Benamahoma is located on the western slope of the Sierra del Pinar, between the towns of El Bosque and Grazalema to which it belongs as a hamlet, in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, province of Cádiz, Andalusia.
Of Arabic origin, its name comes from “Bena Mahummad”, translated as “sons of Mahoma”.
The first component, “Bena”, was inherited from Arabic abna (plural of “ibn”, which means “son”), and the second one, “Mahummad”, from Old Spanish Mahoma.
After the Reconquest of the mountains by Christian people, in 1609 the last Mudejar and Moorish inhabitants were expelled. But throughout its history, the inhabitants of this small district in Grazalema, have kept the Arabic sound <<h>>, similar to a soft <<j>>, and it is not unusual that the name of the village is pronounced as “Benamahóma” and “Benamáhoma”.
At the beginning this urban centre depended on the Four Villas in the Mountains (Cuatro Villas de la Serranía) until September 11th 1810, when, basing on the heroic resistance they made against the French invader, its foreign people asked the Regency in Spain to depend exclusively on Grazalema. As a justification, the guerrilla Miguel and Diego Castillo assured that before then, on February 13th, they had killed two horses, two men and had fatally wounded ten French people.
Traditions and Popular Festivals
The town council of Grazalema s made up by a diversity of population concentrated in Grazalema as the centre, in the Hamlet of Benamahoma and in the rural scattered villages of the Ribera de Gaidóvar.
This fact makes it possible a diverse cultural and anthropological variety which is expressed in the celebration of its traditional festivals, linked to the deepest religious feeling of its people, and the sensitivity that these men and women had in order to keep their most ancient customs.
The annual calendar of celebrations starts in February, with the arrival of Carnavales, (Carnival), nowadays more present in Benamahoma than in Grazalema. The comparsas and chirigotas (singing groups and singing joke groups respectively) compose lyrics full of irony about everyday events.
Next celebration in the calendar is the Holy Week (Semana Santa). It is then when religious brotherhoods take in procession the fantastic religious heritage they have both in Grazalema and Benamahoma. The religious brotherhoouds of “Padre Jesús y María Santísima de los Dolores”, “El Cristo de la Escalera”, “El Cristo de la Veracruz and Sangre de Cristo”, “Nuestro Señor El Cautivo”, “Jesús Crucificado” who is carried by women on their shoulders and “Nuestro Señor Jesucristo El Resucitado”, delight both devotees and visitors.
During the month of May we can highlight the Religious procession of Santa Ángela de la Cruz, whose father was a descendant of the people from Grazalema. Likewise, during this month the traditional pilgrimage Romería de la de San Isidro Labrador, takes place, whose religious brotherhood is an example of the humidity and tradition of the country people.
Festivities of Corpus Christi, Las hogueras de San Juan (Bonfire of Saint John), are kept as well and on May 2nd the worship to San Atanasio, Patron Saint of Grazalema. In Benamahoma, they celebrate the religious procession of Saint Anthony of Padua, who is the Patron Saint of this hamlet.
During the month of June the Romería de San Francisco de Asís(Religious Pilgrimage of San Francisco de Asis) takes place in Benamahoma.
But doubtlessly the most outstanding celebration is the festival taking place at the end of July devoted to Virgen del Carmen. Many people are devotee of Señora del Monte Carmelo, and it is also important the String Bull Monday (el Lunes del Toro de Cuerda), a thousand-year-old tradition according to historians and whose legacy has been inherited by the String Bull on Resurrection Sunday in Benamahoma.
On the first weekend in August Benamahoma remembers its historic past with the traditional fights between Moors and Christians, in honour of its Patron Saint, Saint Anthony of Padua. During this month the Town Festival (Fiestas Mayores de Grazalema) is also celebrated. And on September 8th, the Virgen de los Ángeles, Patron Saint of Grazalema, is worshipped.
Another of the essential events is the Recreación Histórica “GRAZALEMA 1832”, (Historic Recreation: “GRAZALEMA 1832”) which recreates facts which occurred in this place to the famous bandit José Mª “El Tempranillo”, and that is celebrated in October.
