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© Procession of Villagers Wearing Galician Costumes, Laza, Spain 1978 Photograph by Antonio Muñoz Carrión

The first recorded inhabitants of the region of Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, were Celts, but over centuries other groups, including the Romans and Visigoths, took turns controlling the area. During the Middle Ages, Galicia was under the crown of Castile and it became part of the kingdom of Spain in the late 15th century. A rugged mountain range isolates Galicia from the rest of the country and even today many residents carry on a rural lifestyle with roots in the distant past. The region is often viewed as "poor and backward" by other Spaniards, but Galicians take great pride in their cultural heritage and their way of life. Their Carnival, known regionally as entroido (beginning or entrance), includes some medieval festival traditions, though it is still a vibrant part of village life today.

The small community of Laza boasts about 900 inhabitants and entroido is one of the focal points around which the townspeople organize their lives. The Carnival play is acted out through music, dance, and feasting. Ritualized aggression involves participants whipping spectators and throwing ash, flour, water, and dirt filled with ants on one another. Makeshift floats express social and political commentary as does the public reading of a testament that provides comical, satirical, and exaggerated statements about the actions of the townspeople during the past year.

© Peliqueiros Running Through Town,
Laza, Spain 1997
Photograph by Antonio Muñoz Carrión
Clang, clang, clang. Peliqueiros prance in the streets on Sunday morning and the distinctive sound of the large bells hanging from their waists tells everyone that the entroido has begun. These masqueraders, authority figures in Laza's Carnival, carry whips to hit bystanders as a reminder that it is time to play. The exact origin of their elaborate costume and mask is unknown. However, some locals say the peliqueiros' outfit and mannerisms derive from 16th-century tax collectors who carried whips and wore masks with grimacing smiles to intimidate the townspeople.

© Young Men with Sacks of Dirt Filled with Ants,
Laza, Spain 1994
Photograph by Antonio Muñoz Carrión
Monday is the "dirty" and "wild" day of Laza's Carnival. The farrapada (ragging) in the main plaza begins with one muddy rag thrown at an unsuspecting victim and quickly escalates into an all-out mud war lasting more than two hours. In the meantime a few young men go into the countryside to dig up anthills and collect the ant-filled dirt, which they shovel into sacks and carry back to town. They douse the ants with vinegar to wake them up and then run into the plaza flinging dirt and ants into the air, into peoples' faces, or right down their backs and into their clothes.

© La Morena,
Laza, Spain 1992
Photograph by Antonio Muñoz Carrión
The morena, or cow masquerader, appears briefly during the ant-throwing episode. This character acts like a mad cow loose in the square, butting people, lifting women's skirts, and adding to the sense of chaos. Its carved wooden mask is attached to one end of a long pole that the masker manipulates with aggressive gestures as he makes his way through the crowd.

At dusk on Tuesday afternoon people gather in the main plaza for one of the last events of Laza's Carnival. The testamento do burro (testament of the donkey), presents a satirical and mocking recounting of scandalous events that occurred in Laza during the past year. Prepared and read by the testamenteiro, it is a rhymed verse written in the Galician form of Spanish. Using a fictional framework, the reader verbally "distributes" body parts of the donkey to the townspeople he is talking about. For example, a man who lost his pig from the back of his truck on the way to market received the eyes of the donkey so that he might keep better track of his animals.

© Testamenteiro Riding on Donkey,
Laza, Spain 1987
Photograph by Antonio Muñoz Carrión

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