ANTONI MARIA ALCOVER i SUREDA was born in 1862, the fourth child among six of a modest tenant farmer at Santa Cirga, near the town of Manacor in the island of Mallorca. It was a rural patriarchal family with deeply rooted religious beliefs. Antoni left home at the age of fifteen to enter the Seminary in the City (Palma), but he never lost his love of the country and its people and their tales – known in the island as Rondaies. When he was still a student the young Alcover developed a talent for writing which he exercised in recording Rondaies that he remembered from his childhood. As a country lad who had developed a good literary style and a keen interest in language, he was uniquely fitted to hear, to enjoy, and to record on paper the legacy of the island’s folktales. In 1896 he published the first volume of L’Aplec de Rondaies Mallorquines – the collection of island tales – which was the beginning of his life-long self-imposed task of rescuing Mallorca’s folk-lore from neglect and oblivion.
Alcover was convinced that the island’s wealth of country tales and seafaring legends was rapidly disappearing, and he was anxious to preserve, in writing, as much of it as possible. In spite of his ecclesiastical and family obligations, he succeeded in hearing tales from most of the regions of Mallorca. For Alcover the collecting of Rondaies developed its own momentum. It was, he said, like a kite that would take as much line as it was given. He estimated that the whole Aplec would run to eleven or twelve volumes, and indeed it did. He often heard a tale more than once; he would then select the best passages from each version and reassemble the Rondaia in its most dramatic or amusing form. His critics – mostly foreign folklorists – accused him of ‘corrupting’ or falsifying these tales with his erudition, but he was able to retort that he was himself a countryman and capable of preserving the authentic language and style of indigenous narrators. He was in fact, the ideal, perhaps the only, writer for the task of rescuing Rondaies; he was himself as ‘authentic’ as it is possible to be.