The Andalusians

Spain Table of Contents

The Andalusians cannot be considered an ethnically distinct people because they lack two of the most important markers of distinctiveness: an awareness of a common, distant mythological origin, and their own language. Nevertheless, it is clear that they do constitute a culturally distinct people, or region, that has become increasingly important in an industrial and democratic society.

The Andalusians live in Spain's eight southernmost provinces: Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaen, Malaga, and Seville. In 1986 their total population stood at 6.9 million. In general, it had grown more slowly than had the country's total population, and the region continued to be sparsely populated. Since 1960, the region's share of total population had declined, despite birth rates ranging from 20 to 25 per 1,000, about 40 percent higher than the Spanish average. The causes of the depopulation of the region can be found in the distinctive characteristics of its culture and economy: the large, poorly utilized estates and the agro-towns; rural poverty and landlessness; a rigid class structure and sharp class conflict; and emigration to Spain's industrial cities and to other parts of Europe. Most descriptions of Andalusia begin with the landownership system, for the most powerful forces in the region have for centuries been the owners of the large, economically backward estates, called latifundios. These wide expanses of land held by relatively few owners had their origins in landowning patterns that stretch back to Roman times; in grants of land made to the nobility, to the military orders, and to the church during the Reconquest (Reconquista); and in laws of the nineteenth century by which church and common lands were sold in large tracts to the urban middle class. The latifundio system is noted for two regressive characteristics: unproductive use of the land (agricultural production per capita in Andalusia was only 70 percent of that in Spain as a whole during the late 1980s) and unequal and absentee landownership patterns (1 percent of the agricultural population owned more than half of the land; the landed aristocracy made up no more than 0.3 percent of the population). The workers of this land, called jornaleros, were themselves landless; they did not even live on the land. Instead, they resided in what Spaniards refer to as pueblos, but with populations ranging as high as 30,000, these population centers were far too large to be considered "villages" or "towns." Anthropologists have coined the term "agro-towns" to describe such urban areas, because they served almost solely as a habitat for agricultural day-workers and had themselves declined in economic, cultural, and political significance.

This economic and cultural system produced a distinctive outlook, or perspective, that involved class consciousness and class conflicts as well as significant out-migration. In contrast to the much smaller farm towns and villages of northern Spain, where the land was worked by its owners, where parcels were of more nearly equal size, and where class differentiations were softened, class distinctions in the agro-towns of Andalusia stood out with glaring clarity. Devices used in other parts of rural Spain to diffuse class conflict, such as kinship and religious rituals, were of little value here. The families of the landless farmers lived at, or near, the poverty level, and their relations with the landed gentry were marked by conflict, aggression, and hostility. The two main forces that kept Andalusia's rural society from flying apart were external to the region. The first was the coercive power of the state, the political power emanating from Madrid, as exemplified by Spain's rural constabulary, the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil). The second was the safety valve offered by the opportunities to migrate to other parts of Spain, or to other countries in Western Europe. This freedom resulted in the remaining facet of Andalusian culture: the will to leave the region behind. Much of this migration was seasonal; in 1982, for example, 80,000 Spaniards, mostly Andalusians, migrated to France for the wine harvest. Much of the migration, however, consisted of entire families who intended to remain in their new home for long periods, or perhaps forever. This is why Andalusia during the 1960s lost some 14 percent of its population, perhaps the greatest European exodus in peacetime in this century.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress