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LIFE IN SPAIN

IN IMAGES: How one Spanish village pelts the ‘devil’ with turnips to drive away evil

Every January, residents of a small town in western Spain pelt a devil-like character portrayed by a young man with thousands of rock-hard turnips, a tradition that aims to drive away evil.

IN IMAGES: How one Spanish village pelts the 'devil' with turnips to drive away evil
23,000 kilos of turnips will be pelted at the person dressed up as the Jarramplas. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

“Jarramplas” may not be the only bizarre festival taking place in Spain in January (horses running through fire or people dressed up as eerie trees, for those of you wondering) but it is certainly a candidate to Spain’s weirdest fiesta.

That’s because every January, residents of the small Spanish town of Piornal pelt a devil-like character portrayed by a young man with thousands of rock-hard turnips in a tradition that aims to drive away evil.

The centuries-old festival of Jarramplas is celebrated every January 19th and 20th in this village in Spain’s Extremadura region, home to around 1,500 people.


Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP

Portraying the “Jarramplas” – especially on the second day of the festival –  is considered such an honour that there is a waiting list of 21 years.

Each year, several young men are selected to take turns to dress up as the devil-like character by wearing a costume made from colourful strips of fabric with body armour underneath, and a mask with great horns.

As they walk the streets and beat a drum, hundreds of villagers repeatedly hurl turnips at them from close range.   

The exact origin of the festival is not known, although various theories exist.

One widely accepted one is that the “Jarramplas” represents a cattle thief who was once punished by local residents.   

The tradition has come to symbolise the expulsion of everything bad.    

Last year’s celebrations had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but 2022’s edition is going ahead, and 23,000 kilos of turnips have been prepared for the occasion. 

Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP

Former Piornal mayor Ernesto Agudiez has said the purpose of the festival is to “drive away bad spirits, so that we have a good year and a good cherry harvest”.

About 70 percent of Piornal’s residents earn a living from cherry farming.

‘Hit him hard’

David Amado is one of 23 men, aged 18-30, who portrayed the “Jarramplas” in previous editions and wore the costume which weighs over 40 kilos (88 pounds).    

“If I can do it again, I will,” he said delighted, recalling when it was his turn playing the “Jarramplas” for about 20 minutes.  

“It does not hurt. The armour is well prepared, so you don’t feel the impact much. It is more the fatigue of wearing so many kilos,” said Sergio Calle Alonso, who portrayed the character shortly after Amado.

Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP

Piornal’s two tonnes of turnips are left at strategic places across the village to be hurled at the “Jarramplas”.    

Portraying the creature on January 20th, the second day of the festival, is considered a great honour, for it is the day of Saint Sebastián, whom the village honours.

As such, only one or two men get to be pelted by turnips on January 20th, instead of the 20-or-so on the first day.  


Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP

“One of the most important things in life is dressing as ‘Jarramplas’,” said Ismael Vicente, who donned the costume in 2017 and faced the wrath of his turnip-throwing neighbours.

Sergio Díaz Prieto, an insurance salesman who portrayed the character in 2004 after an 11-year wait, said there was an art to being a good “Jarramplas”.  

It “means playing the drum a lot, and walking with a swagger, not like a statue,” he said.

“But above all, a good Jarramplas is one who exposes himself and gives the opportunity for people to hit him hard.”

By Álvaro Villalobos / AFP

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LIFE IN SPAIN

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand Tails.com.

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham

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