They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shepherds tracks

Shepherds tracks

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated by Sara Plaza

March has found us spending a few weeks in a small village in the so-called "poor mountains" of Madrid, which belonged to the province of Segovia in the past. Its name is Bustarviejo. Although "modernity" keeps on moving forward, the place still preserves part of the peace and tranquility of some towns in the Castilian provinces.

Here, in Bustarviejo, where I am writing today, it is possible to walk along the Cañada Real, one of the old cattle tracks that cross the Iberian Peninsula, a cobbled paving built by the Romans that have witnessed the practice of moving animals to winter/summer pastures (transhumance) year after year. In the past –and even nowadays, in an effort to revitalize the shade of the old days– flocks of sheep (one of the main sources of income in this region, Old Castile) had to move northwards/southwards looking for pastures throughout the year. Long lines of animals moving slowly were driven along the "cañadas" from the Middle Ages. Those tracks kept the cattle away from the sown fields and allowed the Crown to collect the ubiquitous taxes.

Transhumant shepherds' life was connected with a particular culture with very peculiar elements: musical instruments, which hardly survive nowadays in the hands of a number of elders with good memories and some young that want to recover those wonderful memories; types of food relating to different kind of cheese, bread, seasonal fruit and cold meats; songs and tales; traditional customs and habits belonging to their nomadic style of life; and a series of techniques, activities, sayings and proverbs...

This very same culture –except for the distances and logical differences that separate one from each other– can be found around the people leading llamas across Bolivian highlands, carrying potatoes from the high Andean plateau to the salad lakes southwards to exchange them for blocks of salt and then take the latter to the warm valleys eastwards and once there give them and get coca leaves, vegetables, fruit and cheese in exchange. This culture includes old rites of passage and ceremonies performed for travelers and animals' protection; it also includes, as said above, unique musical instruments, sayings, rituals, customs...

And you may also discover similar traits around Sub-Saharan Africa camel-drivers; around yaks train drivers crossing the Himalayas between India and Nepal or Pakistan; around Saami people (Laplanders) taking their reindeers through Scandinavia; and around Masai people tending their precious cattle across western Africa...

These patrons and features make up an immense human mosaic in which we are all included. Some of them are expressed in many of the documents that we store up on the shelves of our libraries. However, this is only a tiny part, the knowledge that has been written. Most part of this culture keeps on showing its face and leaving its marks on the surface of our planet. It continues living, changing, evolving and, sometimes, disappearing. It is important that we do not forget all the knowledge that remains far from our hands: many things keep on beating out of the walls of our libraries, far from our catalogues, databases and the Internet. This knowledge also deserves our attention for it is the remains of an age where women and men still knew and recognized the rhythms of Nature.

As I told you before, a huge part of this traditional culture is alive in many corners of our world. Here, in Bustarviejo, there are still memories of the immense clouds of dust caused by the sheep movement to different fields in different seasons.