Carnival Time in the Occitan Region of France

Monique Palomares, who works with me on the French version of Mama Lisa’s World, wrote the following post about Carnival in Occitania, a region of southern France. Monique speaks Occitan, the language of the troubadours, and has shared many songs in Occitan on Mama Lisa’s World.

Carnival Photos in Occitania
Carnival in Southern France

Carnival Photos in Occitania
Carnival in Southern France

Carnival celebrates the end of Winter and the arrival of Spring. It’s all about Spring energies bringing everything back to life. It’s all about breaths; the breath of Spring and Life that you breathe in, and the old breath of Winter and Death that you breathe out. This is why people are supposed to eat food such as beans, onions, etc… anything that makes you break wind.

Carnival Photos in Occitania
Spring Wild Forces

Carnival Photos in Occitania
Spring Wild Forces

Here is what I learned during the previous weeks:

A traditional Carnival should have four stages. There is an Occitan song tied to each of them (Occitan because we’re here in this region, the language is not relevant).

Carnival Photos in Occitania
Photo of the old women and “young maidens” trying to wake the Lady from her Winter sleep.

1st Stage: Song: “Carnaval es arribat” (“Carnival Has Arrived”). It’s not about the song or the language but that “the time has come for a new cycle to begin” and the cycle is as old as the world – which in other words means it’s much older than our Western culture. People usually dance a farandole to the tune. Carnival is also the day on which everything is the other way round, so men dress up as women, rich people as poor (it’s harder for poor people to dress up as rich!), everybody changes his/her look to avoid being recognized. So they dress up and most taboos are removed.

Carnival Photos in Occitania

Then we must remember that Carnival is just before Lent in Christian culture, so people have their last meals with meat and fat since they’ll be fasting during the 40 oncoming days. That’s why they then sing Pòrc gras (Fat Pig). This song is also danced to. The dance is called a quilted polka as can be seen there…

Carnival Photos in Occitania

The 2nd stage of the Carnival is “Chagrin fai ta mala” (“Sorrow, pack your lot”) i.e. the time has come to forget, and get rid of our sorrows and grievances. Mr. Carnival represents all the wrong doings, the sorrows, the bad things that happened during the entire previous year. Everything we don’t want to deal with again. Mr. Carnival is tried and sentenced to be burnt on a pyre. If no Mr Carnival is available to symbolize all the evils of the year, people can find another way to get rid of them, such as throwing significant objects or pieces of paper where people have written down their grievances into a big can and then setting fire to it at the end of the whole process.

Carnival Photos in Occitania

3rd Stage is “Buffa-ie al cuol” (“Blow to her bottom”). It’s the title of the song for “the dance of the bellows”. It’s about the exchange and rising of Spring energies. The dance is mostly performed on Ash Wednesday. The dancers dance in a lame way to show the lack of balance in the world at the moment when Winter yields to Spring, even if the meaning is clearly sexual, it’s supposed to be a ritual not bawdy. It’s about the revival of nature and its fertilizing power, life regaining the upper hand against death. I think I saw it danced a couple of times when I was a child -around 6 or 7- some would fill their bellows with flour, some with ashes or even soot and people around would be blown at with whatever was in the bellows. You can find some videos with kids doing it, but it’s not meant to be a kids’ dance. It was danced by men, and men it needs because this “bellows” “blowing” to the “old woman’s bottom” (that’s what the song says) is not meant to be kids’ business as far as I know.

You can forward in the video below to 2:27 to see the dance…

The 4th and last stage is “Adiu Paure Carnaval” (“Farewell, poor Carnival”). Mr Carnival is burnt and we tell him “good bye, we’ll see you next year”: the old cycle must die so that the new cycle can begin.

Carnival Photos in Occitania
Burning Mr. Carnival

Thanks for explaining the stages of the Occitan Carnival from southern France and for sharing your photos Monique! It’s very interesting!

Mama Lisa

One Response to “Carnival Time in the Occitan Region of France”

  1. paul fryer Says:

    love the photos. Would love to come to the carnival next year. Can you recomend a good place to stay.
    Paul (Yorkshire, UK)

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting