Dance of the Giants

Cabezudos and gigantes, clear way!

When we approached the entrance of the Basque musuem, the curator ushered us in with a toss of his head. “It’s free this week,” he smiled. Wandering through the dimly-lit rooms, I wondered if this generosity was not so much due to the celebration of Aste Nagusia as it was to the fact that half of the first floor was out dancing on the street.

The most memorable characters of the museum were the gigantes (“giants”) and cabezudos (“big heads”), towering bodies of fabric over wooden frames. Distinct personalities are hidden behind each painted face; these funny fellows have names and even professions. Typical medieval Basques up to (almost) modern-day football legend Pichichi are represented, making the gang a folkloric mix of old and new.

Curiously, these weren’t the only street performers we saw during festival days–we also saw a few groups of actors running around in pirate costumes. These massive marauders swooped in, commandeered the small square, and danced a few jigs before handing out shiny, plastic coins to wide-eyed tots.

Shake your booty

Thought it thrilled the children, these impromptu performances did not seem to be part of the “official” registrar of characters we’d seen earlier. After reading each character’s story in the museum, seeing the cabezudos and gigantes in the street much more sense than before. The next time any giants came prancing down the street, I could pick out a few:  El Inglés y la Bilbainita, El Marino, La Aldeana, Pichichi.

Dancing to bagpipes, flutes, and drums 

Visitors to Bilbao can see the temporary exhibit on cabezudos and gigantes until the 30th of September.

These characters can be found throughout Spain–have you ever seen cabezudos or gigantes?