STAFF: The Tradition of the Tschäggättä – Rachael (UK)

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At the end (or near the end) of every season, the volunteers are thanked for all their hard work by a staff day out organised by the long term staff team. It is kept a secret from the volunteers and as a volunteer it is always nice to try and work it out from all the hints and clues what you are doing that day.

This season was no exception; we kept the vollies in suspense right until the last minute. 🙂

So I know you are all asking, what did we treat the volunteers to? Well the day in question was the 27th February 2014 – the penultimate day of the winter season. We started the day with a nice big cooked breakfast and then kicked off with Sailee showing us how to do Warli Art.

The Warlis are Indian indigenous people, who have their own beliefs, life, customs and traditions. The word Warli is derived from warla, meaning “piece of land” or “field”. Their paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees. We all attempted to copy Sailees drawings of people dancing, trees and suns and then proceeded to paint them on to a piece of canvas.

It was good fun, we continued the morning by playing a few photography games run by Victoria and I and then it was feeding time again. Migue prepared a full on Spanish feast; Fried Chicken, Spanish Omelette and Ensalada Mixta. Yummy!

After lunch it was time to leave the valley, the first time for many in weeks to head over to the neighbouring valley of Kandersteg for Ice Skating. Some of the volunteers had never tried it before so found themselves doing the splits every time they hit the ice, whereas others had natural skill and were gliding as gracefully as a bird in flight. Tanya kept us amused by leading us in competitions, who could skate round the rink the quickest, who could be the first to the middle of the rink do a 360˚ degree turn and come back again, who could do the most forward crossovers etc.

We then continued our day with what became the highlight for me, we headed through the Lötschberg tunnel to the Lötschental valley that is nestled between the Bernese and Valais Alps and is certainly one of the most authentic alpine valleys. Until the Lötschberg tunnel was opened in 1913 and the road built in the 1950s, it was very difficult to get to. The remoteness of the Lötschental has given rise to a wealth of tales, legends and myths.  

The Tschäggättä procession which we went to see is probably the oddest Swiss legend that you could ever experience. When night falls, over-sized masked figures rampage through streets in various villages. The creatures have the most hideous unique wooden masks that are handmade by local carvers. They are then painted and adorned with all kinds of material that give them an even wilder appearance: large cow teeth and horns, wacky hairdos of long goat hair – the weirder the better.

They are not organised in groups and appear unexpectedly as they please, I had a fair few jumps! The spectacular and frightening masques chase children and spectators alike – especially the staff of Our Chalet. A few of us got chased round a church a couple of times and lifted up off our feet; you could probably hear our screams from the next valley!

There’s no written account of the origins of this unique local custom. The first official mention of the Tschäggättä occurs in a church chronicle dating back to the second half of the 19th century. Apparently, the scary figures wreaked havoc and had grown more violent each year, so the parish priest of Kippel wanted to see an end to this unchristian behaviour, or else, they would have to pay the exorbitantly high fine of 50 cents.

We all had an amazing time and were very tired by the time we got back, it was a fantastic way to say goodbye and thank the Winter Volunteers. It will stay in our memories as an unforgettable day at Our Chalet.

Rachael Evans (UK)
Guest Services Intern – Winter 2013/14
(Our Chalet Assistant Summer and Autumn 2013)

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