The Reed Seats of Galaroza: Sillas de Anea.

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A typical Sevillana chair with a seat made of “anea” or “nea”, manufactured in Galaroza, Sierra de Huelva. This is one of the chairs at Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

After the Hostal Venecia, on the Seville/Portugal road, closed its doors to its last guests, I had to look for a house to rent for my visits to Galaroza, in the Sierra de Huelva. I took a house in Calle San Sebastián, in the upper part of the town, and on my adopted street there were neighbours further up, who made and repaired the seats of Sillas Sevillanas, the typical Sevillian chairs that are not only popular in the province of Seville but also here in Huelva. In the Picadero where my horse, Chaparro, is stabled, they have both red and green personalised tables and chairs, so I was familiar with them but hadn’t seen how the seat part was made till I stayed in that street. I would see the van from the carpenter’s workshop come to deliver chairs and the anea, which was tied to the roof of the vehicle. Anea or nea, as it’s known locally, is a kind of bulrush/reedmace (Typha) that grows on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.

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Chairs on the Calle San Sebastián, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Over the last year or so a boy called Ale has been coming to help with out with the horses at Picadero La Suerte. He loves horses and has a grey Andalusian filly, Lluvia (Rain), of whom he is very proud and plans to bring on for riding. I took some photos of Ale and his little mare to make a drawing of him. After his mum had seen the photos she stopped me on the outskirts of the village to say how nice they were. I finally made the connection that my old neighbours, the women who made the seats of the chairs, were Ale’s mum, aunt and granny.  (Seems I am still joining the dots even after ten years).

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Ale with his filly, Lluvia. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

In January I asked Ale if he thought it would be alright to visit the women of his family the next time they were weaving seats. It was, so I popped up to see them one sunny but cold afternoon. The room they work in has large double doors which open out onto the Calle San Sebastián and there was a small electric heater which I don’t think did much to combat the bitter, cold air.

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Rosario, veteran of anea seat making, Galaroza. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Rosario, Ale’s granny, is retired from making the seats but can’t resist giving a hand. She started making the seats when she was only 9 years of age. Often after a day’s work doing something else, Rosario would come home and start weaving the seats and keep working on them into the night.

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Rosario with her two daughters. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

It’s now Rosario’s daughters who carry on this work; Fali, Ale’s mum and her sister Mari Loli. They started helping out when they were 13 or 14 years old. It was fascinating to finally get a proper chance to watch them more closely as they worked. They explained that now that the carpenter’s workshop that made the chairs has closed down, they tend to just do repairs for people. The chairs they were working on while I was there were from a client in Valverde del Camino.The seats can take anything from 1- 4 hours to make. The anea material, a kind of papyrus, comes from Coria del Rio in Seville province and costs about 20 euros a bunch.

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Fali keeping the seat making tradition alive. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Mari Loli keeping the seat making tradition alive. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Most houses in Galaroza have the ubiquitous sillas de anea. As they say, the chairs are “de toda la vida”. Sometimes these are painted and decorated with flowers and pastoral scenes but many are just plain solid colours or simply left unpainted. The chairs come in different sizes, from babies’ high chairs, childrens’ seats, low armless chairs or grander highly decorated and carved chairs. These are the seats of the country towns and villages of Andalusia, the furniture of the casetas of Seville’s April Fair and the chairs favoured by flamenco singers and guitarists.

The flat I rent now when I’m Galaroza is situated in the Avenida de los Carpinteros. Even in the ten years I’ve been coming to this town I have seen a marked decline in the number of carpenters working in this special street. When I first came walking here many years ago with my husband, Paul, we were reminded of the streets of country towns in Guatemala; a long row of practical, low, rustic buildings made from stone and adobe, the walls limewashed, with clay tiled roofs and great chestnut wooden doors.

Although Galaroza is a picturesque serrano town, it has always depended on agriculture and the manufacturing of furniture. That’s changing. Now as Ikea has opened it’s doors in Seville, the doors of the carpenters’ workshops have closed and the surrounding huertas or kitchen gardens tend to be looked after by the older people of the village while more and more people shop at Mercadona and Lidl in Aracena.

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Iluminado Tristancho of Picadero La Suerte tending his huerta. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Manchados de Jabugo: The rare spotted pigs of the Sierra.

Chaparro and some Iberian pigs in communion on the path from El Talenque to Las Cañadas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in communion with some Iberian pigs on the path from El Talenque to Las Cañadas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

On our countless rides on the paths of the Sierra de Huelva, it is not at all unusual for Chaparro and I to come across herds of black Iberian pigs foraging under the holm and cork oaks of the dehesa. You’ll see the pigs rooting about in the chestnut groves too.

