The Langue D’Oc is an ancient, ancient land. Many cultures have left their mark on it from the prehistory of humans to the present. It’s this fact that makes the Langue D’Oc so fascinating. It is full of quirky customs with ancient roots that are entirely unique. In a few Occitan villages and towns of the Hereault (pronounced ear-oh) region of the Langue D’Oc, you will find one of these completely unique customs; Animeaux Totémique (Animal Totems). The tradition of Animal Totems dates at least to the 16th century with a few undoubtedly being older. These include the Camel of Béziers, the Bull of Meze and the Wolf of Loupian. The totems, which are made of cloth and canvas are paraded to the accompaniment of drums through the streets by men in customary dress Last August, I attended carnival in Florensac, Hereault. When i arrived in the early afternoon, moules (mussels) were being prepared and given out for free in the village square. Moules have been an important part of the local culture for thousands of years. The Florensac totem, Lo Chivalet in Occitan, is a horse. The villagers responsible for Lo Chivalet, wearing matching shirts, scarves and sashes, were partying at the corner bar. When I returned in the early evening after exploring the area, they were all still there, partying whilst awaiting the festivities! A stage was in place for the evening’s entertainment, and long tables under the oak trees set with chairs quickly filled. Everyone eagerly anticipated and then cheered the entrance of Lo Chivalet and his Master! Who had a whip!
The crowd was particularly appreciative when Lo Chivalet reared up, spun around or was lifted overhead. The Lo Chivalet association has local sponsors. I loved the juxtaposition of the John Cash poster on his side, the result of a tribute band sponsor. Animaux Totémique are traditionally carried by men, but in Florensac they also have a smaller Lo Chevelet carried by village women. I think this must be a more recent development. The women approached and butted heads with the men before also rearing several times. Judging by the LOUD encouragement of the audience, the women are a popular addition to the custom!
Lo Chivalet and his female counterpart departed to enthusiastic applause. It was time to eat and drink (drink more!) prior to the evening’s entertainment. The young men of Lo Chivalet were certainly enjoying themselves!As I was the lone outsider, they even serenaded me with a boisterous rendition of the Lo Chivalet song!
The evening’s entertainment began. Everyone settled down to watch a great show. I felt privileged and grateful to that the welcoming residents of Florensac allowed me to be a part of their carnival and ancient traditions.