Bells: Connecting Animals, People, and Land: Europe
European bells are a link from the Old World. Europeans arrived in America for different reasons. Some found religious freedom, others sought to create new homesteads in similar landscapes to the Old Country. They brought skills, trades, and a work ethic essential to a growing nation.
Our bells came from Europe too. Their bells have been fashioned since the Middle Ages with different metals, techniques, and factories. Many of the bells were forged brass bells; others were made out of thin metal.
"I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal with my graduate student, Linda Hardesty, and a group from the Milo Grain Growers. They sent us to Portugal to see what markets might exist for grain. They had two or three other scientists, but none who spoke Portuguese. Linda spoke the language fluently, since she was working as a range manager in Brazil. They flew her in from Brazil to join us and she was most valuable on our team. At each village, the local people would give us their story. Linda was a bit of a curiosity. It turned out that women managed most of the livestock. Linda would be out at the side of the group listening to the speaker, and the women would come up and talk to her. The men would be up telling what it was, and the women would tell Linda 'that's not true, that's not true, here's the way we do it'. Later on, Linda would explain to the rest of us what was really happening.
"It was interesting; in fact, the team leader said he would never go back without a woman in the group. Visitors got an entirely different story from the women than from the men! In many places, women were not the managers necessarily; the men were the managers. However, the women were the ones who milked the cows, they knew how much milk their cows were producing, they knew how the cheese was made, and they knew what they were feeding the animals. Many times the men just didn't know. They were making it up as they went along."
"They used resources, including energy, so efficiently. In villages, the older homes were multi-story with the barn on the ground floor with one or two cows for milk and traction, perhaps a few sheep or a goat, then rabbits and chickens that foraged on what the larger animals wasted. During the day, large animals were led to communal grazing land on the hill tops, then brought home at night.
"Our pace was such that there was time for the team to wander, explore, and discuss, a rarity these days. Any time spent with Thas was (and still is) so rich in terms of provoking thoughts, ideas, and theories, and that time was especially so. I do know the bell idea is contagious—I now have a few myself, including a large Brazilian cow bell that I use to call people back to work after breaks when I am chairing workshops and conferences!"
This area straddling the Pyrenees Mountains in norther Spain and southwestern France places the Basque in the area since 5,000 to 3,000 B.C., making them the oldest permanent resident of Western Europe. While Basques have an ancient history in this region, they also have a long history of leaving it. Thousands of Basques chose to migrate to the American West, pushed by the 1849 California Gold Rush. Their experiences with mining, railroading, and sheepherding in the Intermountain West shape their identity as immigrant Americans.
"When I was growing up, we had what we called the 'First Monday' of each month. People would meet in the county seat and bring whatever they had to trade. It might be a few animals, some handiwork, even vegetables they had grown. They came and spent the whole day trading, visiting, bartering, talking to one another, and exchanging whatever they had to swap.
"Trade Days, also known as Sooks in Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, are very similar to what I knew as a child in rural Texas. They are much more elaborate than the farmers markets found here in Utah. You go to a Sook and there will be everything from preserves, dried fruit, fresh pork hanging from the market tents, rugs strewn on the desert, services, spices and, of course, bells. These arrangements still exist in European countries. In Morocco, trade days or sooks are going on all the time."
The Swiss cowbell has a loud, clear tone heard throughout the mountains. They were originally developed to keep track of the cows. Each bell is a different size with different tones. Mixed with the pastoral sounds of cows and sheep, the ringing and clanking of bells is heard drifting through the quiet alpine meadows.
Much like a dinner bell or the old school bells, they flare from a small round top to a larger round bottom. Typically these are brass bells. They are milled or sanded to get different surface textures and often have engraved decorations and signatures.
In later years, these enormous bells have evolved into a symbol of Switzerland, the high Alps, and an agricultural landscape. They have become part of the Swiss culture. If you wach a movie about Swiss Alps, these bells are usually heard.
"These parade animals were returning from a village parade. Their decorative bells were removed and replaces with smaller bells at the pasture gate."
"This ornamental bell from Greece is very typical throughout the Balkan states. Different sizes produce different tones. Both sheep and goats are belled in this region.
"Most of the bells in the Balkans and throughout all of the livestock areas of Europe were originally made and sold by gypsies. They would bring them to the 'Trade Days' throughout the area. 'Trades Days' were a great coming together of the community. Often, no money exchanged hands. For example, someone who was good at sharpening knives might swap with someone with a bushel of potatoes. People spent the day visiting, talking, eating, gossiping, and yes, trading. It was a great social event. It was the livestock, the bells and any services that went with them that originally brought these people together."