ETHNONYMS: Breizhiz, Bretoned
Identification. Brittany is the westernmost region (formerly called a province) of France comprising the four departments (large administrative units in France, roughly equivalent to U.S. states) of Côtes-du-Nord, Ille-et-Vilaine, Finistère, and Morbihan. The Breton population is predominantly of Celtic descent.
Location. Brittany is effectively a large peninsula, bounded on three sides by water: the English Channel to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south. The peninsula is 160 kilometers wide at its eastern boundary and 90 kilometers wide at the west; it is 215 kilometers long and has 2,800 kilometers of coastline. Numerous islands are associated with the Breton mainland both historically and culturally: they are located on all three sides of the peninsula and contribute an additional 700 kilometers of coastline. Although transected by the 47th parallel (the same as Quebec in Canada), Brittany enjoys a relatively mild climate due to the Gulf Stream that courses around the peninsula. Winter is moderate with little or no snow or ice. Summer is cool, with temperatures ranging between 4.4 and 18° C. Rain falls throughout the year (on average 104 centimeters), and land and sea breezes are nearly always present. The peninsula is in general of low elevation, its highest point reaching only 384 meters in the Monts d'Arree in the northwest. Although low, the interior lands are not generally flat but consist of gently rolling slopes and small hills. Undulating cultivated fields enclosed by dense boundary-marking hedges (bocages ) are typical of the landscapes offered in interior Brittany. Moorland (landes ) is also extensive in the north-central and northwestern sectors. The coast is marked by numerous inlets and estuaries, rugged cliffs, and imposing outcroppings of rocks and crags along the northern and western sides; the south in general affords easier access to the ocean and to many fine beaches. Bretons have for generations expressed the contrast between the interior and the coast with the epithets armor, "the sea," and argoat, "the forest" (reflecting an age when the interior was heavily wooded).
Demography. Historically one of the most densely populated regions of France, Brittany has, through high losses in human life suffered during the two world wars and through emigration, dwindled from 6.5 percent (1.83 million) of the French population in 1801 to 4.98 percent (2.7 million) in 1982, and the population continues gradually to decrease. Bretons constitute a unique ethnolinguistic constellation within the territorial boundaries of France, but they are linked culturally and historically to the Celts of the British Isles (the Irish, Welsh, and Scots). Originally a farming and maritime population on the whole, Brittany has in the past twenty-five years lost more than half of its farming families and many of its fishing families to cities in Brittany or elsewhere in France (especially to Paris)—or, to a lesser extent, to other countries. The toll of emigration has been only partially offset in recent years by immigrant workers originating chiefly from Mediterranean countries.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Breton language belongs to the Brythonic Branch of the Celtic Family of languages. It is thus closely related to Cornish (now extinct) and to Welsh, and more distantly related to the Celtic languages in the Goidelic Branch—Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, and Manx. It is estimated that there are 500,000-600,000 speakers of Breton in Brittany; probably all Breton speakers nowadays also know French.
History and Cultural Relations
The presence of this originally insular Celtic population on the Continent is accounted for by their migrations from the British Isles that took place between the third and fifth centuries a.d., apparently set off by the military and territorial pressures exerted by advancing groups of Angles and Saxons. Their settlement in Brittany was permanent, and Bretons managed for a time (ninth-tenth centuries) to create an independent state, but they were subsequently besieged by both Frankish (the future French) and Norman invaders, which reduced the amount of territory under their control. In 1488 Breton forces were definitively defeated in battle by the French, and in 1532 Brittany was officially annexed to the French state. However, throughout the ancien régime, Brittany retained its own parliament and administrative autonomy. Because of these facts and the sheer physical distance of Brittany from Paris, the Breton "province" was able to retain its distinctive Celtic culture and language, particularly in nonurban areas, which meant most of the vast inland territories of the province. The majority of the Breton people did not assimilate linguistically and culturally into the French nation until the nineteenth century, with the imposition of the military draft and obligatory public education, the creation of a network of highways and railways, and the development of industry. World War I greatly accelerated the assimilation process through the patriotic rallying of the populace and through the disproportionate loss of lives to the war effort (12 percent of Bretons were killed in World War I, though they represented only 6.5 percent of the total French population at that time). The interwar years saw the development of a significant movement for Breton autonomy; for some Bretons this meant also a return to the Breton language and traditional cultural values that they felt had been seriously threatened, if not destroyed, by the French. The movement for political autonomy from France is not so strong today, but there continues to be significant agitation among the people for the development of higher levels of cultural, linguistic, and economic self-determination.
Most Bretons perceive themselves as constituting a distinct ethnic or cultural group within France, at least historically. Divisions within the Breton population are chiefly along class and political lines, though tensions at times are manifested between Bretons and non-Breton immigrant groups in urban areas. Many Bretons also identify with the wider Celtic community; cultural and intellectual exchanges between Brittany and Wales, Ireland, and Scotland have been occurring for a very long time.
