The men on the mountainside: an ethnography of solitude, silence and sheep bells
(University of Cambridge)
Paper short abstract:
Concerned with the lived experience of shepherding in the Carpathian Mountains, this paper engages with shepherd's experience of solitude and silence and the way the mountain environment shapes and is shaped by shepherds' interaction with the nonhuman phenomena that constitutes that environment.
Paper long abstract:
This paper constitutes an account of the transhumant ciobani [shepherds] of Romania. The data upon which it is based was collected during ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2015-16. In the region of study, each spring, ciobani herd their flocks to the mountains to exploit seasonally advantageous pasture, returning to their village communities in late autumn to overwinter in the more clement lowlands. Historically, transhumant pastoralism represented a significant part of social and economic life in southern Europe, particularly in the Balkan Peninsula. However, transhumance is increasingly on the retreat in both Romania and Europe more broadly. The area in which the research for this paper was conducted is one of the few regions in which transhumant pastoralism is still practiced. Theoretically, the paper is grounded in terms of more-than-human anthropology. Drawing on this body of literature, this dissertation seeks to contribute to Ingold's call for 'an ecology of life' through a focus on ciobani engagement with their flocks and the wider mountain environment. A key aim of this paper is, therefore, to explore ciobani encounters and interaction with nonhuman phenomena during these months in the mountains. Furthermore, central to this study is a concern with the ciobani experience of solitude and silence. In the mountains, ciobani spend most of their days alone with their flocks. However, the ethnography presented here reveals that this time secluded at pasture teems with myriad more-than-human entanglements which punctuate the solitude and silence of mountain shepherding.
Creative environments, social minds