Arrival of the railway: Disappearance and legacy of maragato muleteers
In the last third of the XIX century a great advance in the transport of goods was produced that brought a change for the maragato muleteers: the arrival of the railway. This new way of transport for people and goods forced the muleteers to change their habits.
The agriculture of this region of Spain could not sustain so many people so thousands of them set as innkeepers, caravan drivers of groceries or merchants in Galicia or they were finally forced to go abroad, and their money with them, but without losing their merchant habits. They emigrated to America, Galicia and Madrid, where many got established as fishmongers. There were also seasonal migrations of men who spent most of the year in the capital of Spain and returned to the village in summer to help their wives farming.
The trade of muleteer itself disappeared, but the print of the maragato lasted and spread with the migrations.
The maragato carried with them their culture, music, customs and gastronomy, including the famous “cocido maragato”. This dish was the main meal of the farm workers after a hard working day. The “cocido maragato” was made of: soup, cabbage, chickpeas and seven types of meat. This dish was started by its end: they started with the meat and finished with the soup. This tradition is supposed to have its origin in Napoleon’s troops who, because of the constant possibility of entering battle, started with the meat as well. It was elaborated with up to ten different types of meat: sausage, pig’s ear from the slaughter of the previous year, chicken, bacon, cecina, pizpierno, morcillo, rib of cow, bones of substance and pig's nose and a filling composed of beaten eggs, a little of chopped jam and sausage, grated bread and some cloves of garlic. Another important ingredient are the chickpeas, from own harvest, of the “pico de pardal” variety of medium size and very pronounced peak. The tastiest are the ones from Valdiviejas although in Quintanilla are also appreciated. Nowadays, the harvest of chickpeas is located all over the region. Regarding to the soup, it should have thick noodle or bread loaf for making it dense. It is used to be accompanied with natural desserts such as custards or roscon, although in private houses there usually are other desserts such as “donkey rolls”, apples or greaves with butter cakes.
The popular architecture is another characteristic aspect of this region of Leon, where big and fancy muleteer’s houses coexist with more modest ones, which remind the Celt buildings. The typical maragato house has a huge stage that gives a step to the central yard so the wagons can easily entry. The living room was in the upper floor next to the bedrooms. The music and popular custom make meaning too. Among their rituals, “La Covada”, “La boda”, “La fiesta del arado”, etc. stand out. “La Covada” consists in the popular habit in which the mother, during the birth or immediately after, gives the bed to the father. This habit reaffirms the roll or the legitimacy of the father and it is associated to matriarchal societies.
All over the region of Maragatería there is a great devotion for virgins and saints, distributed in every village. In Combarros, the Virgin of Las Candellas and St. María Magdalena are important. There is a proverbial that the locals use when somebody, without apparent or justifiable reasons, decides to suddenly change their behavior, which is “¡Ya está vuelto Pedro Mato!” that could be translated into “Pedro Mato has changed his opinion!”. There is a similar expression in English for you to get a clue: “He/She changes with the wind”. In fact, Pedro Mato behaved that way. That refers to the name that habitants of Astorga gave to a giralda that occupies a turret of the apse of their Cathedral. It represents a legendary and enigmatic character that has turned into the symbol of the city. It is still a mystery who actually was Pedro Mato and what he did for him to be placed over the highest point. But documentarily talking, his existence cannot be justified.