Small hamlets and dispersed farmsteads characterized the settlement pattern in rural Brittany for centuries. Larger agglomerations of population were found in the parish headquarters—the plous (in Latin, plebs, "people"), which, although based on a church, were by no means limited to religious activities, but served economic and social functions as well. The area covered by a plou could vary widely—between roughly 10 and 100 square kilometers. As the population grew, the plous were subdivided into segments (trevioù ), which in turn would grow into new parishes. The inheritance of this settlement and naming system is still very much in evidence in modern Brittany, where place names beginning in "Plou-" and "Tre-" are abundant (especially in the northwestern regions). The traditional rural house is rectangular, constructed of granite, with a roof of thatch or slate whose gables at each end are topped by a chimney; older houses have but one or two rooms, and appended structures, such as a stable (which would share a wall with the house), add to the impression of size. The traditional style is evident in many new houses throughout Brittany, though today they may be of cement, are whitewashed, and are far more spacious. Most of the major urban agglomerations in Brittany are found strung along or with access to the coast, the most important of which are (proceeding counterclockwise from the northeast) Saint Malo, Saint Brieuc, Morlaix, Brest, Concarneau, Quimper, Lorient, and Vannes. All of these support commercial maritime activities. The only major interior city is Rennes, historically the capital of the province; nowadays it is an industrial center (for the Citroën automobile, printing, and communications industries) and home to one of the two major universities located within Brittany (the other being in the coastal city of Brest).
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence polyculture was the economic basis for the majority of Bretons living in the interior regions, and fishing and algae gathering for the coastal folk, until the early decades of the twentieth century. Since the two world wars, especially World War II, agriculture has modernized greatly, which has had two important results: first, it has meant the loss of countless small farms and the migration of farming families to the cities; but second, it has also increased the efficiency of agricultural production to the point that Brittany now ranks as the leading agricultural region of France, exporting such products as chicken, pork, fresh and canned vegetables, potatoes, milk, and butter. Fish and crustaceans are also an important economic and culinary resource, as well as a major attraction to tourists. Bretons, too, who in earlier epochs partook but little of marine products, have come to appreciate their own "fruits of the sea." The traditional diet consisted of potatoes, bread, buckwheat crepes, porridge, salt pork, eggs, cider, and milk; relatively little meat or fish was consumed until after World War II. Brittany experienced rapid industrialization after 1960, coming to it later but more intensively than other regions of France. Industries associated with agriculture—canneries, dairies, animal feed producers, slaughterhouses and packing plants, agricultural machinery manufacturers—constitute the largest industrial sector; however, other types of significant industrial activity include mining (of granite, slate, and kaolin), construction (including boats and ships), telecommunications, automobiles, and public works. In spite of considerable industrial growth since over the past thirty years, not all industries have prospered continuously (e.g., naval construction has markedly declined since 1975), and unemployment rates rose as high as 11 percent in parts of Brittany in the 1980s. A boom in tourism, on the other hand, has spawned a sizable hostelry industry; recent decades have also witnessed a sharp increase in the "secondary residence" building business. Finally, certain Parisian and multinational companies engaged in light industry requiring a sizable labor force have been attracted to Brittany because of the lower salaries accepted by a largely young, nonunionized, female workforce of rural origin.
Industrial Arts. Woodworking is a traditional Breton craft that has much declined in the wave of machine-turned furniture, yet is still practiced by skilled artisans. Pottery making continues as an important artisanal craft of considerable commercial value.
Trade. The 1970s brought to Brittany the first supermarket chains, which now flourish throughout the region. Another development has been that of the "commercial centers" where, in addition to food, it is possible to purchase almost any consumer good that can be carted out of the store. These are located on the outskirts of cities such as Rennes, Brest, Quimper, and Lorient, and they draw customers from urban and rural environs alike. Such giant enterprises have threatened, though not entirely eliminated, the family-run specialty shops that used to be the norm. In addition, the tradition of weekly or biweekly open-air markets has remained robust in medium-sized towns.
Division of Labor. In its days as a rural, strongly Catholic society, male-female division of labor was much as in other premodern agricultural societies, with women having the primary responsibility for food preparation, washing, rearing children, weaving, sewing, etc., while men did the majority of the heavy farmwork and took care of the farm machinery and equipment. With the advent of farm mechanization and the "desertification" of the farm—especially by women—this pattern is no longer so straightforward. Probably a majority of adult women work in the paid labor force at some time in their lives and manage households that have been enhanced with up-to-date services and utilities. Many women have moved into professional and technical spheres of employment. Nevertheless, shopping, cooking, and child rearing are much more likely to be done by women than by men, while mechanical and heavy industrial work are still within the male province.
Land Tenure. In the Middle Ages, the domaine congéable was developed in Brittany whereby land was held by one owner, while the buildings, orchards, tools, livestock, etc. were owned by the occupant. This system gradually was replaced by private (individual or family) ownership of the complete farm. The fragmentation of holdings through the partible inheritance system (also a problem elsewhere in France) has over the generations reduced many fields to such small dimensions that they are unworkable in this age of mechanized agriculture. Many families therefore have sold their parcels to larger, wealthier farmers or to agribusinesses. Yet private ownership of a house and plot of land (for a garden) remains a goal for many Bretons.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Kinship. Lineage is traced cognatically, but the naming system is patronymic. Women used to retain their patronyms after marriage, a practice that has been largely supplanted in this century by the French vironymic system. Fictive kinship in the form of godparent-godchild relations was a very important part of the social fabric for a long time; often the godparent would in fact be real kin—an unmarried aunt or uncle, for example. The extended family—consisting of three generations and often collateral kinfolk—was the basic social unit in the countryside, but this has been broken up through the emigration of rural families to the cities or to other regions of France. Nuclear families are now in general the rule.
