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ETHNONYM: Arvernes


Identification. The Auvergne is both a historical province in France and one of twenty-two administrative regions created in 1972. The name "Auvergne" derives from the "Arvernes," the Celtic peoples of Gaul who occupied this region during Roman times. Today, the Auvergne is officially composed of the four departments of Allier, Cantal, Haute-Loire, and Puy-de-Dôme. Regional cultural affiliation is sometimes also ascribed to the departments of Aveyron, Corrèze, Lot, and Lozère.

Location. Auvergne is located in the center of France, Primarily on the Massif Central, a huge plateau. It covers an area of 26,012.89 square kilometers. Its regional capital, Clermont-Ferrand, is situated at approximately 45° N and 3° E. The climate varies from humid and windy with cold winters in the west to less humid and warmer weather in the east. The average elevation is 850 meters, but the highest mountains in the region, found in Cantal, surpass 1,000 meters. There are ancient volcanoes in both Cantal and Puy-de-Dôme.

Demography. The population of the Auvergne region was 1,334,400 in 1986. There is also a large population of Auvergnats living outside of the region, particularly in Paris. The density of the population is 51 persons per square kilometer. The population of Clermont-Ferrand was 601,900 in 1986. Although historically rural, the region has become increasingly urbanized since the turn of the century; the urban Population surpassed the rural population during the 1960s.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Auvergne was a linguistic Frontier between northern and southern dialects (the "langue d'oïl" and the "langue d'oc"). French is now the official language spoken among Auvergnats. Except for the very young, many people are bilingual in French and a local dialect (or patois).

History and Cultural Relations

Because of its location on a high plateau, with a mountainous terrain, many parts of the Auvergne remained isolated, Marginal, and poor until the twentieth century. It was inhabited early in history, and there is evidence of heavy population during the Neolithic period. The Gergovie Plateau, near Clermont-Ferrand, was the site of the famous victory by the Arverne (and now French) folk hero Vercingetorix over Julius Caesar in 52 b.c., although the region was later conquered by the Romans. The region's history has been marked by its location as a transitional zone between northern and southern France and by the contrasts between the important political and religious center of Clermont-Ferrand and a countryside inhabited largely by peasants. Auvergnats are among many Regional groups in the pluralist society of France. There is an intense regional consciousness among Auvergnats, but there have not been militant regional movements in the Auvergne as in other parts of France. The Auvergnats in Paris have their own newspaper, L 'Auvergnat de Paris, which attests to the strength of social ties among urban migrants from the region.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The region depends upon agriculture, industry, and tourism. Agriculture varies from mixed farming and vine growing in the lowlands to dairy farming and cattle raising in the mountains. Cheese making continues to be important to the agricultural Economy (especially Saint Nectaire le Cantal cheeses). The Michelin tire company, based in Clermont-Ferrand, dominates the industrial economy. Tourism has long been Important in the region, owing to thermalism and mineral waters in such towns as La Bourboule, Vichy, and Le Mont Dore. Today, winter sports and camping are being developed.

Industrial Arts. In the past Auvergnats participated in several artisanal industries, which are now declining. Lace making was important in the regions of Le Puy, Aurillac, and Craponne. Thiers has long been a center for cutlery; and Ambert is known for its artisanal papermaking industry.

Trade. Supermarkets and shopping centers dominate in urbanized areas. In towns and villages, however, small specialty shops (bakeries, butcher shops, groceries, etc.) are common. Open-air fairs and markets (foires) operate on a calendrical cycle, and regional centers specialize in certain types of markets (e.g., cheese, livestock, etc.). Agricultural fairs are becoming less common but remain vital in the southern portion of the region. Traveling vendors and merchants are Common in more remote areas. Auvergnats participate in worldwide markets and, as French citizens, are incorporated into the European Community.

Division of Labor. As in the rest of France, the Auvergne has both class-based and gender-based divisions of labor. The sexual division of labor in rural Auvergne varies among local regions, but women are primarily responsible for household labor and child rearing, and men for farm labor.

Land Tenure. Auvergne is characterized by smallholding farms, with farm ownership in the hands of owner-farmers. Up until the early twentieth century, however, sharecropping was common in the region. A process of regrouping scattered holdings (le remembrement ) has been encouraged by the Government in recent years.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Auvergnats, like other French people, have a bilateral kinship system, with patriarchal overtones. The Ego-centered kindred is the basic descent group. A notion of the patrimony (te patrimoine ) as a symbol of the family as an Economic, cultural, and social unit is important.