We can also add interesting cultural expressions such as the celebration of the Andalusia Day, of February 28th; the Tardes Literarias de Grazalema (Grazalema Literary Evenings), in June; the Open Air Painting Competition, also in June; and Grazalema Flamenco Nights, in July. And last we need to mention the emotional Christmas time, where we can enjoy fritters.
Moors & Christian
Benamahoma is the only place in West Andalusia where the festivity of Moors and Christian is celebrated, although there are not local historical documents confirming the beginning of such celebration, reference is made to the Arabic origin of the population centre, located in the municipality of Grazalema, in the Chronicle of Moor Rasis in the fifteenth century and in the diary of the English romantic and anthropologist Richard Ford in the nineteenth century.
The origin of this festivity can be found in Andalusia, where festive fights between noblemen and knights grouped into two different camps, Moors and Christians, took place, according to the reference of a festive fight in the city of Jaén in 1463 with the intervention of an important constable. Later, in the eighteenth century, the performance passes from the nobility to the working class, and from cities to hamlets, and starts to institutionalize in fixed and periodic dates bound to the festivity of the patron saints.
And it is there where we find the origin of the fights between Moors and Christians in Benamahoma, because this was a town that during the Arabic period was a Muslim farm with Moorish population belonging to the Arabic neighbourhood of Grazalema; they also had to face the arrival of Christian knights, who repopulated the lands of Benamahoma although the Arabic identity survived because the town was called “the dwelling of Mahoma” or “sons of Mahoma”, in Arabic, Ibn-Mohammed.
Park of the Historical Memory
Since ancient times human being has been conscious of its mankind by ennobling the dead burying them and offering them presents to illuminate their destinations to the other world.
The Law for the Historical Memory has created reunion moments with a forgotten past, in som cases deliberately and in other cases without an answer.
Wiht initiatives such as the Park of the Historical Memory, men and women who were recorded as missing have been ennobled, when, in most of the cases, they had been killed under the violence resulting from military conflicts or simply due to personal quarrels, hate or revenge…
People are wise when they honour their dead, when they do not forget them and when they render a tribute to their lives: it is precisely this fact, so usual in our culture, what we have made possible in our town by bringing to light thouse mortal remanins of the neighbours who one day saw how their lives were interrupted and taking them to our cemeteries, so that they may have a honourable rest the way our culture states.
To all these initiatives, by implementation of the Law for the Historical Memory, developed by local, regional and national administrations, together with groups, associations, families, researchers, historians, anthropologists, criminologists, forensics and jurists… we have to add the contribution of art as a vehicle for the expression of feelings and experiences that everyone has about what you live, what you find or what you see… that artist concept is expressed in the works of Andrés Montesanto, who, through his sculptures and monuments has given to our town the best of the tributes, a monunent to Human Rights.
It was the traditional practice to get charcoal from the tres Wood by means of the incomplete combustión of this wood in a place where they were piled and then covered by land and which are called coal bunkers.
This hard started with the auction, by the city halls or private farms, of those wood lots coming from pruning and dry or fallen trees. Teams of workers were employed with a good knowledge of the job: type of logs, its lining, the interior channels where the fire passed without burning the wood, the “encendías” and “buyones”.
Firstly the wood was chopped and it was transported to the “armaero”: a place clean of vegetation and spacious where the furnace was going to be placed. Once the wood was together, first the fat logs were placed, up and in a circular position to be covered with lower wood until a kind of dome was formed.
The setting was covered with bush and branches which supported the land which was poured on it, with the purpose of suffocating it. This land was picked up from the surroundings, knowing that the strongest on should be poured on the front part and the lowest, on the contrary, at the back, and this way the fire circulated well in the inside.
From the very moment of the ignition, the person in charge watched it exhaustively. With the help of a basket and a stick he corrected the firing according to his instinct and the smell of the smoke.
When the wood was well fired, that is, transformed into charcoal; the furnace lost some volume and “fell”. Later the upper layer of land was removed, achieving the consumption of the fire without the burning of the charcoal inside it.
The coal Merchant, helped by his tools, took out the charcoal accumulated in the inside until it was spread all over the surroundings. Once it was cool and put into the “seras” (Baskets) the charcoal was ridden on horses that took it to the loading places, from where it was driven to the closest railway station, or to the harbor, in order to be used at home, for the heating, in smelting workshops or in the rail machines.
IT WAS REALLY AN ART!