Marriage. The marriage ceremony remains an important celebration for the individual and the family, and most couples choose to have both the civil and the church ceremonies performed (only the former is strictly necessary). In traditional rural Brittany marriages were the occasion for dayslong revelry, with hundreds of people invited to partake in the feasting and games. It was not unusual for multiple marriages to take place—that is, two or more sisters would marry two or more brothers. The levirate was also practiced. Postmarital residence could be either uxori- or virolocal; nowadays it is chiefly neolocal. Young couples tend to have their children early in the marriage. Through birth control practices, couples can limit the size of their families to the desired two or three children (in contrast with past generations of couples who were pressured by the church to produce as many off-spring as possible). Divorce is fully legal but still stigmatized.
Domestic Unit. The basic unit is now the nuclear family, though this may expand as needed to accommodate elderly or invalid relatives.
Inheritance. Bilateral partible inheritance has long been customary in Brittany, though generally only one child would inherit the farm (whether it was the oldest or the youngest varied locally). The remaining siblings were recompensed with other property or goods. The female's equal right of inheritance has, through the centuries, been one of the distinctive features of Breton culture vis-à-vis the French (and other non-Celtic Europeans).
Socialization. Although corporal punishment of children is not unknown, Bretons have for long relied on verbal admonishment and instruction through a rich repertoire of proverbs and aphorisms. Appeal to Christian models of behavior and, in earlier days, the inculcation of a fear of hell and the wrath of God were also regularly deployed in the socialization process.
Brittany, formerly a province under the ancien régime, today is qualified as a "region" within the republic of France; it is sometimes grouped with other western-lying departments under the generic title of "l'Ouest" (the West). Administratively, it consists of the four departments noted earlier (a fifth department, Loire-Atlantique, was recently reassigned to another region). Each department has delegates elected to the National Assembly under a multiple-party system that represents Communist, Christian democratic, socialist, and right-wing viewpoints. Departments also have préfets (chief executive officers) who are appointed by the central government and are not necessarily of Breton origin.
Social Organization. The traditional social organization revolved around the extended family as the basic unit of kinship and subsistence; however, local groupings of families into hamlets and plous was another important organizational component in which people could provide material and psychological support for one another through mutual Cooperative efforts (e.g., at harvest time, at birth and death). Vertical class divisions also organized people and activities, more stringently in the past than now, into peasant, bourgeois, aristocrat, religious, and secular classes.
Political Organization. Implementation of national policies at the regional level is carried out through the French system of departmental, arrondissement, and cantonal divisions (these are in decreasing order of jurisdiction). There is also a regional council with elected representatives empowered to make some decisions independent of the central government. Local matters are considered at the level of the commune, which is presided over by a mayor and municipal councillors (elected positions).
Social Control. The Catholic church historically played a key role in social control (and in reproduction); its influence has steadily diminished in the present century. On an informal level, gossip—within the neighborhood or village—remains a powerful tool of social control. At the formal level of control and conflict resolution, the French legal system—based on the Napoleonic Code—has been in effect since 1804.
Conflict. Breton soil has been the site of much armed conflict throughout its history as Bretons early on fought Frankish and Norse invaders and attempted to gain or maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity; from the eleventh century until annexation of Brittany to France in 1532, innumerable bloody confrontations—on both land and sea—took place as English and French forces vied for Breton territory. Internal conflict has also erupted intermittently, notably following the French Revolution, when Republicans and Royalists were pitted against one another. The 1930s witnessed the rise of syndicalism and the workers' assertion of their rights vis-à-vis employers and unfavorable economic policies. Brittany was occupied by the Germans during World War II; the civilian population suffered considerable losses, and internal conflict again arose here (as elsewhere in France) between collaborationists and résistants. Post-World War II years have witnessed protests and demonstrations against the central government's economic policies regarding French regions, against nuclear power plants in Brittany, and in favor of greater economic, cultural, and linguistic autonomy.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs and Practices. The vast majority of Bretons are of the Catholic faith, though practice of religion (regular attendance at mass, confession, etc.) has waned throughout this century, particularly among men. However, baptism, marriage, and funeral rites within the Catholic church are still pervasive. Historically Bretons have been noted for their deep religiosity, their profusion of saints (most are unique to Brittany) and chapels, their religious festivals—such as the pardons —and their pilgrimages. Pardons, marked by singing and dancing as well as religious observances, are still much in evidence today, though the religious underpinnings of these celebrations have been undermined by commercialism and tourism. A salient festival, known as la grande troménie, still takes place in western Brittany every six years, in which participants walk 12 kilometers bearing saints' icons, visiting the chapels and sacred spots believed to be inhabited by the saints within the parish.
Arts. Brittany's visual arts consist of many elements: centuries of architectural styles applied to both secular and religious structures (the Roman and Gothic influences are manifest, in addition to the Breton refinement of the tall, pointed spire so typical of its churches); statuary that is perhaps most memorably displayed in the magnificent calvaries (which depict scenes from the gospels with stone statues) and ossuaries that are the companions to many churches; centuries-old traditions of painting and tapestry; and a rich complex of artisanal crafts. Traditional music of Brittany focuses on two wind instruments—the biniou (a small bagpipe) and the oboelike bombarde —which are typically paired together in performances. Troops of biniou players are also popular. The Celtic harp has been reintroduced in recent decades; and the accordion has also been a popular instrument in this century. Literary production in the Breton language has seen a great upward surge in diversity and quality since the 1920s following centuries of neglect, which was a result of the castigation and repression of the spoken Breton language by the French and by Breton authorities representing their policies.
