With Human Pyramids, Catalans Reach For Independence : Parallels The 18th century Catalan tradition of castelling, the building of human towers, or castles, is undergoing a renaissance today. This has accompanied a rise in Catalan nationalism.

With Human Pyramids, Catalans Reach For Independence

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

How do you build a country from scratch? Well, apparently some Catalonian's in Spain think one way to start is by building human pyramids. Catalonia will hold a symbolic vote on independence next week. And in order to draw attention to the referendum, supporters are literally climbing on top of one another. Human towers for democracy, they call them. Lauren Frayer explains.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Turn a corner in Barcelona this fall and you might find this...


FRAYER: A flute band strikes up a traditional Catalan folk song. People fall into formation. And then they start climbing onto each other shoulders.

ANNA ESCOLA: Our goal is to do the human tower. The human tower called castell. It means castle.

FRAYER: Anna Escola is one of 250 members of her neighborhood Castellers Club. Castell means castle in the Catalan language. They get together every Friday night to build human towers. It's an 18th-century UN-recognized tradition specific to Catalonia. The strongest men and women form a circle, then Anna and her friend Marta Alvarez climb and stand on their shoulders.

MARTA ALVAREZ: You have to just touch everyone's bodies. You have to have strength but then you have to have equilibrium, as well, and balance. And then when you go back to the floor, I don't know, it's just amazing. It's just amazing.



FRAYER: It's usually a young girl called an enxaneta who goes all the way to the top, clamoring up eight, nine, even 10 tiers of people.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: (Spanish spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: (Spanish spoken).

FRAYER: It's fun. It's cool. You're up there on top of everyone, say some of the girls. They climb in bare feet but wear safety helmets. Once on top, the enxanetas waves to the crowd.

ENRIC UCELAY: They do it just to say, I'm here. If you do with the four fingers, then that's the nationalist sign corresponding to the four stripes or bars of the Catalan flag.

FRAYER: Local historian Enric Ucelay says human tower building has exploded in popularity with Catalonia's push for independence. It's good practice for building a state, says participant Aureli Bisbe.

AURELI BISBE: For me, it's like an icon of our culture. It shows that we are capable of working together. That's not an easy thing. I like that our culture is able to do that.

FRAYER: Catalonia's human towers are popping up at pro-independence rallies across the region as Catalans prepare for the political struggle ahead. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona.

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