Saint Sebastian Day was approaching and I did not have time enough to drive up to the city of San Sebastián -The Basque Country-. So, this year, instead of enjoying my beloved ‘Tamborrada‘, I decided to travel closer, to Piornal, in the Valle del Jerte (Extremadura), where the ‘JARRAMPLAS’ festival is celebrated on the same dates.
The majority of people who have heard about the ‘Jarramplas’ may barely know that it is a peculiar man dressed in a funny colourful costume and a diabolical conical mask whom everyone throws turnips at, as a way of punishment.
But the character of the Jarramplas is just the secular part of the festival. All his movements are linked to the celebration in honour of Saint Sebastian, the religious part of it. Both are inseparable to understand the ritual of this festival, which takes place on the 19th and the 20th of January.
Origin of The Jarramplas
The roots of this festival are mainly found in three theories. On the one hand, the Jarramplas could be a Christian warrior despised by people during the Muslim domination, as the Saint Sebastian biography recounts. On the other hand, it is believed he was a martyr killed by the Jewish for not renouncing Christianity. And finally, the most widely spread legend is the story of a man (or a werewolf), who was punished after having repeatedly stolen and killed cattle in the neighbourhood.
The Jarramplas character
The Jarramplas always appears beating a drum. Sometimes he does it with a mask with horns. Only then can turnips be thrown at him. Whenever he takes the mask off, the devil becomes an appreciated person worshipped by everyone.
It was not up to well into the 80s when he started to wear a body armour underneath the costume. It prevents him from being gravely injured.
Who is the Jarramplas?
The role of the Jarramplas can only be performed by locals from Piornal. They have certainly been waiting for this moment during more than a decade. Not only because it is an honour for a ‘piornalés’ to become the most traditional character of ‘El Valle del Jerte’, but they also do it to keep a promise.
In Piornal women are not barred from becoming the Jarramplas, but due to the armour and helmet he wears, they are not eager to represent this character. At least, not up to now.
Recently, another Jarramplas has begun to take place in Piornal, this one for the enjoyment of the youngest. As opposed to the traditional one, women like taking on the role of the main character here.
People place bids on carrying the saint during the processions and to the throne.
Bits of Advice & my point of view
I was astonished when I got to Piornal late in the evening of the 19th , all the streets and corners were full of turnips. The Jarramplas came out twice that day and I could not witness what happened there, so I was a little upset. Anyway, I was on time to attend the night procession in which the Jarramplas, beating the drum, walks backwards surrounded by the sacred chants. Afterwards, during the ‘reparto de Migas‘ (typical meal), to which everyone was invited, I had the chance to talk to him and I became aware of his emotion at being able to characterize the Jarramplas again, after 16 years.
When, the following day, I saw him being aggressively hit by those big turnips, I could not help but feeling sad for him. How painful!!. In spite of the armour, they suffer important blows which require some days, even weeks to heal. It is not easy to understand how these people are looking forward to ever becoming the ‘Jarramplas’.
Anyway, this festival is much more than a cruel battle against a devil-like character, it is a display of tradition, culture and folklore, celebrated in the highest village in the Valle del Jerte, Extremadura. Therefore, it may be an interesting visit aside from the Cherry Blossom Festival. You should not forget to visit the interesting Museum of The Jarramplas, where the first armours are displayed.