Posted by: puebloman | October 26, 2013

The festival of the Monfi: Catholics drag up as Muslims

handler catching mexican eagle

Professional Catholic Muslim catches Mexican eagle in “ethnic” Moorish fiesta

Autumn is the time for the “harvest festival” fiestas throughout the white villages of the Axarquia. In September, Almachar stages its fabulous “Ajo Blanco” fiesta of white gazpacho and muscatel wine, with performances from some of the greatest cante jondo (deep song) gypsy singers in the world. This is followed by the “Raisin festival” in El Borge. In October, Cutar has its own wonderful “Festival of the Monfi”, where the village celebrates the dress and customs  of those “outcast” Muslims who were driven into the hills in 1560 after the abortive revolt against the

Moorish Dad watching Moorish kids playing wooden street game

Moorish Dad watching Moorish kids playing wooden street game

Christian Reconquistadores and their hangers on from the Spanish Inquisition. Festivals such as these lean heavily towards tourism but they are primary for Spanish tourists so there is plenty of ethnic authenticity for the foreign visitor though perhaps not the authenticity that was expected. These fiestas  are relatively recent inventions of the tourist board, unlike the ancient fiestas based around local saints.

little arabs gossiping

Little Arab girls gossiping

In Cútar we have the streets decorated with geraniums and photographs. They are lined with wooden street games for children that can be played for free. The villagers set up stalls to sell Muslim and Christian produce – sweet cakes, dried and fresh fruit in alcohol, breads, fig breads, also very high quality nuts, dried fruit and oil. The large visiting itinerant team of “professional” sixteenth century Muslims includes food sellers, sellers of trinkets, silversmiths, woodworkers, a blacksmith, a troupe that exhibit raptors – hawks and owls, street musicians, fire eaters, children’s performers and so on. There is a free lunch. The programme includes two academic lectures on the period and two excellent concerts, since a village party always has opportunities to learn something and improve yourself. Many of the villagers and the village children dress up in “Moorish” costumes for the day. This charming fiesta is, and deserves to be very popular with local people and with foreign tourists lucky enough to be in on the secret. The fiesta is totally politically incorrect and no one asks whether this or that might cause offence, or whether being a Muslim involves more than pulling on a Hijab . It won’t offend anyone in Cútar because there hasn’t been a single Muslim or Jew around since the final expulsion in 1660.

Moorish grandfather defended by Christian grandson

Moorish grandfather defended by Christian grandson

I tell a lie. Two of the musicians were from Morocco. On the other hand the event is entirely free from gloating Christians slaughtering Moors that takes place in other fiestas and which personally reminds me of a march of the orange order. All we do here in Cútar is to drag up for a couple of days, have fun and eat a lot of sugar.

The actual history of the Monfi is not so sweet though. In 1492 Granada fell to a Christian army and Ferdinand and Isabella finally wiped out Muslim rule in Spain.   Within six months they had bought in the hated Spanish Inquisition who demanded that Muslims and Jews convert to Christianity or be expelled, with their property confiscated, or worse, burnt at the stake. “Converts” were called “Moriscos” or “New Christians”

Between 1500 and 1569 a general revolt erupted against the Christian oppressors, led by the Moriscos. Almáchar, Cútar, Benamargosa, Competa, Sedella, Daimalo and other villages in the Axarquia rose up. The rebels made their stand at Frigiliana, where they were finally crushed by the governor of Vélez-Málaga. This was followed by repression and clearances. Rebel land was given to “Old Christians” (those who had never been Muslim). Many of those expelled hid in the inhospitable highlands around Cutar and became known as “Monfi” (outcasts). That region of the Axarquia became, and was to remain, “bandit country”.

Never mind. A party is the first step to reconciliation and forgiveness. Who knows, perhaps in five hundred years time, Poles and Germans will be able to celebrate the outcasts of Brzezinka (Auschwitz) by dressing up as Jews, eating latkes and dancing in the street? Time apparently is a great healer.

Moorish Mum and daughter fleeing the village watched by Christian onlookers

Moorish Mum and daughter fleeing the village. Christian onlookers cop an eyeful

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