A millenary culture

Quick history of the Occitan culture

11th – 13th Centuries: Auspicious period for troubadours

1209: Crusade against the people of Albi

16th – 17th Centuries : The Occitan Baroque Age

1791 – 1794: French revolution, first real linguistic policy aiming to impose French in the whole French nation.

1793: Grégoire report on the necessity to kill off patois.

18th – 19th Centuries : The working poets

1802: Patois is forbidden in schools.

1854: Félibrige. Occitan Provencal literary movement.

1881 – 1884: Primary schooling in French becomes free and obligatory.

1907: Winegrower rebellion.

Founded in 1945, the Institut d’Estudis Occitans (Institute of Occitan Studies) works towards the promotion of Occitan language and culture.

1951: The Deixonne law authorises the teaching of regional languages in school.

Around 1968, the Occitan political and cultural claim asserts itself.

1958: Art.2 of the French constitution of the 5th Republic: The Republic’s language is French.

1991: Opening of the Occitan CAPES (teaching degree).

1990: Occitan becomes official in Val d’Aran, Catalonia.

1992: European Charter for regional or minority languages, since ratified by 24 countries.

1999: France signs the European Charter for regional or minority languages but still hasn’t ratified it.

1999: In Italy Occitan is recognised as a national language which must be protected.

2006: Occitan becomes co-official language with Catalan on all Catalonian territory.

2008: Introduction of Article 75-1 to the French constitution: “Regional languages belong to French heritage”.

In 2005, 2007 and 2009, the action group Anem Òc gathers up to 25 000 people in the streets of Carcassonne and Béziers for more recognition of the Occitan language.

Important Occitan characters

Los Trobadors

If the influence of Occitan literature is so large during the 11th through to the 13th Century it is because troubadours, Occitan poets, are known and copied throughout Europe. Their poetry speaks mainly of love but can also become strong and denounce the violence of war. They may be considered as the fathers of modern literature. The best known are Guilhèm de Poitiers, Marcabrun, Jaufre Rudèl, Pèire Vidal, Bernat de Ventadorn, Arnaut Danièl…

La nostr’amor vai enaissi

com la brancha de l’albespi

qu’esta sobre l’arbre en treman

la noit a la ploia ez al gel

tro l’endeman que-l sols s’espan

per las folhas vertz el ramel.

 [1]

Extract from the song Ab la dolçor del temps novel (By the softness of new times), Guilhèm de Peitieus.

Frederic Mistral (1830–1914)

Through his work, Mistral rehabilitates the Provençal language, taking it to the summit of epic poetry. With the poet Roumanille, he founds the Félibrige, literary movement promoting Occitan. Mistral is the author of Lou Tresor dóu Felibrige (1878-1886), which remains to this day the richest bilingual dictionary of the Occitan language. But his main work remains Mirèio (1859), for which he receives the Nobel Literature Prize 1904.

Joan Jaurés (1859 - 1914)

Socialist deputy, Jaurès is noticed for his support to workers’ strikes and to Dreyfus. He founds the Humanité newspaper and participates in the creation of the SFIO, unifying different socialist parties in France. He is murdered in 1914 following his pacifist involvement against the First World War.

Jaurès frequently uses the Occitan language in his electoral campaigns. He even advocates the teaching of Occitan in State schools, something exceptionally rare for a politician of his time.

Folklore tales

The Occitan imaginary world is full of tales and mythology often found in other cultures, under different names.

Lo Drac

Le Drac, sometimes called Drap, Drat is known throughout Europe. Taking on different shapes depending on tales and regions, he is always associated with the Devil. He can be presented as a dragon, a water spirit living in a river, a werewolf or a goblin, when he isn’t taking on the appearance of animals in order to escape recognition.

Joan de l’Ors

« Once upon a time in the mountains, a pretty, twenty-year-old girl was collecting dead wood in the forest. But, hidden behind a bush, the Bear had been watching for some time. All of the sudden he jumped on her and carried the petrified girl off to the deepest depths of the forest.

There, locked in his den, the girl was forced to become the Bear’s wife… After a year, a boy was born. His body was very hairy but he had the face and voice of a man. His mother named him Joan. Well fed, he grew to become very strong and very clever. »

Tale present in Europe, Western Asia, India, China, North Africa, North and South America...

