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‘Patum’: the beat of a local festival with international status

‘Patum’ is a popular festival celebrated every year during Corpus Christi in the Catalan city of Berga. In this town, the earliest reference to this festival dates from 1454 although the celebration has its origins in pre-Christian festivities. During five days, the streets of Berga are transformed into a massive stage. The ‘Patum’ festival,  which was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, comprises several parts and is a mixture of sound, fire and parades of allegorical and traditional figures such as ‘Guites’ (mule dragons), the Eagle and giant-headed dwarves. All the figures join to perform the final dance, the Tirabol. This years’ ‘Patum’ will take place from the 25th to the 28th of May.

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25 May 2016 10:23 AM

by

ACN / Ivet Puig

Barcelona (CNA).-It is said that if you have not lived the ‘Patum’, it is very difficult to understand it. Maybe because we find its roots in the theatrical performances of the 14th century or maybe because it is a truly unique festival that only Berga, a small town in central Catalonia, has been able to preserve intact throughout the centuries. The ‘Patum’ main celebrations last for five days, from Wednesday to Sunday and, as it forms part of the Easter cycle, the dates vary each year so it always falls between May and June. The festival comprises several parts and is a mixture of sound, fire and parades of allegorical and traditional figures such as ‘Guites’ (mule dragons), the Eagle and giant-headed dwarves. The town will host thousands of people throughout the week and a multitude of feelings that make this festivity a challenge to describe in words.


The ‘Patum’ is a mixture of several elements: the ritualized performances by different groups  known as comparses, the music that accompanies them, the Festival’s natural settings which include the main square of the town and the adjoining streets, the time of the year and a crowd that does not want to miss a thing. Over these five days more than 100,000 people will visit Berga, which is six times the current population of the town. 

Due to the uniqueness of this festival, it was declared Oral and Immaterial Heritage of Mankind by the UNESCO in 2005. Albert Rumbo, from the organizing committee, explains that at the beginning they thought “that this was going to increase tourism a lot” but actually, there was not a notable difference. However, Rumbo states that this international award has increased foreign media interest and that this festival “is not only for people from Berga, but for all the Catalans and the international public”. As for the promotion of the festival he points out that “it is not necessary as the festival is hugely popular in itself”.

Although every year the ‘Patum’ follows the same rituals and traditions, the locals from Berga state that every year is different from the one before. To give readers a hand CNA presents the key moments if you want to experience the ‘Patum’ 2016 by yourself, and become a real “patumaire” (‘Patum’ fan).

The plens (fire demons)

Probably the apotheosis of the festival. It happens during the full ‘Patum’, which is on Thursday and Sunday. The street lights in St. Peters Square are turned off, the demons known as ‘Plens’ are distributed throughout the crowd and, when the music starts, they light the firecrackers they wear in their costumes. The square becomes a real inferno full of fire and smoke and a thousand firecrackers explode during the performance as demons and the crowd spin around the square. 

The Àliga (Eagle)

One of the most emotional moments which also happens during the Full ‘Patum’. The Àliga is a wooden eagle which dances according to the notes of its distinguished music. It is one of the greatest choreographic values of the entire event. While the Àliga is dancing the whole square remains in silence until the end of the music when it gets more animated and the crowd moves together with the figure. It is one of the local’s favourite moments of the ‘Patum’. This performance shares many similarities with a typical Renaissance dance, which could date back to the 16th century, although its melody seems to originate from a Gregorian hymn.

Giants dancing to Springsteen 

There are four giants, two couples, at the ‘Patum’ which this year are celebrating their 150th and 125th anniversary. In order to commemorate these dates, the group responsible for the giants and also the organising committee of the festivity (Patronat de la Patum) have set up several activities. Among them, an agreement that both entities have reached with Bruce Springsteen, who has handed over the rights to the song “If I should fall behind”. This song will be arranged by the director and composer Sergi Cuenca and the giants will dance to it only once on the Sunday of Corpus during the Full ‘Patum’.