Medicine. Traditional Breton medicine drew on homemade herbal remedies; but there was also reliance on a person called a diskonter, who could dispel illnesses or disorders with special incantations (handed down from generation to generation within certain families). Today Breton medicine is almost completely in the hands of highly trained medical specialists in the national health system.
Death and Afterlife. Bretons tend to prepare for death—ensuring well in advance that their cemetery plot or place in the family vault is secured and selecting their funerary garb. Cremation is seldom practiced. Many superstitions accompany appropriate conduct when a close relative has died: for example, the doors and windows of the deceased's house should be left open to permit the soul (thought to assume the shape of an insect) to leave easily; mirrors should be turned to face the wall. Relatives accompany the deceased to the church, where a mass is said prior to burial, after which the family returns home for a ceremonial meal. In the first year following a person's death, a number of services will be held in the deceased's name to assist the soul in its journey to the anaon (the world beyond); such at least was the traditional belief and practice. The legendary death figure is Ankou, represented as a skeleton with a scythe, often riding a wooden cart. Tradition has it that the sound of his cart creaking portends the death of someone in the neighborhood. In popular belief of times past, hell (ifern ) was conceptualized as a glacial place rather than as an inferno, seen in references to ifern yen ("cold hell") in fifteenth- to seventeenth-century liturgical literature.
Badone, Ellen (1989). The Appointed Hour: Death, Worldview, and Social Change in Brittany. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bonneton, Christine, ed. (1979). Bretagne: Ecologie, économie, art, littérature, langue, histoire, traditions populaires. Le Puy: C. Bonneton.
Delumeau, Jean, directeur (1969). Histoire de la Bretagne. Toulouse: Privat.
Meynier, Andre (1984). Atlas et géographie de la Bretagne. Rev. ed. Lausanne: Flammarion.
Segalen, Martine (1985). Quinze générations de Bas-Bretons: Parenté et société dans le pays bigouden Sud, 1720-1980. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
LENORA A. TIMM
LOCATION: Brittany region of northwestern France
POPULATION: 2.9 million
LANGUAGE: French; Breton
RELIGION: Roman Catholic
Located in the northwestern corner of France, Brittany is often compared to Wales because of the Celtic origins of its people, as well as their ruggedness and independence. The two regions—both located at the western edges of their respective countries—are about the same size, and the Bretons, like the Welsh, have historically shown a determination to preserve their cultural and linguistic traditions despite political control by a much larger ruling power. The Bretons have also been compared to the Irish because of their strong emphasis and love for tradition, their large and catholic families, and their history of poverty in comparison to their ruling powers. Although the past two centuries have brought about a dramatic decline in Brittany's isolation from the rest of France, its people still retain their identity as a distinct cultural and ethnic group.
The Bretons arrived in their current homeland in the 5th and 6th centuries ad, fleeing the Anglo-Saxons invading the British Isles. The coastal part of Brittany had long been called Armorica ("land by the sea") and the interior Argoat ("land of forest"). The arriving Celts, however, simply called the entire region Petite Bretagne ("little Britain"), sometimes shortened to Bretagne. The area was an independent duchy from the 9th century until 1532 when it was formally annexed to France. Until the French Revolution in the 18th century, however, it retained its own parliament and autonomous administration. After the Revolution (in which the Bretons had sided with the royalists), Brittany was split into separate administrative divisions called départements and ceased to exist as a political entity. (Since 1964, it has consisted of four départements: Finistère, Côtes-d'Armor, Ille-et-Vilaine, and Morbihan. The Loire-Atlantique département, which had traditionally belonged to Brittany, was transferred to another region, a move which angered many Bretons.)
The linguistic and cultural isolation that had been fostered by Brittany's political autonomy began to decline during the 19th century thanks to a number of developments, including the inauguration of a military draft, the beginnings of mandatory public education, improved transportation, and the development of industry. World War I further contributed to the Bretons' assimilation into the French mainstream, resulting in a strong (but ultimately unsuccessful) movement for the return of political autonomy to Brittany. The Front de Liberation de la Bretagne was much like a small scale Irish Republican Army (IRA) with their use of sporadic attacks in pursuit of a free Brittany. The group has largely disappeared today. The region suffered great losses in both world wars (Brittany lost 12% of its population in World War I, although the Bretons accounted for only 6.5% of France's total population). In the postwar period, Brittany has prospered. Agriculture has been modernized, and the growth of industry has decreased the region's traditional dependence on fishing (although fishing remains an important source of income and employment). In recent years, Breton regionalism has focused on cultural and linguistic preservation and economic, rather than political, autonomy.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Located at the westernmost edge of continental Europe, Brittany is virtually a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides: to the west and south, the Atlantic Ocean and to the north, the English Channel. Slightly larger than Wales, it is 215 km (134 mi) long with 1,200 km (746 mi) of coastline. The coast is extremely jagged, with many islands, reefs, islets, and estu-aries. Much of the interior is laid out in a checkerboard pattern of fields and pastures separated by stone walls and hedges called bocages. A traditional east-west division into Upper and Lower Brittany (Haute and Basse Bretagne) delineates cultural differences between the western half of the region, where both French and Breton are spoken and some of the old customs are still followed, and the east, which has more thoroughly assimilated the culture and language of the rest of France.
