Ibiza heritage: The tools of ancient trades

In today’s world, the word technology is always pinned to electronic machinery, but technology existed long before circuit boards and pixels. The root of the word comes from the ancient Greek tekhnē, meaning art or craft and logia, meaning knowledge. That is to say, technology is developed by people crafting their tools for use in their area of expertise. The master weaver is as much a technologist as the computer scientist. Here in Ibiza, the ancient ways have left ghostly traces in today’s world where farmers and craftspeople continue to use technologies developed over millennia.

Ibiza has had many industries to sustain it, way before the invention of mass tourism. Almond, carob, olive oil and above all, salt were the island’s main exports in eras past and the tools of those trades are evident in the many ancient farmhouses scattered across the countryside. Olive and almond presses were hewn from enormous Sabina wood trunks and fitted with grindstones rubbed smooth by many hands. The technology that makes an olive press work is fairly simple and yet seen through today’s eye the contraption is quite literally a work of art worthy of preservation.

Lime ovens are also visible across the Ibiza landscape. Dug half into the ground and half into a hillock, these pits were lined with stone, stuffed with firewood and big chunks of solid lime rock. Tended to over a few days, the lime was burned at temperatures reaching 2000 degrees Celsius until all that was left was a pile of white pebbles. It sounds like an easy process, but in fact requires great skill. Undercook or overcook the stone and you’ve wasted days of work. In Ibiza today, there is a family-based near Santa Agnes who still make lime in the old way. Blakstad Design Consultants are their main client, buying up almost all of their stock before it’s even been packaged.

While salt was once known as white gold, the process of harvesting it is gruelling work. Usually, the harvest occurs during the hottest part of the summer and before machines were available, it was collected by people – scooped up into handwoven baskets and carried to a collection station. Sweat mixed with salt would stream down the workers’ faces and into their eyes as the Ibiza sun beat down on their backs. But today, those handwoven baskets can be seen in homes across the world stacked with firewood, magazines or toys. Salt is generally collected with more modern tools these days, although some of the ancient ones are still in use.

Weaving features heavily in the traditional crafts of Ibiza. From strappy local espadrilles to woven rope seats of hand-carved chairs, fish traps and the ubiquitous Ibiza basket with leather handles. If natural fibre can be stretched into thread, it will be woven into something. While the tools of these crafts are similar across the world the results are uniquely Ibiza. Each pattern has a meaning and each basket features its own design optimised for its use.

Music is essential to island life and was central well before the advent of the superstar DJ. Castanets, drums and flutes were hand carved and painted and are still used in ceremonies today. Exquisite detail is given to these instruments decorated with ancient symbols harking back to the days of the Phoenicians. The art of making these objects might slowly be dying but the art of playing them is strongly embedded in the culture. Local village festivals always feature a ball pages or a peasant’s dance where young people perform traditional songs on instruments passed down through generations.

Although some ancient ways have been lost to the conveniences of newer technologies, pride in the local traditions is strong. Most festivals and many markets feature a stall where artisans work their specialities and are happy to talk through the process. The ball pages is a unique experience where many of these ancient crafts are visibly used in the way they were always intended. Despite the relentless march towards the future. the people of Ibiza will always be proud continue to keep their culture alive.

© Copyright – Blakstad Ibiza | Photos: Conrad White

© Copyright – Blakstad Ibiza | Photos: Conrad White