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A timeless moment which I need to share with you…

Each year, in this area of Brittany, Association Karreg-Hir organises a Festival to commemorate those courageous people who during many years did a great job, seaweed harvesting ! The target of such event is, first of all, to maintain a tradition which has, in the past, enabled many families to lead a more or less decent life.

These photos, shot during the last Festival in September 2012, will take you inside the “ambiance” where friendship, conviviality and tradition were invited.

In France, seaweed gathering dates back to Neolithic times… I am not going to tell you the history since these times.

Let’s bounce forward and in one go reach more recent periods. One point is worth knowing is that in Brittany, seaweed gathering had held a prominent place to the history of coastal people.

Before getting our feet into the early 50’s, you might be interested to know what were the fields in which seaweed was and is still being used : fertilizers for soil improvement, sodium bicarbonate, glass industry (up to the end of 18th century), soda production, food distribution and industry, water treatment, health and well-being …

In Finistère, Brittany, harvesters used, up to the early 50’s, a manual cutting method, some of them had the seaweed handled by a horse driven cart. After that, more modern ways were adopted, such as boats with cranes and “pifon” (type of helical screw or spindle), (Breton word “ar pifoun”). In the 21st century, only boats are used for this type of harvest.

But let’s stay 60 years backwards and see how things were getting on. For a start, seaweed was mainly a family “business”. Men collected algae from the sea, even in Winter, with large rakes and women carried them at the edge of the shores. Sometimes too, the collection was loaded on boats which was then discharged into carts. Once there, the horse driven carts were used to carry the seaweed further on the shore, before the algae were spread on the dunes to be dried.

Collecting seaweed

There was also another way to collect these seaweed, 2 or 3 hand barrows, in French “civière” (Breton word “ar c’hravazh“), were laid on the ground, seaweed piled up, up to squared shaped heaps, in French “drome”, (Breton word “reud”) of 10 feet by 5 feet high, weight about 20 tons, these were securely tighten up. This type of raft was left on the ground until the tide goes up, thus after a while, floating and reaching the shore.

Building the heap

Waiting for the tide …

Ovens were dug along the coast, once the algae pre-dried, seaweed was burned in the ovens (Breton word “ar fourn soud“), these were lined in stones. The ovens facilitated the collection of cinder blocks or loaves of soda, called in French “pain de soude”, (Breton word “ar bara mor“), after that the seaweed was burned during 10 hours. These were sold to industrials for extraction of iodine, which was intensively used during several years.


Tooling and wooden shoes

I do hope you were interested in this retrospective of the Festival. If you happen to be around, do not hesitate, this is worth seeing ! In the past years,  I had myself the opportunity of attending some of them and I really enjoyed being there.

This day has been most interesting in several fields. First about the harvest itself, then on the human side it was very rich and fruitful. I met wonderful persons who took from their time, to explain how gathering was formerly. They talked about that with “passion” as if they had themselves been the actors at the time. Many of them had members of their families who were totally devoted to their job. In spite of the weather, their own physical condition, they did not give up and were always “on the run” to accomplish their task.  One could feel their warmth and some conversations ended by myself feeling that warmth, at such point to be emotional. One more detail is worth mentioning, the pleasant smell of the smoke when passing by the ovens, it was a special “perfume shop”.

If you have been interested in reading these few lines about seaweed harvesting… hope you will be back soon for another visit to our blog. See you!