Marriage. Marriage in the Auvergne involves two Ceremonies: a civil one at the mayor's office, and a religious one at the church. A preference for patrilocal residence predominated in the past, although this has declined with both urbanization and the depopulation of farm villages (so that any child is now encouraged to bring a spouse to settle on the farm). As in the rest of France, divorce rates have risen during the postwar period.

Domestic Unit. La maison (sometimes known historically as 1e mas ) is the most common term for the domestic unit, and connotes reference to the family as household. The less inclusive ménage refers to the nuclear family unit. Nuclear family households predominate throughout the region, although extended (stem-type) family households of two or three generations exist in the countryside. In eastern sections of the Auvergne, family communities were common (particularly among peasants) up until the eighteenth century. Neighboring Auvergnat households traditionally gathered for nightly veillées, which included storytelling and handiwork, until quite recently.

Inheritance. Although equal inheritance is legally mandated by the French civil code, Auvergnat farmers have attempted to keep their holdings intact through various informal methods of impartible inheritance. Commonly, the "heir" will monetarily "pay off" the inheritances of siblings through going into debt. Primogeniture is preferred, although this is difficult to achieve, and younger sons and daughters often take over farms.

Socialization. Auvergnat children commonly enter French public or Catholic schools at the age of 3, and the minimal school-leaving age is 16. Family-based socialization instills a strong sense of regional identity. Peer groups, the media, the educational system, and the family compete as agents in the socialization of the youth.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Auvergnats are tied to the French state through a complex bureaucratic infrastructure, yet the primacy of Auvergnat regional identity is strong (particularly among rural inhabitants of the region). There are 1,308 communes in Auvergne, which constitute the smallest administrative units in France and which represent the level at which most social life occurs. There is both urban-rural and classbased social differentiation in the Auvergne. Auvergnats of rural origin who migrate to urban centers often remain in the region and retain close ties to native village and family life. Political Organization. France's Fifth Republic is governed by an executive branch, shared by the elected president and the appointed prime minister (and his cabinet), and a legislative branch, consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate. Since 1982, Auvergne has had a regional President and Council, as part of decentralizing efforts in France; before that, there was a regional prefect, but more central control over policy-making. France has a multiparty political system.

Social Control. The French state has a court system and police to enforce social control. Other state institutions, such as education and social services, also operate to perpetuate an orderly society. At the local level in Auvergne, there is both resistance to state forms of social control and pressure to conform to familial and community-based norms.

Conflict. During World War II, Auvergne was the home of the Vichy government and part of occupied German territory, although the Resistance was strong in southern portions of the region. All of France, including Auvergne, underwent a traumatic period of internal conflict during May 1968, when workers and students launched a series of protests.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Roman Catholicism is the major religion among Auvergnats, and pockets of the Region are extremely devout. The Diocese of Clermont-Ferrand has a long and important history. Several Romanesque churches are found in the Auvergne, notably at Saint Nectaire and Orcival. Each commune and parish has its own patron saint and holds an annual patron saint festival. Easter (Pâques) and All Saints' Day (Toussaint) are the two most important religious dates, when Auvergnats from throughout the region return to their family homes in rural parishes. Auvergnat funerals are also times for large gatherings of kin and neighbors from far afield. For children, the celebration of First Communion at age 11 constitutes a traditional family feast as well as a religious occasion. Vestiges of ancient Celtic sites and beliefs are found throughout northern Auvergne.

Arts. The traditional Auvergnat dance of la bourrée is now performed by folklore groups throughout the region and less formally at local gatherings. Verbal arts of storytelling and punning are also part of Auvergnat expressive culture.

Medicine. France has a national health-care system, and there are both public and private hospitals. Country doctors and nurses who regularly make house calls are still common in rural Auvergne. Various folk healers (guérisseurs ), each specializing in particular types of illness, are also consulted (although their activities are officially illegal).


Fel, André (1962). Les hautes terres du Massif Central (Traditional paysanne et économie agricole ). Clermont-Ferrand: publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Clermont-Ferrand.

Fel, André (1977). "Petite culture, 1750-1850." In Themes in the Historical Geography of France, edited by Hugh D. Clout, 215-247. London: Academic Press.

Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques (1987). Annuaire statistique de la France. Paris: INSEE.

Manry, André-Georges (1974). Histoire de l'Auvergne. Toulouse: Privat.

Privai, Marc, et al. (1987). Vie rurale en Auvergne: Scènes de la vie quotidienne. Roanne: Éditions Horvath.