One of the reasons I came to the Open Spaces residency (apart from the cool weather, fresh air and lots of dairy), was to experience and explore the local carnival.
Switzerland’s carnival is usually pre-Lent (like ours used to be, and like Carriacou still insists), but in some parts, Fasnacht (carnival) begins on 11 November. I took a 6-hour round trip via train and bus, to Lötschental, on the other side of the mountain from us (as the crow flies), in search of the Tschäggätta. During carnival week, the Tschäggätta, scary fur clad figures wearing scarier masks, parade through the Lötschental valley. Once an isolated winter custom, it seems that the Tschäggätta are one of the popular ‘faces’ of Swiss culture. (Substitute Grenada culture and Traditional Mas here.) Though the first official mention of Lötschental’s masks was in 1860, due to the valley’s isolation, the culture of the masks did not achieve mainstream recognition until after the Lötschberg railway tunnel was built circa 1913.
On the events page of the Lötschental tourism office, there is a mask carving workshop, so I emailed to find out the details. The workshop is the brainchild of the Lötschental tourism office. Claudio, the event and media manager, was AMAZING with information. He sorted accommodation, waited for us at the bus station (we arrived late having missed the train at Speiz), and took us to the workshop! We were part of a group from another village, and we were told that once a year, the commune gives a day’s outing to the commune staff: teachers, librarians, etc. The workshop was followed by a reception at the Lötschental museum. This is the third ‘for the community by the community’ event I’ve been to. Bravo them.
Villages include Wiler, Kippel, Ferden and Blatten. We stayed in Ferden in a rooming house across the street from the workshop at the Ferden Schoolhouse. The base wood masks of Swiss pine were prepared and ready for us to work on when we arrived. The wood was reasonably soft, but the carving was not as easy as it looked. The Tschäggättä costume is a cloak of sheep or long-haired goat skin, wooden mask, cow bell and soot. The maskers roam the valley tossing soot at onlookers. Hmm, reminds of the ShortKnee and the tossing of white powder…. Claudio said the tradition stems from the medieval chasing away of the winter spirits. He also said that the original maskers were single males, but as the tradition threatened to die out, women and children came on board. Aha.
The museum hours are 2-5 pm, and we showed up just after 5, when the museum was about to host the community group. Not wanting to crash the party, we asked for a quick look at the masks, after all that’s what we came ‘from across the sea and over the mountains’ to see. Curator Thomas Antonietti graciously let us have a look around, and showed us the highlights of the museum, which, of course included the 60+ masks collection, including several from the 1900s, and the modern ones carved by area sculptors.
A lot to take in, but I can see a future series on the Tschäggättä in Grenada. Should be interesting to see what happens to them in the Caribbean sun. Here is a teaser of the roaming Tschäggättä on Youtube.
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- USD $50 support: (acid free mixed media paper, 6×8 inches.) Still available #27
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