Most of Brittany's towns and cities are found along the coast. The area has a population density of 53.5 per sq. km. The largest include Vannes, Quimper, Concarneau, Brest, Morlaix, and St. Malo. Rennes is the only important city in the interior. Formerly the capital of Brittany, today it is home to one of two universities in the region and is an important industrial center. In the past 25 years, increasing numbers of Bretons have emigrated from rural areas, mostly to Paris and other French cities and, in lesser numbers, to other countries.
Breton is a Celtic language related to Welsh and Cornish. It was brought to the French coast in the 5th and 6th centuries ad by British Celts; flourished in the 9th century, when the duchy of Brittany was at the peak of its power historically; and declined after France's annexation of the region in the 15th century. Today, there are only a small number of people who speak Breton as their first language, while greater numbers speak both French and Breton. The modern nationalist movement has worked to revive the Breton language, as seen by the existence of the Union for the Defense of the Breton Language (UDB). Nevertheless, the use of Breton as a first language has declined rapidly, and there are few Bretons who do not also speak French. The Breton language has been effectively excluded from primary and secondary schools. By the beginning of the 21st century, the number of Breton speakers in Brittany was estimated at fewer than 600,000. Estimates of those who can read the language are far smaller (under 10,000).
There are four Breton dialects: Trégorrois, Léonard, Corn-ouaillais, and Vannetais. Many Breton surnames are derived from the word "ker" (which means house) plus another syllable based on a Christian name. Examples include Kerjean ("house of John"), Kerbol ("house of Paul"), and Kerber ("house of Peter"). Syllables commonly found in Breton place names include "plou," or "parish" (Ploudaniel); "lann," or "church" (Lannion); "ker," or "house" (Kermaria); and "gui," or "town" (Guimiliau). Other common words found in Breton place names are bihan (small), braz (large), men (stone), and mor (sea).
A Celtic aura of magic and mystery pervades Brittany, a land of legends and superstition. Many folk customs and legends center
on death, symbolized by a character named Ankou, who figures in a multitude of tales depicted as a skeleton carrying a scythe and often riding on a wooden cart. It is said that deaths are foreshadowed by the creaking of his cart. When a person dies, the doors and windows of the family house are traditionally left open so that the spirit of the deceased (commonly pictured as an insect) can easily fly out, and mirrors are turned to face the walls.
The medieval legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are popular in Brittany, as is the tale of Tristan and Isolde. The town of Quimper is said to have been founded by King Gradlon after his former capital, the city of Is, was destroyed when his daughter, bewitched by the Devil, let in the floodwaters of the sea. Escaping with her on horseback, the king received an order from Heaven to throw her into the sea, where she turned into the mermaid Marie-Morgane. It is said that if mass is ever celebrated in one of the drowned city's churches on Good Friday, the city will be restored and the mermaid will become human again.
The Bretons—an overwhelmingly Catholic people—are known for the strength of their religious beliefs, especially their devotion to their hundreds of local saints whose painted wooden statues decorate the region's multitude of churches. Every town has its patron saint, and special saints are prayed to for specific ailments (for centuries, such prayers were the Bretons' most trusted form of medical intervention). Although religious observance, even among this devout group, suffered a decline during the 20th century, Catholicism has remained stronger in Brittany than in many other parts of Western Europe, and most Bretons are still baptized, married, and buried within the Catholic tradition. Bretons are also noted for their religious monuments (including nine cathedrals), pilgrimages, and the traditional festivals known as pardons. According to tradition, every Breton is supposed to make a pilgrimage to all nine cathedrals in the course of his or her lifetime to avoid having to make this pilgrimage after death.
Bretons celebrate France's religious, historical, and patriotic holidays throughout the year. These include New Year's Day (January 1); Epiphany (January 6); Labor Day (May 1); Bastille Day (July 14), which is France's national holiday and the equivalent of Independence Day in the United States; the Feast of the Assumption (August 15); All Saints' Day (November 1); World War II Armistice Day (November 11); and Christmas (December 25). The French observe Christmas by attending a midnight mass.
The most famous and important of Brittany's regional holidays are the pardons, local religious festivals usually centering on a particular saint or legend. Pilgrims attend them to make or fulfill vows, seek miraculous cures, and, above all, to seek forgiveness for their sins. The main event of every pardon is a procession, usually in the afternoon. Men and women wearing traditional costumes carry multicolored banners, candles, and religious relics to a final destination, usually a church or chapel. Although the pardons are directed by priests, and sometimes even bishops, once the procession is over they assume the character of a secular fair or festival, with refreshments, dancing, and games. Pardons mostly take place between March and the end of October. The most famous is Le Folgoët's Grand Pardon, which begins at 4:00 PM and lasts until the following day. However, the traditional Breton customs and clothing are most prominent in the western half of the region.
