samedi 26 décembre 2009

Today is Boxing Day and I am at a Breton village, Kervallon. Ker is village in the language, so every time you hear Ker…you can be sure that the place or the person has Breton heritage. One such famous example is Jack Kerouac, whose ancestors may have migrated from the nearby Huelgoat to French Canada. In these parts, the Royalists were strong and after a prolonged battle when they were defeated, many of them chose to go to Quebec rather than stay in a Republican France.
Looking at a book of photos of this region from 1900s, you would think that you were in some impoverished nation of thatched roofs, earth floors and people dressed in some exotique fashion.. but it was so, one hundred years ago in Bretagne, but even in this village of just twenty people, all houses are as modern as they come, with all the modern conveniences and exhibiting the affluence of the mother country. Electricity had arrived only in 1951 and indoor plumbing in 1961. I am guest at a home, which is large by any standards, surrounded by fruit orchards and rolling farm hills and studded with evergreen trees. The microclimate here provides with a warmer than normal temperature, today is nearly 10 C when the rest of France is getting itself out of the abundant snow of this season.
Two things become evident to an Anthropologist at first look. One, the solidarity of family, into which a rigorous sense of gift giving is interwoven, secondly, look no further for an explanation of the French Paradox of Eating and Remaining Healthy.
The dinner table consisted of 20 seats, occupied by an array of family members, aged 16 to 78 years. Gifts were given to the younger ones in the family and the young men and women received monetary gifts. I observered a pattern of gift giving which reminded me very much of the tale of gift giving among the Tobriand Islanders well described in that classic text of Anthropology by Bronowski.
The social events are celebrated with Gifts, birth, marriage, coming of age, pregnancy etc. the cost of the gifts tend to be uniform, in that no one spends much more than the other, how they arrive at the magical figure, I am not sure. Within the immediate family this rule does not seem to apply, mothers and fathers seem to lavish gifts on their children even after the latter had become full grown adults.
After working with many years with Tribal people, I can recognize the tribal patterns of behaviour, gossip without mal intention, generosity, hospitality, solidarity, remembrances of a good time past, and an ever present nostalgia. Even those young adults who had never lived the tribal life of the Bretons, are filled with nostalgia of a time 20 years ago when the houses still had ground earth floors in some of the villages and the visits to distribute sweets to the old and the infirm in nearby villages.
This area is beautiful in its own way, gurgling rivers, which are small but energetic, evergreen forests, rolling hills of farm land, mountains to be seen in the distance, and the silence of the day broken only by cooing of birds or an occasional bark of a dog.
I, who have lived a tribal life, philosophically speaking, all my life, now find myself pleasantly entangled with possibly the original inhabitants of this part of the world. in another blog, I will explore the origins of Bretons and where they might have come from, all those thousands of years ago.