|The nomads of Switzerland|
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The people and history of Sierre are inextricably linked with the culture of the communities in the Val d’Anniviers, which opens at a narrow chink in the mountain high up opposite Sierre to the south but broadens out to extend southwards for some 40km, terminating in the hiking trailhead of Zinal.
The residents of the Anniviers (the name itself means “seasonal”) are the last people left in Switzerland to follow a genuinely nomadic lifestyle, although modern ease of transport and economic pressures are making inroads. Up until a few decades ago, people would arrive in Sierre from the Anniviers in March or April: those from the village of Grimentz occupied the Villa quarter of Sierre, alongside people from Vissoie, while the Viouc quarter was for villagers from Chandolin, the Muraz quarter for those from St Luc, and so on. Each community had its own slightly distinct dialect, brought with it flocks, a schoolteacher and a priest, and celebrated Sunday mass in its own tiny chapel. For a few months, everyone would stay and work on the vineyards around Sierre, before departing in mid-June to pasture their flocks on the heights above the town. In mid-September, everybody would drift down again to Sierre for the grape harvest, which would continue for a few weeks, before dispersing back to their villages in the Anniviers valley for the winter. This kind of nomadism still carries on today, although these days families don’t have to bring bag and baggage with them from their village when they come to work in Sierre, and tend also to keep their children in school in one place or the other.
Curiously, the patois of the Val d’Anniviers is very similar to that of the rural Val d’Aosta on the southern side of the Grand-St-Bernard Pass in Italy, even though the main language of Sierre is French and the main language of Aosta is Italian. Linguists, anthropologists and sociologists between them haven’t yet come up with a theory as to why this should be.
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