelles are basically fireworks. They're not far removed from the Catherine wheel. It would seem that in the past most villages had this display for their fiestas. Montuiri, a Majorcan historian Joan Socies has said, is the only village to have retained the tradition with the exception of Lloret de Vistalegre, where there is a smaller version of the Montuiri spectacle. Socies was quoted as saying this four years ago. Since then, the Lloret rodelles have become rather more lavish, while it is evident that the rodelles have reappeared elsewhere. An old tradition seems to be undergoing something of a revival.

The rodelles provide a clue to the role of demons in Majorca's fiestas. The tradition of the rodelles had a single demon who would fall down dead when the thunderclaps had finished. While we have become used to the gangs of demons who perform the correfocs, the solitary demon was a standard feature for centuries; and there are still various villages which have this figure.

Knowing quite when the demon first appeared is another matter. Sa Pobla's Sant Antoni fiestas in January are commonly attributed with having introduced the demon, but there isn't the documentary evidence to back this up. The assumption is there, but the fact is that the demon (the devil) was first recorded in 1380 in Palma for the Corpus Christi procession (the Sant Antoni fiestas date from a few years before). Linking to this week's fiestas, the devil in Palma was led on a chain by the figure of Sant Bartomeu, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. Almost one hundred years later, Soller's Corpus Christi procession had a devil.

Over time, this devil became both grotesque and burlesque. He was the closing act in the procession, and so he was the "bovo", the demon as fool, an object of mirth and derision. The processions for Corpus Christi, meanwhile, added various elements, one of which and most notably was the dance of the Cossiers, which was first noted in Soller in 1544. What happened with the Cossiers was that they broke away from the Corpus Christi celebrations to become mainstays of the fiestas for villages' patron saints. In the case of Montuiri, where the Cossiers are known to have existed since 1750, the bovo demon was added to the dance in 1812.

In Manacor, where this demon character is referred to as boiet, the Cossiers were accompanied by him from 1705. Other villages - Alaro, Algaida, Campos, Porreres - introduced their demons as well. So, the picture which emerges is one in which the demon had a central role in fiestas as both a participant in the folk dance and as the bringer of fire - the rodelles.

But there remains uncertainty as to exactly when the fire, in the form of fire-cracking thunderclaps, first started. The Alcover-Moll dictionary pins a date of 1720, but in fact there is earlier evidence that Soller had "gunpowder demons" in the seventeenth century, although they may not have necessarily been using wheels.

Wherever it was, the rodelles have been around for a very long time, and one final question might be why there were rodelles. Perhaps they did have something to do with the Catherine wheel firework. There is a record of this having been in general use, and so not just in Majorca, by the 1750s.

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