RITES OF PASSAGE
The Bretons live in a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Hence, many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are Roman Catholic rituals, such as baptism, first Communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the education system is marked by many families with graduation parties.
In most ways, life for 21st-century Bretons differs little from life in the rest of France. Because the influence of the Catholic Church is so strong, church festivals are important social events for many Bretons.
Many of the houses found today in Brittany are built with the traditional pink, grey, and black stones of the area and have thatched or slate roofs. In older dwellings, the family's living area is composed of only one or two rooms, with additional structures, such as barns, attached to the house itself. Modern houses often retain the look of the older homes but are much more spacious inside, with an exterior of whitewashed cement.
The Bretons receive high-quality modern health care through France's comprehensive national health care system, which covers both private care and state-operated facilities. The average French life expectancy is 81 years. Traditional Breton folk medicine included homemade herbal remedies and the services of a healer called a diskonter, who practiced spells transmitted from one to generation to the next.
France's modern, efficient transportation system is centered on the city of Paris, which can make direct travel between provincial locations difficult. However, rural Bretons enjoy the advantage of quiet and relatively uncrowded roads, especially compared with the congested traffic that has become the norm in Paris and other parts of France. The state-owned railways are punctual, with clean, modern trains. Brittany has 600 km (373 mi) of navigable rivers and canals.
Most couples in Brittany have both civil and church weddings, although the civil wedding alone is legally acceptable. In spite of their strong Catholic religious tradition, many Bretons practice birth control, limiting the size of their families to two or three children in contrast to the larger families that were formerly the norm. Also, couples tend to have their children while they are young. Divorce, while legal, still carries a stigma for many Bretons. Most women in Brittany are part of the paid labor force at some time in their lives, and many have found employment in technical and professional fields.
For everyday casual, business, or formal wear, Bretons wear modern Western-style clothing like that of people elsewhere in France and Western Europe. However, their distinctive traditional costumes are still seen at pardons and other festivals, and may also be worn on special occasions such as baptisms and weddings. The men's costumes include broad-brimmed hats with ribbons, embroidered waistcoats, short jackets, and, in some areas, baggy homespun breeches called bragoubras. Women wear black or colored dresses, often with elaborate embroidered, brocaded, or lace-trimmed aprons of satin or velvet. The most distinctive feature of the women's costume is the elaborate lace headgear, which varies from region to region but is generally called a coiffe. The best-known coiffes are stiff white lace bonnets ranging from a modest-sized cap to the coiffe worn by the women of Bigoudènes, a stiff cylinder over a foot high with streamers in back. Younger women often modernize their costumes by wearing skirts that are shorter than ankle-length and fashionable footwear instead of the traditional black buckled shoes.
Much of the cuisine in Brittany is similar to that elsewhere in France, although the region is known for its excellent seafood, especially lobster, crawfish, cod, tunny, and sardines. Regional specialties include a fish soup known as cotriade (similar to the bouillabaisse eaten in other parts of France), a lobster dish know as lobster à l'armoricaine, a beef-and-vegetable dish called potée bretonne, and wheat or buckwheat crèpes, with a range of fillings that include ham, cheese, eggs, jam, fresh fruit, and honey. Cider is the most popular local beverage in Brittany, which is not one of France's wine-producing regions.
As elsewhere in France, education in Brittany is free and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. Children attend school on Saturday mornings and have Wednesdays off. Secondary education begins with four years at a middle school called a collège, followed by three years spent either at a general lycée for those planning to go on to college or at a vocational lycée. After receiving their baccalauréat degrees, students may go on to a university or to a grand école, which offers preparation for careers in business or government service. In Lower Brittany, the Breton language is taught as an optional subject in secondary school and at teacher training schools.
Brittany has over 250 Celtic Clubs whose mission is the revival and preservation of Breton folk music and dance and other traditional customs. The traditional performance arts are also kept alive through regular gatherings such as the Abadenn Veur held every July in Quimper. The most popular Breton folk instruments are the biniou (a small bagpipe) and the bombarde, which is similar to an oboe. The accordion and the Celtic harp are also widely used for traditional music. Special folk dances traditionally performed at the religious festivals called pardons include the Ribbon Gavotte, the Tobacco and Handkerchief Gavotte, and the Dérobée, where a man "steals" a young woman from her escort. The folk art of Brittany is found in churches and on statues as well as in paintings and tapestries.
Famous Breton authors include the medieval poet and philosopher Peter Abelard; Alain-René Lesage, author of Gil Blas; the science-fiction writer Jules Verne; and the experimental novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the script for French director Alain Resnais's famous 1961 film Last Year in Marienbad. There has been a revival of writing in the Breton language since the 1920s, before which point Breton was suppressed by the French authorities.
Although many small farms have been abandoned with the rise in mechanization since World War II, Brittany is France's foremost agricultural producer. The region is responsible for about 30% of France's fishing industry. The major principal crops are artichokes and cauliflower. Other major employers are light industry and the service sector. Forty percent of France's telecommunications research and development is based in Brittany. The ferry industry is also significant, with 2.7 million annual passengers, mostly from the United Kingdom, and huge amounts of shipping. However, the ferry business has suffered with the increased usage of train travel and especially the Channel Tunnel to the UK. Brittany's unemployment rate is still low compared to the rest of France.