Sometimes we spot pigs of dubious parentage; that is when the wild boar that roam the forests of the Sierra make an “illegal” incursion into a field of sows…

Iberian and wild boar cross piglets at Tierra Amarillo, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iberian and wild boar cross piglets at Tierra Amarillo, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Very occasionally we’ll see the odd ginger coloured pig with black spots. The first time we saw these was on the circular Roblecillo ride, just to the west of Galaroza. The pigs there belong to Faustino, who is often there with his wife, and who we pass on the path with his mud-spattered white Land Rover.

Riding the Roblecillo path with Chaparro: Faustino's pigs. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Riding the Roblecillo path with Chaparro: Faustino’s pigs. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

I have also seen shy, spotted pigs on the ride over Los Altos de la Dehesa, on my way from Galaroza over to El Talenque and beyond. I had always assumed that these pigs where some sort of mix of Iberian with, maybe, from way back when, some Old Spot or something like that… after all it was English people who ran the mines in the Cuenca Minera of Huelva Province so who knows, they may have brought Gloucestershire Old Spots and Tamworths with them.

Those of you who read the blog will have heard me talk of Francisco’s farm, Navalonguilla. It is one of mine and Chaparro’s favourite places to ride through. One day in September, when we were passing, Francisco asked if I had taken any photos of the piglets.

“No, what piglets? I haven’t seen them.”

“Oh they’ll be round here in the shade.”

So I dismounted and tethered Chaparro to the gate opposite, got my wee camera out and followed Francisco into the southern field where the Sweet Chestnuts grow. And there they were; lovely little hairy piglets, with black spots. Mum was there too and Dad. Francisco picked up a couple to show me and began to explain to me that these pigs were actually a specific breed: Manchados de Jabugo.

Francisco showing off one of his "jara" coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco showing off one of his “jara” coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco with a Jara coloured Manachao de Jabugo piglet. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Francisco with a Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglet. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of  Francisco's sows with her piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of Francisco’s sows with her piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The breed, along with Torbiscal and Lampiño pigs, is now in danger of extinction; this was made official in 2012 in a declaration by the Spanish Government. While there were numerous Manchados de Jabugo at the beginning of the 20th Century there are now at best only a couple of hundred left, maybe less. The breed was developed by wealthy farmers, D. José Sánchez Romero and D. Manuel García Moreno, on a farm called “El Mayorazgo” in the municipality of Jabugo, around the middle of the 19th century.

With the rise in popularity of ham from black Iberian pigs there was a perception that anything that didn’t have patas negras or black trotters, was of inferior quality – and while this may be true of the intensively farmed, factory pigs it certainly isn’t the case with the Manchados de Jabugo, who while not growing as large as the black pigs, produce excellent meat. However, the pigs cannot be hurried in any way, so are seen as being less “profitable”. The breed was also adversely affected by the Peste Porcina Africana (African Porcine Disease), which was a virus that hit Spain and Portugal in the 1960’s.

Francisco's Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo sow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco’s Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo sow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

The Manchados can be either red (Retinta) or pale blonde (Jara) with irregular, black spots. They are long and rotund, they are much hairier than the black pigs and have pale/white trotters. Their heads are wide, their snouts long and they generally have pale eyelashes. The Manchado sows are fierce mothers. Their distribution is limited to the province of Huelva.

Some of Francisco's pigs L-R Iberian pig, Manchado de Jabugo (Jara colouring) Iberian pig and another Machado de Jabugo (Retinta colouring). Photo: Jan Nimmo

Some of Francisco’s pigs L-R Iberian pig, Manchado de Jabugo (Jara colouring) Iberian pig and another Machado de Jabugo (Retinta colouring). Photo: Jan Nimmo

Nowadays there is only one farm to source legitimate bloodstock: “Los Remedios”, El Almendro, near Cabezas Rubias, south of the Sierra. Previously these could also be sourced in Galaroza at “La Dehesa” which belonged to the Diputación de Huelva but that was sold off a couple of years ago. This is a great loss to Galaroza as not only could serrano farmers source local breeds of pigs but this was also a base for the conservation of old, local varieties of fruit trees.

Riding by, a few days after my first encounter with the piglets, Francisco said that one of them was very poorly. I dismounted and went to have a look at the piglet, which was in the cortijo, in a box with a blanket and a hot water bottle. It was very weak and Francisco was sure that it wasn’t going to make it but wanted to give it a chance. Sadly it didn’t make it.

A few days later I arranged to visit the farm again, but this time with my “good” camera. Chaparro got to rest under the shade of a tree, in the company of the farm cats and Leona, Francisco’s beautiful mastín. There had been a new litter of piglets, this time they were retina coloured and were in a cortijo in another part of the farm which is hidden away at the back of the marble quarry. They were still quite tiny and rather beautiful. Francisco was justifiably proud of them. He is doing crucial work to conserve this lovely but rare breed of pig.

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Francisco of Navalonguilla with two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Francisco showing off two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco showing off two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Video clip of the piglets feeding…..