XXVI. BELIEFS AND CUSTOMS
Regarding hens hatching their eggs
In the past, great attention was paid to the task of obtaining new young chicks and cocks to replace the old hens and obtain a good rooster or, even better, the sought-after capons. But how unpredictable that process was can be seen from the numerous precautions taken around the hatching.
Another issue was to try and select the sex of the future chicks. Given how valued eggs were in the past, females were more sought after than males.
In Carranza, the eggs were chosen by their shape to select the sex of the future chickens: it was believed that rounder eggs produced chicks and pointed ones, cocks.
Odd number of eggs
There was a widespread belief that an odd number of eggs had to be given for the hen to sit on so they would hatch. That was reported in Urduliz (B), where the number of eggs depended on the size of the hen and could range between seven and fifteen; around Gernika (B), thirteen or fifteen; and in Allo (N), seventeen, nineteen or twenty-one, but always as an odd number.
The aforementioned beliefs in around Gernika (B) regarding the influence of the lunar cycle on the sex of future chicken are comparable to the results of mating both at the start of the new moon and at the full moon for all animal species. The same occurs regarding the abnormalities with which the young would be born if the mating took place on a “renegade day”, that is, at the new moon or at the full moon.
Regarding changes to the weather
Observing the behaviour animals and, as far as this chapter is concerned, domesticated animals, has allowed shepherds and livestock farmers to predict the weather. Some of the data considered here may have an empirical justification, but the majority seem to be based on beliefs handed down.
The shepherds in Ataun (G) believe that ewes had a special instinct to predict changes to the weather. When in winter they shook and rang their bells, it meant that the weather would be bad the next day. When those animals started to play in the fold or in the flock, a southerly wind would blow the next day. If they moved downhill as they grazed on the mountain, a storm was coming, but if they went up, good weather was on its way. There was an old saying that if the ewe did not stop eating gorse at night, there would be snow the following morning, which if she ate very little at dusk, the weather would be fair the next day.
Customs relating to mourning
It was customary to mark the death of a relative of the shepherd by silencing the bells of the livestock as a sign of mourning.
In Sara (L), the cowbells, small bells and strings of bells were removed from the farmstead’s animals and they would not be put back until the end of the mourning period. Only the odd ewe that was grazing on the mountain wore a bell. In Hazparne (L) and in Bidarte (L), it would be removed for a dozen days.
In Heleta (BN), the bells were taken off the cows for a year and in Armendaritze (BN) for approximately six months. In Izpura (BN), they were removed from the cows and ewes for a month right up until the 1940s.
The cowbells and bells were removed from the domesticated animals in Zeanuri, Carranza (B) and Zugarramurdi (N). In Orozko (B), from the sheep and cows; when the deceased was the father, the bells were removed from all the ewes, but if it was the mother who had died, one bell would be left on the best animal. This custom, which died out in the 1930s, continues to exist in colloquial speech; if someone sees a flock without bells, they ask its owner: “Lutuan daukazuz ala…?” (Have you got them in mourning?). One of the people surveyed stressed that they would be terribly sad to see sheep go by without the bells ringing.
In Bernagoitia (B), if the family was in mourning and it was time on go on the transhumance, bells would not be put on the sheep and they would be taken off if they were wearing them for eight or ten days out of respect for the deceased. That did not happen while on the homestead.
In the Sierra de Aralar (G), when a death occurred in the family during the year, the shepherds would remove the bells as they took the flocks up and down as a sign of mourning.
In Valcarlos (N), the rooster is considered to be guardian of the house who warns of the presence of witches; if it crowed before midnight, it was a sign that there were witches around. The members of the household would get up and throw three grains of salt on the fire before it crowed for the third time and they then could go safely back to sleep. In addition to that remedy, they also used to say the following as a spell: “Well, Satan be banished / berrehun iztapetan!».
In Aezkoa (N), it was believed that if the rooster crowed just before midnight, witches were near. If they had a blessed candle, they would light it and throw salt on the fire.
In Bera (NV), a horseshoe was usually hung over the manger to keep the livestock safe from spells.
Bildots-lorra: mutual help
Shepherds have shown a spirit of solidarity that is reflected in the institution of the contribution of the lamb, known bildots-lorra (Zeanuri-Gorbea, communities around the Oiz Mastiff, Orozketa-Durango-B; Valcarlos-N).
It was the help that the shepherds would give to a neighbour who had said that he planned to work as a shepherd or if he needed to recover a flock that had been lost. The donation took the form of handing over a ewe and usually a young one. The new shepherd could thus form his own flock. In exchange, he invited the shepherds who had helped to a meal. Customs of this type, including donating manure in the farming world, could be found until the mid-20th century.
- Juan de ARIN DORRONSORO”Notas acerca del pastoreo tradicional de Ataun. II parte” in AEF, XVI (1956) pp. 78-79.