Last week I went to the opening of Dragos Lumpan’s third exhibition in Wales this year: his photographs from Transhumance: A Comparative Study are on show at the National Wool Museum in Drefach Felindre, Carmarthenshire until January 2012. Dragos’s photos are stunning both as documentary images and for their artistic quality. They cover six countries (Albania, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Romania and Wales). He aims to go further afield in the future, and wants his project to stimulate discussion. Which he has done: speaking in both Welsh and English at the launch was Dr. Eurwyn William, former Deputy Director General of the National Museum of Wales, and former Curator of the Museum of Welsh Life at St. Fagan’s. Eurwyn William has written a lot of books about Welsh vernacular architecture but researching the history of transhumance is also a passion of his. He gave us an overview of transhumance in Wales, saying that it had arrived in the country by the early Middle Ages, but nobody knows when the practice began there. The old semi-nomadic transhumance whereby who communities would up sticks with all their animals and move to their summer farms (hafodau, lluestau) in April or May, returning home to the hendre (old place, family farm) somewhere around All Souls’ Day has long gone – it died out at the time of the Black Death. He told us that transhumance was a ‘posh’ term for seasonal movements of livestock between grazing grounds, and that you could say that people are still doing it when they go on holiday; you could also call commuting to work a kind of transhumance! What now happens in Wales is a reduced form of transhumance, also known as pendulation, and after they’ve come down from the moors and mountains, the sheep go to winter pastures (rented land or tack) by lorry rather than on foot.
There wasn’t a huge audience at the launch but it was a very friendly gathering. Apart from a few stalwarts, including a woman sheep farmer who keeps 20 sheep near Felindre (moving them to a higher altitude for winter and a lower one for summer, which might seem counter-intuitive except that the temperature at her lower grazing ground is colder in the winter), we did get a party of students from Yale College in Wrexham who stood at the back and took masses of photos. One of them was wearing a hat like a sheep.
After that I said a few words about shepherding in Romania, having looked at figures for the export of lambs the previous night. (After my FOOC piece on Smalzul, somebody challenged my statement that as a rule Romanians don’t eat much lamb – it’s true that they buy a great deal of it for Easter but it’s not that popular during the rest of the year.) Most Romanian lamb is exported to Greece, Italy, Syria, Bulgaria and Hungary, in that order. Saudi Arabia buys some too, and sales are increasing to France and the Netherlands. Having just spent a little time campaigning against the live transportation of horses for meat over long distances in Europe, I feel a certain twinge about how lambs are carried to slaughter. Is it kinder to kill them in the European way or the Arabian way? Or possibly the traditional Romanian way, by cutting the main artery in the leg. It’s horrid to think about but I’m a carnivore and trying not to be hypocritical.
The museum’s cooks prepared a buffet consisting of food from all the six countries in Dragos’s show. I recognised Romanian cozonac; it tasted just as good as when I’ve had it over there.
Spurred on by the interest in mixed grazing as a way of sustaining bio-diversity, I contacted the Grazing Advice Project (GAP) project in Wales and Nick Page of ADEPT, the NGO that is helping to encourage small-scale, sustainable farming in Romania. Barbara Knowles of Treasures of Transylvania (http://sites.google.com/site/barbaraknowlesproject) and the Pogany Havas Microregion (http://poganyhavas.hu/) has also kindly given me permission to publish an interview with her, which is on my website, http://www.mamaliga.co.uk. There is a huge amount of information about EU initiatives to help small graziers in La Canada, a newsletter you can download from http://www.efncp.org/ (The European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism).
Radu Totoianu’s doctoral thesis on shepherding in Valea Sebesului has inspired me to go there too: if anything there is as much happening in that area as in Marginimea Sibiului. He took nine years to gather his material and has looked into almost every aspect of the practice, including practical ones like feeding and treating sick animals, as well as beliefs connected to shepherding, songs and verses.
Incidentally, Dr William gave me a contact for an expert on Vlach shepherds in North Wales. Dr. John Ellis Jones told me modestly he wasn’t an expert himself but that in the 1950s he had spent a lot of time with John Campbell who wrote his D Phil thesis about a Vlach shepherding village in northern Greece, near the Albanian border. John Ellis Jones is a Classicist; he recalled that one of the villages stood near the site of the Battle of Actaeon, and his happiest memories with the Campbells were of Christmas 1954 in the British School at Athens. But he also remembered seeing round and rectangular shepherds’ huts covered in thatch. They were their summer homes.
There are pictures to come (for Vlachs of northern Greece, you want Tim Salmon’s book and DVD, Dhiava…)