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  • Writer's picturexinxane

Going home (kind of): Gijón, Asturias

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

This past Thursday, I woke up at 8 am to head into Madrid to catch my flight to Uviéu. Someone who lived in Toledo showed me on the map the previous day of how to get to the bus station. From there you had to take the ~hour long bus ride, then get on a train, take that train, get off that train, switch lines, and then take that train to the airport. Tedious. I always get lost, and sometimes I like to, but now was not the time. I got lost, very lost, ended up taking a taxi. But I ended up missing my flight to Uviéu anyways so I had to get another one. The taxi cost as much as my round trip flights did but altogether my round trip flight, missed flight, and taxi ride ended up costing almost as much as a one-way flight in the US.

The hours before arriving in Asturies, I think I was too tired to be excited until I first saw it from the plane. My family came from here, I was the first one to come back. We flew over the Cantabrians (home! the home of the Vaqueiros, I will climbing those!), particularly Teberga, and then over the towns further north and I felt like I could identify everything. I have spent so much time looking at photos of Asturies, working with maps of Asturies, even panoramas and streetviews of Asturies I felt I knew it so well but when we landed and I got out, it was entirely different than I had seen and expected. Well, not too different. It was so forested and the trees were so tall, the trees reminded me of the eastern suburbs of NYC where my aunt lives. And this sounds stupid, but everything was just so much bigger than I expected. Particularly the traditional Asturian houses. I have learned that the more you research a place or the more you know of a place before you go there, the more shocked you will be to discover it's now how you imagine, every single time. But not in a bad way.

I was planning on going to the Asturias Historical Archives, though by the time arrived on my later flight, they were closed. Before the Asturias Historical Archives building was an archives building, it was an old prison. When Franco took power with the nationalist coup, it was turned to a Francoist prison (read: concentration camp). Incidentally, I had two distant relatives die here, one by execution and one to disease who are now buried in the mass grave at Ceares. And now it is an archive. If you are not familiar with the Francoist dictatorship and Spanish Civil War, to have a concentration camp be turned into an archive is nothing crazy. Some things former Francoist concentration camps are today: monasteries, so many churches, a beach, a primary school, a hotel and spa, a town hall, a seminary.

If you wonder how this can happen, this is the result of the refusal to confront the crimes of a fascist regime and reconcile the past. When other countries praise Spain for its transition to democracy, they promote forgoing justice for crimes against humanity in favor of quickly establishing social order and control. Spain has the most unearthed mass graves out of any country in the world; war criminals walk free and survivors continue to live and die without seeing justice. If you are interested in more on this topic, The Silence of Others is an incredible documentary on this, released two years ago (2018).

So instead of going to the archives, I went to the Jovellanos library in Xixón and found the few books on Vaqueiros that I didn't have, and scanned the pages I needed with my portable scanner.

The next morning, I picked up a book I ordered before heading to the Museu del Pueblu d'Asturies. I decided to walk, even though it was a bit of a long one, because it went along the beach. The Xixonéses have so many dogs and I think I saw every type of dog walking along the beach. They were wonderful. It was 50 degrees F here and they think it is freezing, I see some of them in coats, but at the same time, there are plenty of people out surfing. I did not know, and neither did many others, that they were doing construction at the park. The bridges to get across the river to the side where the museum is on are mostly blocked off, so I walk around for a very long time until I find part of a bridge that is not blocked off.

First off, I loved seeing the museum, I didn't take too many pictures of the inside exhibits, they were all basically about the lives of xaldos, non-Vaqueiros, in Asturias since 1880. They have the Museu de la Gaita in the back of Museum of the Asturian People, and I saw that and thought it was incredible. As far as I know, Vaqueiros don't really traditionally play the gaita, it is not a part of Vaqueirada, and though I have seen it briefly referenced with Vaqueiros before, and there are one or two professional Vaqueiro gaita players, it is pretty much a xaldo instrument.

The museum had instruments from all across Asturies though, including many Vaqueiro instruments! And I did find the bagpipe exhibit very interesting, there were bagpipes from all across the world!

A collection of pandeirus, the most common Vaqueiro instrument, the circular pandeirus can be just a frame drum like the large one in the left upper corner, or can have cymbals or bells like a tambourine. The square ones are called pandeirus cuadráus and usually are just frame drums and are less common than the circular pandeirus.

On the right, you can see a large metal pan, the payeḷḷa (roughly, payecha), though not the most common instrument among Vaqueiros, it is the most iconic as a Vaqueiro instrument and a symbol of Vaqueiro identity. It is played by a married woman, usually an elder by running a large metal key along the handle. You can watch a video of a Vaqueira woman from Brañaescardén playing it here.

Castañuelas, found in Vaqueiro music, and xaldo music across Spain.

A turuxu and similar instruments. A turuxu can be used in music, but it is generally used to call meetings between brañas or casas or used to scare off wolves.

Various flutes and whistles carved from branches and bones, played by Vaqueiros and xaldos. They all have different names based on their size. A basic flute size like B is called a xipla and the whistles at C are xiplíus in Vaqueiro Territory. However, in different regions, the vocabulary can vary and most regions have sizes between and above or lower than xipla and xiplíu which are very regional. They all start with xipl- from xiplar ('to whistle' or 'to play the flute'). Except for H which is not a type of xipla, but a more flute-like turuxu.

The Museum of the Asturian People also had a large collection of Asturian folk architecture. A brightly painted hórreo, these are very symbolic of Asturies but are not Vaqueiro architecture, you can possibly find a few like this in some north-central brañas that have been colonized.

This is supposedly an Asturian peasant house of the late 1800s style. I've never seen a house like this, it's definitely a xaldo house, probably of central or eastern Asturies. However, it definitely doesn't seem like a peasant house, it has three separate bedrooms, something you have to pay a lot for today, anywhere in the world. They are small bedrooms, but three separate ones nonetheless, something peasants didn't have, some didn't even have beds or a single bedroom, they just slept on the benches around the hearth.

A paneira, these can be found in some winter brañas as well as xaldo towns. It has a different roof than a hórreo and usually has more pegoḷḷus, or stilts. It is used to store grains, and Vaqueiros used it to store dried grasses that they gathered in the winter for their cattle. The circular logs and little houses on them are beehives, this paneira looks very much like the ones in the braña of Beisapía, beehives and all.

This is a balagar, a haystack around a center pole. There is usually not grass growing on it. They are used among xaldos and Vaqueiros, in the winter brañas. There are very few still with grasses on them in the brañas, there are possibly a couple winter brañas left with balagars, but mostly you can just see empty center poles.

This was just called a pastor's shelter. I have never seen anything like this, it is likely a shelter of xaldo pastors in eastern Asturies.

A corru! Finally a Vaqueiro structure! This one appears very strange, it is not very rounded and more resembles the corrus of the the central southern brañas and mayadas than the western southern ones. The grass roof is nice to see! This is only a reconstruction but in the brañas, the grass roofs of corrus are not often preserved.

This structure was simply labelled a 'chozo', or hut, specifically usually referring to a pastor's hut. It doesn't look very much like a Vaqueiro structure from the outside, especially with the strange front-yard type of fence it has. Its inside reminds me much of a corru, if it had a thatched roof! However, the shape as a whole, besides the weird small wall does not remind me as much of a Vaqueiru teitu.

I was glad to see some braña-like structures before I hike the braña. I hope you all enjoy the photos, I have many more but my posts would be novels if I included and commented on them all. I still have to post on my second part of my trip to Xixón, so be expecting that! My posts do lag a bit behind the days I experience them for I am very busy but I hope to keep updating!

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