This song has been chosen by the group responsible for the giants as they used to imagine themselves dancing to the song with the giants in their meetings. Besides, one of the members, Albert Dorna, a baker that made a giant figure of Bruce Springsteen a few years ago had already met “the Boss”. He acted as the broker on this occasion to access the rights to the song. 

Full ‘Patum’

The Full ‘Patum’ takes place in St. Peters square on Thursday and Sunday at 9.30 pm. It consists in four cycles (‘salts’). The ‘Plens’ (demons) perform after the second and the fourth cycles, with the ‘Tirabols’ at the very end. In every cycle all of the groups perform one after the other and in the same order. First come the Turcs i Caballets (the Turks and Horses), the Maces (demons wielding maces), the Guites (dragons), the Àliga (Eagle), the Nans Vells (Old Dwarves), the Gegants (Giants) and the Nans Nous (New Dwarves).

These performances would originally have been interludes that were enacted during the Corpus processions and whose purpose was to educate the people and improve their morals, recreating teachings from the Holy Scriptures. However, as time went by, these interludes lost their original catechetical intention, with only the more festive parts of the performances remaining.

Daytime Patum

Daytime ‘Patum’ (‘Patum’ de Lluïment) is the same as the Full ‘Patum’ but with a few differences. There is just one cycle, the ‘Plens’ do not perform and there are no Tirabols at the end. The daytime ‘Patum’ starts after High Mass, at 12 midday on Thursday and Sunday and it is performed with a certain solemnity by the groups so the public looking on are more spectators rather than participants. Some of the groups also wear elegant costumes. It is a quieter and more family friendly ‘Patum’.

Passacarrers’ 

Passacarrers (processions) are held on Wednesday and Saturday evening and, on this occasion, the festival is not concentrated in the square as it is a procession that moves around the streets of Berga. Only the Maces, the Guites and the Giants perform on the ‘Passacarrers’, and obviously also the musicians. The route can vary every year but it always ends with Tirabols in St. Peter square. These processions are multitudinous and can last up to 9 hours.

The Tirabols are like the closing party of every event in the ‘Patum’ and are always held in St. Peters Square. Guites (Dragons) and Giants dance together with the crowd to a very animated, melodic and strong music. In this case, musicians have the power to decide when the Patum finishes each day and they play with the reactions of the public who knows exactly how to respond to the songs.

Children’s Patum

The boys and girls from Berga perform their own Full ‘Patum’ on Friday. They have exactly the same groups and figures but scaled down to the children sizes. There are also ‘Plens’ and ‘Tirabols’ at the end. All the children from Berga has the opportunity to participate in the groups (comparses) through a draw. 

The Children’s ‘Patum’ is much younger.  It was given official status in 1956, the first year when the ‘Patum’ was performed on Corpus Friday. The rehearsals for the Children’s ‘Patum’ last for two weeks, during which the town children learn the various dances. It is considered to be a real “school” for future ‘Patum’ performers.

Mireia Castillo, who is from Berga, explains that they wait the whole year for the Corpus Wednesday to arrive and that she feels so emotional when on Sunday, after ‘Tirabols’, the Giants retire to the town hall and she knows she won’t see them again until the following year. Jordi Picas, also from Berga, explains that one of his favourite moments is when, after the ‘Plens’ performance, they turn on the street lights and it has been a good “salt”.

So there are many ways to enjoy the ‘Patum’ and many different feelings to live. But among the differences there is a common element that lends its name to the festival and that is its heartbeat: the ‘Tabal’ or the Drum. There is a person dedicated exclusively to playing it during the five days, who is called ‘Tabaler’ (the drummer). Documented since 1621, and rebuilt in 1726, it was the only instrument used in the ‘Patum’, marking the rhythm of the performances, until the 17th century. Today it is the only part present in all the events. PA-TUM, PA-TUM … is the rhythm of this unique festival. 

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  • Patum

  • One of the key moment of 'Patum' festival in the town of Berga (by ACN)
'Patum' a local festival with international status