BALEARES: THE STONE SLINGERS
– named after Stone Slingers
Rocks and stones have many uses in the Balearics, which is hard to miss. On every walk, lining the path, you can find the dry stone walls typical for the island. But few immigrants know that the boulders here are traditionally slung and that’s where the islands get their name: it comes from the word “balearides”, which means “stone slinger”. In the old days they threw rocks to slay animals or sink ro-man ships. Today it is a popular tournament sport.
The stone slinging began in the 3rd century before Christ, when the natives inhabited the island. People used catapults for hunting and defence. For ammunition they used egg- or ball-shaped stones. About 1500 years later attackers were bombarded with bronze and iron bullets. It was the time of the Talayot culture, the Balearic variation of the Bronze and Iron Age.
They were very skillful: distances of more than 150 metres are possible, as reconstructions and examinations show. The Romans also came to feel this when they steered towards Ibiza & co. in the 2nd century before Christ. They were welcomed with a devastating hailstorm of stones and the Roman ships were catapulted into firewood. It didn’t come unexpected because the stone-slinging talent of the islands was already legendary. Through the clever arrangement of two groups the throwers formed a defensive circle, which resembled a stone curtain. The enemy had no chance of passing through unharmed. The force of the missiles was so great, that the heads of those hit were literally separated from their bodies.
Nevertheless the Romans knew how to prevail. They protected their ships with animal skins, pushed the defenders back with arrows and invaded the island, incorporating it into their empire. Through their stone-slinging skills the defeated – after their initial anger subsided – became well-paid soldiers in the impressive Roman army.
Today, it is the spellbound spectators of the Balearic championship who watch the slinging of stones.
Since the 1980s there are numerous clubs on the Balearics, who keep this tradition alive. During the annual contest stones are slung for all its worth. Only now things are less barbaric because strict rules have to be followed. A shooting cage is prescribed – to protect the judges and the audience.
During the athletic competition the stones are slung onto a “diane”. This isn’t an unfortunate woman, but the constructed target for the stone slingers. It consists of a wooden square, 1.20 metres wide, with a circular metal ring in the middle, which is the target itself.
Alongside targeted precision and distance, the correct technique is essential: the shot can be performed in any of the allowed ways, but the stone has to be turned at least twice before being slung. The main judge declares a throw invalid, faulty or valid by waving a flag. A red flag in the vertical position means the throw is invalid. A ‘Diane’ (also a direct hit) gets a white flag in the vertical position.
The slings have to be made out of plant or animal material; allowed are, for example, pita fibre, linen, hemp, leather, hair or wool. Slingshots made out of metal or synthetic materials are not accepted.
As missiles or bullets, natural stones have to be used, with no weight limit. The most commonly used ones weigh around 250 grams. For school competitions, or events in public squares or covered sports arenas, normal tennis balls are always employed. It is really a weapon and not for children. Don’t try it at home. It’s better to attempt this old hunting technique with experienced guidance.