The Bretons, like people throughout France, love soccer ("football"). On the coast, popular water sports include sailing, windsurfing, skin-diving, and deep-sea fishing. Other favorite pastimes include fishing on the river banks of inland areas, and hiking or cycling through Brittany's countryside.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
The Breton pardons, while primarily religious festivals, are also a popular source of entertainment. In some areas, the secular portion of the festival even includes performances by jazz and rock groups. Bretons, like the other people of France, have more leisure time over the weekend than they did before the 1960s, when factories were open on Saturday mornings. Domestic activities such as gardening, home improvement, and cooking have become popular leisure-time pursuits: about one-third of the French people spend some of their time gardening. Approximately 95% of the French people own television sets, and the average viewing time is three hours per day. Bretons, like people in other parts of France, like to use their long summer holidays to take vacation trips, either to the beach or to other destinations.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Traditionally the Bretons have been skilled woodworkers, known for their chests, sideboards, dressers, wardrobes, and clock cases. A unique regional feature is the old-fashioned box bed, which was something like a bunk bed with sliding doors on the sides. It provided both protection against the winter cold and privacy in the small, traditional houses of rural Brittany. Large chests for linen or grain and two-door wardrobes are other important pieces of traditional Breton furniture. Pottery is another important Breton craft.
There is concern among Bretons about the decline of their language and traditional way of life. The use of Breton as a first language is confined mostly to the elderly, and few children are learning it as they grow up. The teaching of Breton is limited to secondary and teacher training schools, and is only found in Basse Bretagne (Lower Brittany).
The creation of a single European economic market in 1992 provided new economic opportunities but also created challenges for the Breton economy. Traditional fishing practices, for example, have had to be modified to conform to the quotas and restrictions of the European Union and its member states. The transformation to larger farms has created pollution problems for the area.
Alcoholism is a significant social problem in Brittany. Alcoholism in France is less of a problem in the wine-growing regions than in the northern area of the country, and especially Brittany.
Brittany has a history of high levels of emigration. Most Bretons emigrate to Paris and other European regions.
With Brittany's large Catholic population the issues of abortion and gay rights are somewhat contentious. The women's movement in Brittany was not as significant as those in other Western European countries and in other regions of France.
Ardagh, John, ed. The Penguin Guide to France. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985.
———. France in the New Century: Portrait of a Changing Society. London: Penguin Books, 2000.
Badone, Ellen. The Appointed Hour: Death, Worldview, and Social Change in Brittany. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Bell, Brian, ed. Brittany. Insight Guides. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Brittany. Michelin Guides. Harrow: Michelin Tyre, 1991.
Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.
Howarth, David and Georgios Varouxakis. Contemprary France: An Introduction to French Politics and Society. London: Arnold, 2003. "Regions of France, Brittany (Bretagne)." Internet French Property. http://www.french-property.com/regions/bretagne/about.htm (April 2008).
Timm, Lenora A. "Bretons." In Encyclopedia of World Cultures. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.
—revised by C. Corrigan
LOCATION: Brittany region of northwestern France
LANGUAGE: French; Breton
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism
1 • INTRODUCTION
Bretons live in Brittany, a region located in the northwestern corner of France. The Bretons arrived in their current homeland in the fifth and sixth centuries ad, fleeing the Anglo-Saxons in their native Britain. Brittany was independently governed until 1532, when it was formally annexed to France. The region suffered great setbacks during both World War I (1914–18) and World War II (1939–45). Since 1945, Brittany has pros pered. Agriculture has been modernized, and industry has grown. By the late 1990s, Bretons were focusing on preserving their culture and language, rather than on political separatism.
2 • LOCATION
Located at the westernmost edge of continental Europe, Brittany is surrounded by water on three sides and is 134 miles (215 kilometers) long. Much of the interior is laid out in a checkerboard pattern of fields and pastures. These are separated by stone walls and hedges called bocages (bow-KAHJ). Most of Brittany's towns and cities are found along the coast.
3 • LANGUAGE
Most Bretons speak both French and Breton, a Celtic language related to Welsh and Cornish. As of the late 1990s, there are only a small number of people who speak Breton as their first language.
Many Breton surnames are derived from the word ker (which means "house"), plus another syllable based on a Christian name. Examples include Kerjean (house of John), Kerbol (house of Paul), and Kerber (house of Peter).
Syllables commonly found in Breton place names include plou, meaning "parish" (as in Ploudaniel); lann, meaning "church" (as in Lannion); and gui, meaning "town" (as in Guimiliau). Other common words found in Breton place names are bihan (small), braz (large), men (stone), and mor (sea).
4 • FOLKLORE
Brittany is a land of legends and superstition. Many folk customs and legends center on death, symbolized by a character named Ankou. He figures in numerous tales, depicted as a skeleton carrying a scythe and often riding on a wooden cart. Bretons believe that the creaking of the cart Ankou rides in predicts the death of a person in the neighborhood.
According to legend, the town of Quimper was founded by King Gradlon. His former capital, the city of Is, is said to have been destroyed when his daughter, bewitched by the Devil, let in the floodwaters of the sea. Escaping with her on horseback, the king received an order from Heaven to throw her into the sea. There she turned into the mermaid Marie-Morgane. It is said that if Mass is ever celebrated in one of Is's churches on Good Friday, the drowned city will be restored and the mermaid will become human again.
