Sunday, September 25, 2011

Transumanza in Bressanvido

Every Spring and Fall, communities around the mountainous regions of Italy--the communities around the Alps and the Apennines, specifically--celebrate the departure of cattle for the greener mountain pastures in the Spring and the milder winters of the plains in the Fall.  This constant movement of livestock has been enacted even before the Romans came around, and many communities to this day still celebrate the day their cows and sheep return.  

In the province of Vicenza, transumanza is mainly represented by the movement of cattle between the pastures of Prealpi Vicentini to the plains of Bressanvido, a relatively short trek through very rough and mountainous terrain.   In Autumn, the town of Bressanvido throws a big party the celebrate the return of the cattle, and the return of a source of livelihood and food for the Winter ahead (of course, this was more true back then than now).  

First to arrive were the tractors, driven by hardworking men and women ready to show off the power of their machines

Then comes the town's bands, cheerleaders, and flag throwers

The horses carrying the owners of the town's main farm

The herd's sacred bulls (one of which managed to unload maybe five gallons of wee on the pavement in front of everyone, embarrassing even its own handler...I guess this is a reminder that we are witnessing a real agricultural act, not a mere show)

Then come the town's dignitaries

Finally, the cattle.  The sound of hooves and cow bells were deafening!  No, no more cow bells

One could see the pride of the herders in what they do, day in and day out taking care of the town's main source of income and identity

The walk through the town's main street is a demonstration of just how much everyday craft and "work" are valued by this town.  There are easier ways to accomplish the task--trucks and tractors could have easily pulled the cattle through the relatively good roads between Asiago to Bressanvido--but this adherence to tradition is a demonstration of how much communal identity is defined and reinforced by this relatively straightforward and for others non-event event.  Even though the town has gradually moved away from a reliance in agriculture to industrial activities, the image and myth of the strong mountain man able to maneuver hundreds and thousands of cattle through difficult terrain still resonate enough to encourage many to participate in the move and many others to celebrate their triumph over the mountains upon their return.

Sadly, this tradition is dying.  People affected by the transumanza, especially those living close to or regularly using the roads used to move the livestock, actively pursue policies meant to limit if not completely halt the movement of livestock through their communities.  Although previously common, the transumanza is now mostly a symbolic act, the real economic impact of which has been greatly diminished.  How this impacts the formation of identity by Italy's numerous agricultural communities remains to be seen, but to be certain, these communities are definitely not willing or ready to let go.

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