Degemer mat, bienvenue, refugees welcome

With the clearing out of the Calais migrant camp, the situation of refugees in France is very much in the news this week. Brittany, of course, is one of the places that refugees are being resettled. I came across–via a friend on Facebook–this wonderful trilingual welcome sign.  I downloaded it from the site Les gens heureux que Trégastel et Trébeurden accueillent des réfugiés–the people happy that Trégastel and Trébeurden are welcoming refugees. The site credits the designer as being Claire Robert.

Part of what I like about this sign is its message of welcome. Of course, another part of what I like is the inclusion of “Degemer Mat”, a phrase of welcome in the Breton language. (I’m assuming that the English is included for the sake of the refugees.)

The other thing that makes this special is the inclusion of the traditionally-dressed woman reaching her hand out to a bearded man with a bag, symbolizing a refugee. While Bretons haven’t worn traditional outfits as daily wear for a while, you can often see people dressed in such outfits during parades and folk dancing competitions. And faïence and dish towels sold in gift shops often have images of men and women in traditional attire. So, it’s very symbolic of Brittany and its connection to its traditional culture. It’s also a thoughtful way of connecting Breton culture and the modern (global) world. People sometimes set up a false dichotomy between tradition and modernity, tribalism and globalism. But as this symbol shows, many people understand that the two do not have to be in opposition.

P.S. Apparently, because of the shape, and because of where I placed the image above, it’s hard to see the whole image at the top of the page. So I’m adding another copy of the image here, the better for you to see it:

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Gortoz a ran / I wait

One of the reasons that I write this blog is because most people in the U.S. have never heard of the Breton language or Brittany, and I want to spread the word. So any time that Brittany or the Breton language is in the mainstream English-language media—something that only seems to happen very rarely—I’m thrilled. This is one of those times.

Millions of Americans heard part of a Breton song on TV the other day. Did you know that? I didn’t either. Pretty cool. It would have been even cooler, perhaps, if they’d been aware of it, but I suspect they weren’t. The song in question was on an episode of South Park, on Comedy Central. “I Can’t Fix You” is the name of the episode, and this clip has the bit of the song that they used. The song starts a minute in.

It’s quite a haunting tune. The name of the song is “Gortoz a Ran” (I Wait), and the recording is by Denez Prigent and Lisa Gerrard. Denez Prigent is one of the best-known singers of traditional Breton music, and this song is on his 2000 album Irvi. (Available in all the usual places.) It’s actually not the first time Americans have been exposed to this song–it was featured in the movie Black Hawk Down. I haven’t seen the film, but I had read about that at some point. Here’s the official video of the song on YouTube, with film scenes interspersed with video of the singers:

 

And because I don’t really watch animated TV programs, this South Park episode is not something that I would have come across by chance. Thanks to the internet, I read about it in this article in Le Ploermelais, a small (French-language) newspaper in Brittany. Did any of you happen to see the episode? Have you heard this song before? Let me know in the comments below.