5 • RELIGION
The Bretons are devout Roman Catholics. Every town has its patron saint, represented by painted wooden statues that decorate the region's many churches. People pray to special saints for specific ailments. Bretons are also noted for their pilgrimages (religious journeys).
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Bretons celebrate France's religious, historical, and patriotic holidays throughout the year. These include New Year's Day (January 1); Epiphany (January 6); Labor Day (May 1); Bastille Day (July 14), which is the equivalent of Independence Day in the United States; the Feast of the Assumption (August 15); All Saints' Day (November 1); World War II Armistice Day (November 11); and Christmas (December 25). The French observe Christmas by attending a midnight mass.
The most famous and important of Brittany's regional holidays are the pardons. These local religious festivals usually center on a particular saint or legend. Pilgrims attend pardons to make or fulfill vows, seek miraculous cures, and, above all, to seek forgiveness for their sins. Pardons typically involve a solemn procession, followed by refreshments, dancing, and games.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Many of the rites of passage that young Bretons undergo are Roman Catholic rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, many families mark a student's progress through the education system with graduation parties.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
In most ways, life for twentieth-century Bretons differs little from life in the rest of France. Because the influence of the Catholic Church is so strong, religious festivals are important social events for many Bretons.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Traditional stone farmhouses in Brittany are rectangular with thatched or slate roofs. In older dwellings, the family's living area generally has only one or two rooms. Other structures, such as a barn, are added onto the house itself. Modern houses often look like older homes on the outside but are much more spacious inside.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Most couples in Brittany have both civil and church weddings. In spite of their devout Catholicism, many Bretons in the 1990s practice birth control. They generally have two or three children, in contrast to the larger families of the past. Also, couples tend to have their children while they are young. Divorce, while legal, is still frowned upon by many Bretons. Most women in Brittany are part of the paid labor force at some time in their lives. Many work in technical and professional fields.
11 • CLOTHING
Bretons wear modern Western-style clothing like that worn by people elsewhere in France and western Europe. However, their distinctive traditional costumes are still seen at pardons (festivals) and other special occasions. The men's costumes include broad-brimmed hats, embroidered waistcoats (vests), and short jackets. Women wear dresses and elaborately decorated aprons. The most distinctive feature of the women's costume is the elaborate lace headgear, which is generally called a coiffe (kwaff).
12 • FOOD
Much of the cuisine in Brittany is similar to that elsewhere in France. However, the region is known for its excellent seafood, especially lobster, crawfish, clams, scallops, and shrimp. Regional specialties include a fish soup known as cotriade; a beef-and-vegetable dish called potée bretonne; and wheat or buckwheat crepes, with fillings that may include ham, cheese, eggs, jam, fresh fruit, or honey. Cider is the most popular local beverage.
13 • EDUCATION
As elsewhere in France, education in Brittany is free and required between the ages of six and sixteen. Children attend school on weekdays and Saturday mornings and have Wednesdays off. Secondary education begins with four years at a school called a collège. Then come three years spent either at a general lycée (lee-SAY) for those planning to go on to college, or at a vocational lycée. After receiving their secondary (baccalauréat, pronounced back-ah-lahr-ray-AH ) degrees, students may go on to a university or to a grand école (grahn eh-COAL), which offers preparation for careers in business or government service.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
The most popular Breton folk instruments are the biniou (a small bagpipe) and the bombarde, which is similar to an oboe. The accordion and the Celtic harp are also widely used for traditional music. Folk dances include the Ribbon Gavotte, the Tobacco and Handkerchief Gavotte, and the Dérobée, where a man "steals" a young woman from her escort.
Famous Breton authors include the medieval poet and philosopher Peter Abelard (1079–1142); Alain-René Lesage (1668–1747), author of Gil Blas; science-fiction writer Jules Verne (1828–1905); and contemporary experimental novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922–).
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Brittany is one of France's most important agricultural regions. Approximately one- third of its work force is employed in food processing (including pork, beef, dairy products, and vegetable and fish canning). Other major employers are light industry and the service sector.
16 • SPORTS
The Bretons, like people throughout France, love soccer (called "football"). On the coast, popular water sports include sailing, skin diving, and deep-sea fishing. Other favorite pastimes include fishing on the inland rivers, and hiking or cycling through Brittany's countryside.
17 • RECREATION
The Breton pardons, while primarily religious festivals, are also a popular source of entertainment. In some areas, jazz and rock groups even perform. Bretons, like people in other parts of France, enjoy using their long summer holidays for travel.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Traditionally the Bretons have been skilled woodworkers, known for their chests, sideboards, dressers, wardrobes, and clock cases. Old-fashioned "box beds," large linen or grain chests, and two-door wardrobes are important pieces of traditional Breton furniture. Pottery is another important Breton craft.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Bretons are concerned about the decline of their language and traditional way of life. The use of Breton as a first language is confined mostly to the elderly, and today few children learn it as they grow up.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Badone, Ellen. The Appointed Hour: Death, Worldview, and Social Change in Brittany. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Galliou, Patrick, and Michael Jones. The Bretons, Peoples of Europe. Cambridge, Mass.: B. Blackwell, 1991.
Embassy of France, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.info-france-usa.org/, 1998.
World Travel Guide. France. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/fr/gen.html, 1998.