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Nacioun Gardians (Cultural association, Camargue, France)

Last modified: 2003-06-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: nacioun gardians | bouches-du-rhone | camargue | finial | baroncelli (folco) |
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[Nacioun Gardians flag]by Ivan Sache

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Presentation of the Camargue

The Camargue is an area of 75,000 ha, mostly located on the island constituted by the delta of the river Rhône. In the city of Arles, the Rhône divides into two branches, the Petit Rhône (Little Rhône, west) and the Grand Rhône (Great Rhône, East). The Petit Rhône flows into the Mediterranean Sea west of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, whereas the Grand Rhône flows into the Mediterranean Sea east of Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône.
The Camargue was exploited in the Middle-Ages by Cistercian and Benedictine monks. In the XVI-XVIIth centuries, big estates, known locally as mas, were founded by rich landlords from Arles. At the end of the XVIIIth century, the Rhône was dyked up. In 1858, the building of the digue à la mer (dyke to the sea) achieved protection of the delta from erosion.
The north of the Camargue is made of agricultural land. Main crops are cereals, grapevine and rice. Near the seashore, salt extraction started in the antiquity and was a source of wealth for the "salt abbeys" of Ulmet and Psalmody in the Middle Ages. Salt industry started in the XIXth century and big chemicals companies such as Péchiney and Solvay founded the 'mining' city of Salin-de-Giraud. The center and south of Camargue is the 'natural' area, characterized by a very specific brackish ecosystem. The whole Camargue was declared National Reservation in 1928 and Regional Natural Parc in 1970.

Ivan Sache, 5 October 2002

Presentation of the Gardians

The Camargue is usually associated with the Gitans and the Gardians, the traditional bull rearers. According to a Provencal tradition, the 'three Maries', i.e. Mary Jacobé, the Blessed Virgin's sister; Mary Salomé, the mother of Apostles James the Major and John; and Mary-Magdalen, were expelled from Jerusalem c. year 40. They were placed, along with Lazarus, Martha, Maximin and Sidon, on a boat without seals, rows and supply. Sara, the Maries' black servant, was kept on land, but Mary Salomé threw her coat onto the waters and the coat became a raft, allowing Sara to board on. The boat eventually landed near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Mary Jacobe, Mary Salomé and Sara stayed in Camargue, where their grave became a popular place of pilgrimage.

Sara is the patron saint of the Gitans. The Gitans (from Spanish gitano, short form of egiptano, Egyptian) are Roms of the kale group and come mostly from Spain, Nothern Africa and the south of France. The Gitan pilgrimage takes place in Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on 24 and 25 May to celebrate Mary Jacobé. A second pilgrimage celebrating Mary Salomé takes place on the Sunday closest to the 22 October. During these pilgrimages, the Gitan traditions mix with the Gardian tradition. On 26 May, another festival celebrates Lou Marquès, Marquis of Baroncelli.

Marquis Folco of Baroncelli (1869-1943) was an aristocrat of Florentine origin. In 1893, he created his own manade, a traditional Camarguese estate. A manade (related to main, the hand) is the name given to the cattle and everything 'in hand' associated with it, i.e., the lands, the 'gardians', the horses, etc.. A manade is a kind of ranch, including more than 200 bulls, and ruled by a steward called bayle-gardian. The gardian shall take care of the cattle. His traditional tools are a trident and a black hat, and his best companion is the local, white Camarguese horse. This endemic horse seems to be closely related to the prehistoric horses whose remains have been found elsewhere in France.
The Camarguese bulls are reared mostly for the Camarguese races, during which braves called razeteurs try to pick up a cockade fixed between the horns of the bull. This kind of race dates back at least to the XVIth century. Brave bulls are not killed after the race and the bravest of them are even celebrated with statues. The Spanish corrida was introduced in the Camargue more recently.

Baroncelli was a good friend of the Félibriges, a group of Provencal poets founded by Frédéric Mistral and Théodore Aubanel. He tries to codify and preserve the best gardia' traditions and founded a brotherhood called Nacioun Gardians (Gardian Nation).

Ivan Sache, 5 October 2002

Description of the flag

The flag of Nacioun Gardians, possibly designed by Baroncelli himself, is horizontally divided blue-white-green.
Blue most probably stands for the sky and green for the pastures on which the bulls graze. White could refer to salt or Camarguese horses, but most probably symbolize the traditional gardian hut, whose walls are whitewashed.

[Gardian cross]by Pascal Vagnat

The finial of the flag deserves mention, since it is made of the Gardian cross. This cross is made of a Latin cross, whose three upper points are trident-shaped, an anchor and a heart. The Latin cross symbolizes the Faith; the anchor, the Hope; and the heart, the Charity. These three Virtues were highlighted by St. Paul (Corinthians I, 13). The cross and the anchor also associate the gardians and the fishers of the Camargue. The Gardian cross was designed in 1924 by the artist Hermann Paul upon Baroncelli's request. The first real cross was forged by Gédéon Blatière, again upon Baroncelli's request. Three years later, Blatière forged the nickel cross used as the finial for the Nacioun Gardians flag.
A big Gardian cross can be seen west of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, close to the Mas of Simbéu, which was Baroncelli's estate. Baroncelli's collection on Camarguese traditions is now preserved in the former city hall of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 5 October 2002