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600-Year-Old Tradition : Women Rule Spain Town--Once a Year

March 01, 1987|LESLIE CRAWFORD | Reuters

ZAMARRAMALA, Spain — Kitchen sinks and diapers appear to be a woman's lot in macho Spain, though in the tiny hamlet of Zamarramala, women swig wine and burn male effigies--but only once a year.

In a tradition dating back to the 13th Century, the men of this hillside village overlooking Segovia solemnly hand over power to the married women of Zamarramala.

"For two days, we rule," an elderly woman said.

"I tremble like custard as their fiesta approaches," her husband added, tongue-in-cheek.

During two days in February, the women elect two women mayors, give orders to the priest and constable and dance in the village square. Men are chased with large cushion pins, called matahombres , or men killers.

Village elders say the festivity dates back to 1227, when the citadel of Segovia was held by the Moors and the fearless women of Zamarramala led the assault to recapture the fortress.

Token Feminism

Early Spanish feminists?

"Feminism cuts little ice here," said Maria Esther Pablos, who served as one of the mayors during the festival, which fell on Feb. 7-8 this year.

"The fiesta is a token show of gratitude for the work we do the . . . rest of the year," she added.

Her traditional mayors' attire--a long, full skirt, a tight, embroidered corset and a lace veil topped by a sequinned hat--did not suggest women's liberation.

But, feminists or not, the women are out to have a good time, bobbing and weaving through the narrow village streets to traditional music, knocking back carafes of wine in bars and eating spiced sausages.

Busloads of women from Madrid, 55 miles to the south, pour into Zamarramala to join the fun.

The celebration begins on the feast day of a 3rd-Century martyr and patron of married women, St. Agueda, whose breasts were cut off by her executioners, the same fate said to have befallen a Zamarramala woman captured by the Moors.

Burn Male Effigy

Women carry a statue of St. Agueda in a lively procession to the village church watched by their men, many of whom wear aprons to mark the occasion.

They then burn a life-size male effigy in the village square amid hoots of laughter and much applause.

At this year's festival the dummy was dubbed Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, chastised for not including any women in his Cabinet.

"The women of Zamarramala could teach him a thing or two," one woman said.

But do the women get a real break? Do the husbands do the cooking, for instance?

"You must be joking," one reveler said. "I leave everything done beforehand. My husband couldn't fry an egg to save his life."

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