Celebrating return: emigrants’ festival(s)

My former institution, Migrinter at the University of Poitiers, hosts for the last years a large project called CAMIGRI – Les campagnes françaises dans la dynamique des migrations internationales. And CAMIGRI publishes regularly works carried out by their team, or by collaborators in their newsletter.

I was happy to be invited to present a short account of my work in Trás-os-Montes this month, and here is the result!

For this piece, I decided to focus on the celebrations that participate in the (re)production of narratives of migration and return. If you speak French, just read the piece in CAMIGRI newsletter. If not, here are some remarks included in the article:

There has been quite some work already on the celebrations organised in rural areas during the summer holidays – that is when migrants came back home to visit. I’ve read monographs focusing on villages in Minho, Trás-os-Montes or Beira, and describing at length the village festivals, processions (and the donations attached to them, which served the purpose of repairing the chapel, funding other works in the village…).

Nowadays, there are less of these village festivities than before. Among the ones I frequently visited, one village celebrates its saint in June, and do not make an extra celebration any more.

Another one organises a whole week-end at the end of August, including a hike on the smugglers’ path, associated with local entrepreneurship, the procession of the local saint, and a party. This year, there were 200 subscriptions to the hike, and many French speakers and Spanish speakers joined. However, as I state in the paper published in CAMIGRI newsletter, it is seen as a sport event and a celebration of good neighbourhood with the Spanish village across the border, rather than an emigrant festival. Some returnees I could speak with at the hike and the procession mentioned their family stories, but it was more marginal.

What is interesting though, is that with the new importance of small urban centres in return, those celebrations are now becoming a more urban phenomena. Bragança sees a huge intake in residents in August. Wandering in the city, I could spot many French plates, and hear French and other foreign languages at the medieval festival, city festival, and at a new festival in town: the emigrant festival!

Organised by three youngsters from the city, who constituted an association, the Festa do Emigrante in Bragança took place mid-August and was a success. The three organisers found sponsorship among local commerces, invited a well-known band, and set up booth for beers and snacks.

On the day of the Festa, it was pouring rain and at first, people were shy. Eventually, the band started and as I turned my head around, I could see that the park Eixe Atlantico was crowded! Locals and returnees drank and danced to the sound of musica pimba until late. Some songs related to works in factory, to the return in the summer, with singer greeting people from neighbouring villages.

I believe that these hikes, festivals and the exhibitions and events I have mentioned in earlier posts all belong to the immaterial heritage of migrations the region brings forward.


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