Labelling people from one particular place as fools has been typical around the world and goes back to ancient times. Ancient Greeks thought that the people of Abdera were fools and madmen. The men of the English town of Gotham in Nottinghamshire were known for their foolish ingenuity. In Denmark, they tell stories of an entire village of fools who live on the peninsula of Mols. The Germans laugh at people from Schildburg and the Dutch make jokes about inhabitants of Kampen.
In Spain, the Andalusian town of Lepe for some unaccountable reason was elected in irreverent folklore to serve as a centre of innocent stupidity. In the same province , Huelva, even the typical mineral from the river Tinto, pyrite, is called "fool's gold".
Laughing at themselves
Probably, in comparison to many other "towns of fools", the people of Lepe actually make jokes about themselves. And that has been going on for centuries. There is a legend that says that Lepe resident Rodrigo Pérez de Acevedo was a pioneer in nurturing this reputation for idiocy.
In 1492 he became a member of the first transatlantic maritime expedition led by Christopher Columbus, which started in Huelva. During the voyage, in the middle of the night, he suddenly started shouting that he had sited land. But obviously, it was very dark and impossible. From that moment on he was considered an idiot.
Eventually, the fame of that odd representative of Lepe spread across the country. Now if a Spanish joke requires an innocent fool figure, then any inhabitant of Lepe will fit the bill.
Another story maintains that the people of a neighbouring town were especially jealous of the people of Lepe. Its residents, therefore, started spreading the rumour that the 'Leperos' were "tontos" and had no sense.
Instead of refuting all insinuations that they were village idiots, the residents of Lepe decided to transform the unflattering fame into something useful.
Accepting the notoriety, they decided to launch an annual comedy festival and even started creating their own funny stories in which they appeared as naïve. Some stories became very popular, especially with help of famous comedians. Among them José Alvares, who triumphed as a comic actor under the pseudonym of "Lepe", and Manuel Summers, an Andalusian film director and actor from a family that originated from Britain. Manuel was born in Seville but he was made an "adoptive son" of Lepe as a reward for doing great work in promoting the town and its jokes.
In 2011, in the Andalusian Parliament it was suggested that the "chiste lepero" (the Lepe joke) be declared a Bien de Interés Cultural (Asset of Cultural Interest).
Since the seventies Lepe has been surrounded by strawberry fields, which have brought wealth to the town. That's probably why the people can afford to use all their irony against themselves as they know that they will always have the last laugh. Indeed the strawberries have made them more successful than others who did nothing but laugh at them.