a blog about Carpathian shepherds on the road, and other journeys


Friday, 19 April 2013

Spring transhumance - it's that time again

The first of April is the official start for the spring transhumance in Romania, because it is usually the day after winter grazing arrangements come to an end.  It means that shepherds have to get their sheep safely across country before the young crops appear on the unfenced strips that patchwork the hillsides and dales.  I am hoping to contact my friends to see how they are getting on in the next week or so.   

1st of May is the day when the joint Polish-Ukrainian-Romanian transhumance begins.  The trek from Brasov county in southern Transylvania to the borderland between Poland and Slovakia is set to take 100 days.  Its aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of extensive farming, pasturing animals in mountain areas to encourage biodiversity, and of slow food. 

At the end of this month - with luck - I'll be off again to find out about the connections between Marginimea Sibiului - an area where people are staunchly proud of their Romanian origins - and villages of 'Ungureni' (Transylvanian shepherds) on the southern side of the Carpathian Mountains.  The fact that these ties existed was almost the first thing I learnt about the Marginime, nearly 20 years ago.  Noted experts such as Corneliu Bucur and Dumitru Budrala told me that the Oltenian and Muntenian shepherding communities were founded in the late 18th century by Margineni on the run from the Habsburgs who destroyed their Orthodox churches and wanted to conscript them as border guards.  Before you start protesting about the beneficial effects of the Habsburg Empire, I know that things are hardly ever black and white, and that there was a more positive trade-off, as for example when villages in the Marginime received land and privileges in return for their military support. 

Meanwhile, I have been looking at the history of Margineni shepherds in southern Russia and the Caucasus between c. 1880 and 1950, with the aim of going there to see if there are any traces of them left, and also looking for people who know about shepherding in Georgia and Azerbaijan.  The search has already revealed some fascinating characters, about whom I hope to tell you as soon as I get the time!  It's all go... 

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