After that first update, I felt like I should actually talk about other local games we have here in Cantabria, that perhaps are more peculiar and a bit more fun and interesting for you dear readers. I cannot help but remember other typical sports from farther up lands that have some deep roots in their people, like those Scottish games of throwing lugs of stone, or that English one of rolling cheese down the hill. Those things make an identity, they are part of a community, and sometimes we do forget about them. Why? Is not throwing cheese down the road something nice to remember? A few days ago, I saw the new Disney movie, Brave, and since then I have not been able to get that idea of local history, of tradition out of my head. (The film is a great fun and interesting to see if you care about my opinion, by the way). So, this is my way of paying tribute to my heritage I suppose, and at the same time to share that sportive spirit that is consuming everything lately.
Some people have criticised me for not dedicating this post to the amazingly huge bowling tradition we have in here. This is true, we have at least four different modalities of bowls and one could say that the bowling league is perhaps the second most seen sport after football. However, I am sure you would agree with me that game of bowls, despite its peculiarities is at the end of the day, a game of bowls and nothing more. So, I tried to be a bit more surprising, and I found three sports that are maybe even more “cantabros” than bowling. Hence, here you have Aluche, Salto Pasiego and Palas.
This game is the typical fighting sport any culture owns. In Cantabria it has been practised since the late antiquity. Its origins are unclear but they seem to be linked with the Celtic roots of the area and their traditions of bare-handed fighting. Indeed, the Roman writer Estrabon, around the year 1 AD mentioned in his texts this type of fighting with no weapons amongst the Celtic tribes. Thus this is a fighting technique that implies grip and strength, nothing more.
There are evidences that suggest this game was a standard practice by the Middle Ages. Carvings in Romanesque monuments showing men fighting in such a way have been found in the collegiate church of St. Cruz de Castañeda, St. Martín de Elines, or St. María de Yermo.
Since then the game has developed in many different ways depending on the municipality of Cantabria you are in. Nowadays the more diverse types of the games can be found in the areas of Liebana, Campoo and the valley of river Pas.
This is another example of working tool that turned into a pastime. This game is practised mainly in the valley of river Pas. It consists of leaping with the help of the staff, called “palu” or “palancu”, and it was used by farmers to overpass geographical accidents like walls, rivers or bushes. It is similar to a local Frisian sport called Fierljeppen.
It was first recorded properly in a written source by Pascual Madoz, in his Geographical-Stadictic-Historical Dictionary of Spain and Its Overseas Lands, in 1861, although it seem clear this was a tradition quite older than that. There are further evidences on the existence of this practice in the 19th Century: such is the title (Salto Pasiego) of a “zarzuela” written by Luis de Eguilaz and Manuel Fernández Caballero.
As a sport, it seems to have its roots at Nuestra Señora de Valvanuz (Selaya, Cantabria), patron saint of the “pasiegos” or inhabitants of the valleys of river Pas. It appears that the men will gather around the little hermit and bet on who was able to go quicker around the building by jumping with the stick. Nonetheless, sad moments in history have sad consequences for people too. By the time of the Civil War this pastime went on decline as the military forces argued that stick could be used as a weapon against the authority. But, the tradition was never lost. So, in 1946 some games of Salto Pasiego were held in the Magdalena peninsula, where the different modalities of the sport were catalogued and recorded.
Finally, just as a curiosity, the actual record on this sport is 9’10 metres (distance wise) done by Juan Manuel Fernández Sarro in 2001, and no one has been able to beat it since!
“Jugas a las palas” is a very popular here in Santander nowadays. Actually, this is a rather recent game in comparison with the other I have been speaking about today. It was originated c. 1928, at the beaches of the Magdalena peninsula by Mariano Pérez and his friends when attempting to play a beach tennis taking advantage of the wrecked lost tennis balls from the club just above the beach.
This is a cooperation game that two or three people can play. The players are located in front of each other, giving a distance of three to eight metres between them. The basic concept of it, is to hit the ball with the whole wooden racket (similar to that of padel tennis) to pass the ball without letting it drop to the floor. Each pass counts as a point, so the higher number of passes, the better. The sportive ideals behind this game are strength, dexterity, precision, but also modesty and team-work.
I hope you have enjoyed this two blog updates, and here I leave a question for you: These are the traditional-rural sports we play in Cantabria, what about your ones? I would love to see your comments on that aspect!