A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Castells in Terrassa; Mutual Trust in Action

My host in Mollet, Bori, who is part of the base in Mollet's castell association

Josep, or Bori as he's known to friends, is a sport's fan. Not only does he enjoy football (soccer), as so many in the world do, but he has even played organized American football, and he watches Spanish basketball on TV. But the sport Bori is most passionate about is not considered a sport at all by many who practice it, and no one who practices it considered it a sport until recently, when competition began among some associations. The non-sport referred to is that of building castells, or human towers, which is actually an ancient tradition in Catalunya.

Bori's association, or 'colla', was not active the weekend I visited him in Mollet, north of Barcelona, so he took me to nearby Terrassa, where three associations were cooperating (and not competing) to build towers from their members. The plaza in Terrassa is well known among castell colles as the place where a record-breaking ten level tower was built by Minyons de Terrassa. Another Terrassa colla, 'Castellers de Terrassa', was joined on the day I was there by an association from Barcelona (Vila de Grácia) and one from Tarragona, which is where I saw my first castell with my friend Nikki.

While walking from the car to the plaza I asked Bori some questions regarding the safety of building castells; those who reach the highest levels of  a human tower are tiny children, usually girls. Bori said that there have been accidents; an elderly man was killed at the base of one castell not so long ago when others fell on him, and a little girl was killed a few years ago after a fall. But, according to Bori, statistics show that participating in a castell is no more dangerous than playing a sport like football, where injuries and, on  rare occasions, even deaths occur. He also said that the highest three levels of a castell,  usually made up of girls, must now wear special helmets to protect them and others if they should fall; the helmets are made of a material hard enough to protect the wearer but not so hard that they will injure someone else.There is also extensive training involved in building a castell to prevent accidents.

I did notice that whatever dangers may be inherent in castell building, no one seems to notice them, least of all the kids who are still playing and laughing even as the castell begins to rise before them.

As the colles gathered, each in their respective colors; Terrassa in light blue, Tarragona in violet, and Barcelona in dark blue; members were wrapping themselves in black waistbands that are not only decorative, but help those in the foundation of a castell to keep their bodies firm and straight. Each association has its own band made up of drums and a wooden horn with a Middle-Ages sound, and these bands warmed up before leading their respective colla down the street to the plaza.

Before the castell is built, members survey a written plan that tells them where their position is in the castell, then the largest part of the tower begins to form. This is the base, which gives the higher and more impressive levels of the castell stability. Members from other castells often help to form the base, and even bystanders (myself included) are welcome to join in. According to Bori, the exception to this mutual aid is when two rival groups are competing; then each group is on its own.
Depending on the structure of the castell, other members clamber over the base to form the second level, then a third, etc. As the tower goes up, the members that form it  are lighter, and generally speaking, younger. The highest levels are almost always girls; they have a lower center of gravity, and have a finesse and sense of balance that most boys lack.
Meanwhile, as the castell goes up, the band plays. I was amazed at how fast the tower is built, there is no pause; as one level is being formed the next level is already on its way up. This is not just a matter of aesthetics; those in the middle levels of a castell are under intense pressure to keep
their own balance while maintaining a steady platform for those above. I saw many of those in these mid levels trembling in their effort to hold everything together. Finally, three youngsters scramble up the castell with  confidence and agility  to form the highest two levels, and once the highest has reached her place, she puts her arm in the air to indicate the castell's completion. The band has meanwhile hit a note and held it for this moment, then the kids slide down the castell and it dismantles with smiles all around.

Silvia, a friend of Bori, and also a member of a castell association
      Castell colles do many other things together; they are almost like an extended family to one another; and they are made up of people of all ages, sizes, and social classes. According to Bori, a real bond is formed among them.
And these associations present an interesting study in sociology; the highest levels of a castell are formed by the smallest children, mostly girls. As they age, they move lower in the castell; the biggest and strongest men are at the lowest positions. The veterans who unremarkably form the base are however also the teachers and the foundation for those who climb higher than they do.

Castell members often go through generations as members

The amateur with the stocking cap? Yes, it's me.

The castells comprising levels of two are less stable and more difficult to build

The heroes celebrate
The first 3 X 10 castell was done in Terrassa by 'Minyons de Terrassa'


  1. Hi Ken! Happy that you discovered the Castellers! Look, here is your video ; ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9UcOSDcKCA

  2. Post in Catalan... http://blogs.timeout.cat/guillemcarbonell/2012/05/08/ken-schroeder-el-peregri-quaker-de-pas-per-bcn-viatjo-a-peu-fins-a-egipte-i-porto-2-peticions-de-pau/

  3. Post in English... http://barcelonaisdifferent.blogspot.com.es/2012/05/interview-to-ken-shroeder-quaker.html

  4. And in Spanish ; ) http://barcelonaesdiferente.blogspot.com.es/2012/05/entrevista-ken-shroeder-pelegrino.html

  5. Thanks again, Guillem! I'm following your blog, especially these next few days; let's hope things remain peaceful, but let's also hope a strong message is sent for mutual aid rather than power grabbing.

  6. So happy to see that you've been following Catalan culture and that by chance your first Castells were seen in Tarragona on St Jordi's day with me! :-) You've posted some wonderful photos so I imagine you've cleared your camera onto a pendrive at some point!Keep walking,keep talking and may many others share in your good company and help you towards your mission for peace. A big hug, Nikki xxx