The exact origins of the tradition of the Giants (els Gegants) are difficult to identify and date. However, the first appearances of disproportionate puppets with a humanoid figure date back to the Middle Ages, during courtesan festivals throughout Western Europe. Its figures, made of wood, paraded and danced to the sound of a unique melody.
The Giants Gegants
In the 14th century, the Giants were included in the Corpus Christi processions (veneration of the Eucharist).
The first appearance of the Giants in Catalonia dates back to 1424 (according to archivist research) in Barcelona. During the Corpus procession, the figures of David and Goliath and of Sant Cristofol (giant protector of travellers) appear. Their intervention in the procession then allows the Church to make the biblical figures accessible to the crowds. The Giants then embody an “educational” dimension.
From then on, the parades were enriched with new figures:
– In the 16th century we see the appearance of Giants
– In the 19th century, the "capgrossos", the big heads, figures with a human-sized body and a disproportionately large head, were invited to parades
– Also in the 19th century, the tradition of the Giants goes beyond the framework of the religious procession and becomes an integral part of local festivals and carnivals. It is at the same time that the Giants take an important cultural place, where each municipality gives them a local identity dimension
In 1902, the city of Barcelona organized the 1st “Concurs de gegants nanos i monstros tipichs”, competition of giants, dwarfs and typical monsters. The opportunity for neighboring towns to present figures who are symbols of their identity. The manufacture of giants therefore becomes a popular initiative.
The political context of the 20th century altered the tradition of the Giants…but did not make it disappear. The Giants simply change their face. One then manufactures Giants with the effigy of the Catholic Monarchs. Between 1939 and 1950, under Francoism, the Giants were paraded during the Corpus procession and during the Liberation celebrations. After the fall of the Franco regime, the Giants regained their typical character.
The population recovers the forgotten figures of local entities and again manufactures Giants "in their colors". The Giants then embody more or less known local personalities, or symbolize an activity specific to the municipality.
In 1984, the Association of the Giants of Catalonia (Agrupació De Geganters de Catalunya) was born, and coordinates the events around the Gegants and Capgrossos. Today there are between 3000 and 3500 Giants across the Catalan countries.
Typology of Giants
Be careful, the Giants are classified according to a very specific typology!
There are indeed different types of figures, with very specific construction or anatomical characteristics!
The traditional Giant responds to human physical characteristics, except the size, gigantic. It is driven by a pilot inside the wooden structure. He is the symbol of his commune and bears the features of kings or local personalities.
The "Ggantet" is a small giant. Its proportions are the same as those of a classic giant, but it is designed to be carried by a child.
The “Gegantó” is smaller than the traditional giant and larger in size than a human being. It might have been invented to facilitate access to certain events with gigantic figures, where the traditional giants could not go (party halls, courtyards).
The "Gegant de motxilla" is a giant without a frame or wooden easel, carried like a backpack.
The "Gegant manotes" is characterized by its absence of "solid" arms and is simply provided with fabric arms (empty sleeves).
To the giants are added smaller anthropomorphic figures, but just as picturesque. They have different names depending on the province: capgrossos, cabuts, cabecuts, caparrots, nans and nanets. They are characterized by their human size and their disproportionate head. Their function is generally to maintain order in processions and parades. Their interventions are skilfully orchestrated, often by theatrical groups.
Today, every opportunity is good for the Giants to move. Carnivals, Festes Majores (Feasts of the Patron Saints), processions, markets are animated by the presence of gigantic figures. The Agrupació De Geganters de Catalunya also publishes a giant world calendar every year (to be found on gegants.cat).
The colles never move without their appointed orchestra (cobla), because music and dance are inseparable from the parade of giants. We thus find the typical instruments of a Catalan cobla: the "flabiol", the tambourine, the "gralla", the "dolçaina" and the traditional percussions.