Monday, 9 November 2009

Folklore & Tradition - Relation Between People & Place

Another element concerning place and the relation between a physical space and its inhabitants is the culture and tradition that develop within an area. This can be based on the geographical and topographical nature of its place and the relation between this nature and those existing within it. Tradition is the amalgamation of routines, much of which consist of a relation between the land and the survival of the people upon it. England's rich history of farming and religion combined with the dependency on the land and the superstition of folklore has produced a wide array of traditions inherently linking the space and the people.

Sir John Benjamin Stone (1836-1914) photographed such folklore and traditions in an attempt to preserve what he considered to be an aspect of our culture that was gradually being forgot ton. These pictures depict age old traditions linked to harvest and superstition that are largely extinct today.

The 'Horn Dance' at Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire - visit to the vicarage, September 1899

Farm Workers at Perry Barr, circa 1990

The 'Kern Bride'

Historically gypsies and travellers would move from place to place in accordance with such traditions of harvest in order to work on the land. This benefited both the farms and the travelling communities. Today however many farms have suffered from international trade and large chain supermarkets and the demand for labour is much lower. Travellers therefore are forced to adopt other methods of work in order to survive and maintain their way of life.

Tar Barrel Rolling

In my attempt to uncover age old traditions as part of our culture I attended the annual tar barrel rolling in Ottery St Mary. This tradition dates back to the 17th Century and occurs every bonfire night to commemorate Guy Fawkes and burn the spirits of evil. It consists of setting alight wooden barrels containing tar, wood scrapings and paraffin. Once alight the barrels are carried through the streets of the town on the backs of the local men, who pass the barrel between them until it burns out. The event attracts thousands of people each year who fill the streets and square of the town creating a thick crowd that then have to avoid the burning barrels as they dart through the streets. This adrenaline filled event is reminiscent of Spanish bull running due to the collective fear and excitement of the crowd. When partaking in this event the herd like behaviour of the crowd seemed of another time, one that belonged far back in the zeitgeist of history resurrected each year

The final barrel upon being dropped and becoming mass of embers and smoke is surrounded by the local barrel men who lock arms and sing songs. The smog covered faces and clothing of each man lit only by the red glow of the embers and surrounded by the noise of the crowd connoted some old age ceremony. The men look almost satanic in this moment, separate from the outside world. The hoards of cameras and tourists surrounding them become indifferent to the event. It is in this space that the tradition really lives on.

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