The huge bass drum pulsates
through my body as we move forward slowly along the road, a cymbal crashing
violently on every step. Either side of us the street is lined with people,
some cheering, some applauding, some even bemused by it all. But everyone is smiling.
I pick out familiar faces in the crowd. Their curious expressions turn into
sudden realisation as they recognise me. They wave, they call out, there’s the
occasional choice word. But all I can do is smile and give them a wink in
A few minutes earlier
we were waiting patiently to start. It’s mid-July and it’s hot. Very hot
underneath the heavy costume. It took much of the afternoon to get ready. It’s
now the evening. We’ve already been wearing it – enduring it – for some hours
now, waiting patiently for our time to pass through the grand arch and begin
the journey. Beads of sweat roll down our faces. We hope the make-up holds up. People
mill around us, offering refreshing sips of water. We express our gratitude.
Reacting to an
unseen cue a big bass drum starts pounding a slow deep beat that seems to shake
the very ground beneath us. Instinctively we start to sway in unison. The time
has almost come. Shouts of encouragement sweep down the line in waves as we slowly
start to walk down the hill. As we enter the archway the noise is tremendous.
The pounding bass drum echoes off the walls around us. We lift our chins and
smile. This is fantastic.
In front of us our grand
captain leads the way as we pass through the archway, encouraging the cheers from
those on either side whilst keeping a careful eye on our progress, keeping us
in rhythm, keeping us smiling. We pass down the slope and turn to face up the
main road, lined on either side by people all looking in our direction. There
is perhaps a moment of nerves. A tiny gulp. Here we go! The bass pounds.
BOOM.BOOM.BOOM. This is fantastic.
Every few minutes
we’re called to a stop but we still sway in time to the music, waiting for the
next cue to step forward again, cheering loudly as we do so. Behind us the band
plays a familiar tune, the big bass drum still pounding its three beats to keep
us in time. We have cold bottles of water secreted around us but we can’t drink
it. Not yet. But we want to. So much. But this is still fantastic.
And then, before I
know it, it’s all over. We’ve covered barely 700 metres in an hour or so. But
it seems like only five minutes have passed since we made our way through the
arch and down the slope to join the procession. However, as we unlink
ourselves, my body confirms that it’s been a lot longer. As we make our way
back to our headquarters, we get stopped for photos. And we do so. It’s a great
pleasure and an absolute honour to do so. We answer the inevitable questions as
honestly as we can. Yes, it is hot. No, it’s not uncomfortable, not too much
anyway. Yes, I need a beer (are you buying?). No, I don’t mind the questions.
And then I find
myself sitting on a plastic chair in the middle of a closed street. Someone
passes me a cold beer. It doesn’t last long. I’ve already dispensed with the
head-dress and the heavy shoulder pads and cape. Now just let me enjoy another
beer and savour the moment. I’ll take off the rest later. I can hear the big
drums pounding in the distance. The procession is still going on. But I’m done.
I lean back and close my eyes. I’m exhausted. But it was worth it. Totally. It
It’s been almost
two decades since I first became aware of the Moors & Christians festival.
I was on a family holiday in Moraira and we happened to be in town at the time that
its people were celebrating this amazing fiesta. I’d never seen anything like
it before. The exotic music of the Moors filled the air as they swayed
magnificently down the narrow street, tunes that seemed to be from a bygone
magical and somewhat mysterious era. And then arrived the Christians, marching
proudly to majestic music which announced their confidence. A couple of nights
later we were able to enjoy a brief experience by joining one of the companies
in a very informal – and somewhat alcohol-fuelled – march around the town. I
don’t remember much. But I do remember wanting more.
A couple of years
later we finally made the great leap to moving permanently to Spain and we
experienced the Xàbia version of this fantastic fiesta. And the desire to
participate had not waned one bit. Like many people, I watched from the
sidelines as the colourful companies marched confidently past me and wondered
just how I could get more involved, to take part, to become one of those
Some five years
ago, as part of our desire to make our fiesta guide into something more than
just a list of dates, we decided that it would be a nice angle to spend some
time with a group as its members prepared for the parades, to discover more
about the effort behind the scenes and more about the people behind the masks
and make-up who gave up their free time (and hard-earned cash) to contribute to
such a fantastic procession. We had become friends with people in several
groups, both Moorish and Christian, but eventually decided on the Schaitans, a
modest filà whose members demonstrated an absolute passion for the fiesta.
That year we
accompanied them as they prepared themselves for the two parades, experiencing both
the excitement and stress of getting ready for the occasion, often in cramped
and hot conditions inside their modest headquarters. Elbows inadvertently dug
into the backs of colleagues as costumes of many layers were donned, words
exchanged, mostly in jest, sometimes in frustration. There was a moment when a
collection of spears suddenly slid from their precarious position in the corner
of the room, producing a grand cacophony which did little to ease the nerves.
On several occasions we had to put down the cameras and step in to assist as
heavy layer upon heavy layer was added to the costume. Tempers frayed at times
but it was never in malice but more of a desire to ensure that the group looked
as fantastic as possible. In final preparations, black tape secured boots too
big or too small to the feet, safety pins provided temporary adjustment, all of
which would be unseen by the general public when the company finally made its
entrance through the archway. And it felt great to be involved, if only as a
witness. I knew I wanted more.
winter I approached the Schaitans to express my desire to become more involved
with them. Unfortunately their membership drive for that year had been closed
but I was lucky for there was still an opportunity to become involved in the
following years’ final procession since the main bulk of the company would be
assisting with the captain company of that year in their final stunning
procession. I could be involved as a guest to represent the Schaitans. I jumped
at the chance.
I knew most of the
group so it was an easy transition. During the spring we gathered together for
a lunch before a rehearsal in the gardens on a house on the outskirts of the
town, music blaring from a stereo system. Having had experience of drill in the
forces I found the experience quite easy, having been very aware of what is
left and what is right for some years. Others didn’t find it so and we spent at
least a couple of hours marching up and down the garden, practising turns,
working out how to split the line for narrow sections and how to come back
again in a smooth and impressive action that would attract deserved applause
from the spectators. It was hard work and quite repetitive but absolutely
essential. It would all be worth it.
The day arrived.
The members of the group joining the captain company had already started their
preparations during the morning and it was to be a long process that involved
extensive make-up, prosthetics and lenses in the eyes. That afternoon we had
lunch and then rested a while before getting ready. Most of the old hats simply
closed their eyes and dropped off, snores soon filling the enclosed space. But
I was too excited and the time to start getting ready couldn’t come soon
enough. I was handed my costume and would be pairing up with someone else so
that we could dress each other and make sure we looked absolutely fabulous. It
was hot and beads of sweat had to constantly wiped away as someone applied some
modest make-up to my face. When I had finished, I stood outside in the relative
coolness of the open air, waiting for the moment to move to the start area.
Passers-by stopped to take photos and I obliged proudly. And then all of a
sudden we moved to the archway and my heart started pounding. The moment had
arrived. Almost 20 years after discovering this fantastic fiesta, here I was
about to take part in my first procession.
I’m now in my
fourth year of being a Moor. And it’s been worth every cent of the many euros
that I’ve contributed in terms of subscriptions, donations, lottery tickets
sales, etc. It is an expensive hobby and it’s certainly not a case of turning
up in July and enjoying the fiesta. Meetings take place once a month, often
twice a month, and last well into the night as we discuss the forthcoming year,
the state of finances, the costumes (we’ve already selected the options for
2020) and anything else Moors and Christians. I perhaps don’t share the
absolute passion of many other members of the Schaitans but I have loved every
minute of it. I have loved “becoming a Moor”.
to discover more about the Moors and Christians in Xàbia