Lo Leberon

Tales of werewolves such as the Leberon in the Limousin area are recurrent over all the Occitan territory and beyond.

They generally involve a man taking on the appearance of a stray dog or a wolf by night and who attacks animals and people.

It is said that a man attacked by a wolf defended himself with a bludgeon, gravely wounding the beast. The next day, one of his neighbours, wearing a great bandage came to thank him for delivering him from the curse which had changed him into a werewolf every night, for years.

From Nasr Edin Hodja to Jean le Sot - Joan lo piòt, lo nèci or bèstia in Occitan - numerous characters from Occitan tales remain universal despite their variants.

Modern Occitan literature

In poetry and in prose, but also in theatre and genre literature, Occitan written productions have never ceased to exist from the troubadours’ time to today. Here is a brief presentation of four of the greatest Occitan authors from the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Marcelle Delpastre (1925-1998)

Farmer, poet and memorialist from the Limousin, Marcelle Delpastre devoted herself to collecting traditional stories and studying the ethnology of oral traditions, customs and beliefs of the Limousin area.

Lo chant de la terra

Zo vos dise, perfum, passarai tala ’na ombra.

E pus redde qu’un fum passarai tras lo riu.

L’arcana dins lo ciau durara mai que ieu.

E n’ai pas tant de temps coma l’aur de la ròsa.

Zo te dise, mar prionda, e sorda a mos prepaus,

Zo te dise, me’n vau – a penas si ’riebe.

 [2]

Marcelle Delpastre, excerpt from Paraulas per ’questa terra, edicions Chamin de Sent-Jaume, 1997.

Robert Lafont (1923- 2009)

Linguistic and sociolinguistic academic, novelist and poet from Nîmes, Robert Lafont wrote over 100 works in French as in Occitan. We owe him the novels La Vida de Joan Larsinhac and La Festa. Associative and political activist for the minorities of Europe, he theorised internal colonialism.

Bernard Manciet (1923- 2005)

After a short career as a diplomat, he devotes himself to writing. Gascon poet, referred to as a “monster of originality”, we owe him L’enterrament a Sabres, but also Le Triangle des Landes and Le Golfe de Gascogne.

Max Rouquette (1908- 2005)

Abounding author in prose, poetry and theatre, Max Rouquette is now translated into French and many other languages. Verd Paradís, collection of short narratives from his scrubland in Hérault, is considered as his masterpiece.

Tant m’an laguiat

Tant m’an laguiat las paraulas de vent

lo parladís de gralhas sul teulat

dau mond ambé son bruch de ferramenta

qu’a d’oras ai envaja de pas dire

mas paraulas qu’a las combas desèrtas

als arnavèsses, a la felze, a la bruga, a la ròca en son pes

[que de mil ans somiaira

sap la virtut e l’espés dau silenci.

Segur que siái qu’emai m’ausigan pas

quauqu’un darrièr fai d’eles sas aurelhas.

 [3]

Except from Aicí mil ans de lutz (At a thousand light years), edicions Jorn, 1995.

Other artistic creations

Music

Music is a motor for Occitan culture and language circulation. Traditional airs are often a point from which current day artists take off, without limiting these.

The 70’s and 80’s saw the appearance of protest songs carried by Claude Marti, in support to the Occitan cultural claim coming forth at the time.

Today a “new traditional music” era commences with Dupain, Lo Còr de la Plana or Familha Artús.

Others evolve towards ska, rock, dub or electro. The more famous representatives of which are Massilia Sound System, les Fabulous Trobadors, Nadau, Peiraguda or La Talvera.

Dance

Occitan dance is as varied as the Occitan landscape. “Sauts béarnais”, “congos”, “rondeaux des Landes”, “bourrées”, “farandoles”, “courantes”, “rigaudons” or more contemporary choreographies are particularities which add to the variety of international folk dances.

Theatre

Theatre is a very efficient means of passing on and learning the language. Played by eight professional troupes and numerous amateurs, theatre holds an important part in Occitan creation.

Broadcasting

The absence of TV broadcasters in most of the Occitan country complicates the financing of documentaries and full-length fiction films. However broadcasting slots exist in Val d’Aran and Catalonia.

Discover some places which promote Occitan artists: l’Estivada in Rodez, Hestiv’òc in Pau, l’Estive in Foix, Les Docks in Cahors, La Mounède in Toulouse, or Correns in Var…

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