A Lofty View of the People of Landes

Jean Barrère, also known as Jan de Buros, is a farmer from Haute-Landes, which borders the departments of Gers and Gironde in the south west of France. A former écarteur, or swerver, in the region's traditional bullfighting event known as the Course Landaise, Barrière is also an avid fan of pigeon hunting with nets, and over the years has become a true ambassador of Gascon traditions, even continuing to speak the language. Whether perched on stilts, peering across treetops, or soaring over charging cows, Jan de Buros gives us a lofty view of the Landes region.

Jean Barrère et son élevage de moutons LandaisFondation du patrimoine

Stiltwalking shepherds

The sight of shepherds from Landes perched on stilts is instantly recognizable. This practice dates back to the time when the land was still a vast, marshy expanse of grass and scrubland. The shepherds used to make their own stilts out of pine or ash, and the ties were made of leather. They always carried a long stick, called a paou. This allowed them to balance on their stilts while walking, and proved particularly useful when standing still, since it acted as a third leg.

Jean Barrère chausse ses amepelesFondation du patrimoine

These stiltwalking shepherds wore woolen socks, which they knitted themselves over the many hours they spent watching their sheep.
In the north of Landes, these socks were called ampeles or gahe-matje (pronounced garematche). Beyond the Adour river, they were known as trabucs.

Jean Barrère sur ses échasses en tenue traditionnelle de berger LandaisFondation du patrimoine

The long sheepskin coats they wore were also made by the shepherds themselves. They were called prisses and consisted of two skins sewn together.
The skins were put in a water bath with coarse salt and potassium alum, and were then hung out to dry on wooden racks before being cut.

Jean Barrère et son troupeau de moutons LandaisFondation du patrimoine

The beret, of course, completed the outfit: it was the essential headgear for anyone from Gascony, shepherd or otherwise.

Troupeau de moutons LandaisFondation du patrimoine

In partnership with the Conservatoire des Races d'Aquitaine, the trust responsible for protecting rare breeds in the Aquitaine region, Barrère owns 52 Landais ewes—a breed of sheep typical of the Landes region, which had almost died out.
In summer, he practices conservation grazing, putting his herd out to pasture in Mont-de-Marsan, then moving them on to Vieux-Boucau and Saint-Vincent-de-Tyrosse.

Jean Barrère dans son exploitation de MaïsFondation du patrimoine

To feed his animals, Barrère grows corn, which is also typical of the Landes region.

Jean Barrère devant son troupeau de vaches landaisesFondation du patrimoine

Chasing cows at the Course Landaise

For the Barrère family, breeding cattle—particularly for the Course Landaise—is a family tradition that began in 1890. Barrère now owns 82 cows and bulls, which produced 19 calves for him in 2020. Cattle farms that breed cows specifically for the Course Landaise are called ganaderias. The sport's swerving écarteurs and somersaulting sauteurs are also affiliated with the ganaderias. This year, there were 12 ganaderias registered with the Fédération Française de la Course Landaise (French Course Landaise Federation).

Vaches LandaisesFondation du patrimoine

The Course Landaise originally used coastal cows, which roamed freely in the dunes of Landes and Gironde.
This breed died out in the twentieth century and the cows now used today are of Spanish and Camargue origin.

Tenues traditionnelles pour la course landaiseFondation du patrimoine

Barrère was also an écarteur for 10 years with Dargelos, one of the most well-known ganaderias in Landes.
He now shows visitors the outfits he used to wear, as well as the contraption he used to train on, which was mounted on a bicycle wheel with two horns on top.

Un écarteur face à une vache, lors d'une course landaiseFondation du patrimoine

The écarteur stands in the center of the arena and does a small jump, to provoke the cow to charge.

At the last minute, the écarteur pivots and swerves, forcing the cow to pass behind his arched back.

There are two different types of écart moves; one where the écarteur pivots in the direction of the cow, and another, more dangerous move where he pivots his back away from the cow.

Un écarteur acrobate saute par dessus une vache landaiseFondation du patrimoine

The sauteur gains momentum by running towards the charging cow. To avoid the cow, he leaps and jumps between the animal's horns.
Aerial acrobatics can vary; from angel jumps, to somersaults, to twisted somersaults.

Un écarteur acrobate saute par dessus une vache landaiseFondation du patrimoine

Jumping with joined feet has been practiced since the 19th century and is one of the oldest types of jumps. Like the écarteur, the sauteur waits motionlessly for the cow and then jumps up and over between the horns of the animal at the very last minute.
His legs are bound together with a necktie and his feet are tucked into a beret.

Cap Sud-Ouest - La course landaiseFondation du patrimoine

Watch this video to hear Barrère talk about the Course Landaise.

Jean Barrère tenant une palombe dans ses mainsFondation du patrimoine

Wood Pigeon Hunting

Jean Barrère hunts wood pigeons with nets, that is, without firearms. For him, it is an art form. First of all, the art can be found in the camouflage, with the construction of a palombière (6-foot tall structures) of tunnels and four cabins, covered with ferns and branches, designed to blend into its surroundings. Then, there's the art of the Roucoulayres, the cooing call. This reproduction of the wood pigeon's song is used to attract and lure the wood pigeons. Jean Barrère was crowned the French national champion, and went on to become world champion in this sport.

Vol de palombes au dessus de l'exploitation de Jean BarrèreFondation du patrimoine

Each fall, the migration channels bring the wood pigeons over Les Landes.
In order to lure them into the nets positioned on the ground, wood pigeons captured the previous year are used as decoys.

Jean Barrère gavant une palombe à la boucheFondation du patrimoine

For this, Jean Barrère keeps 40 wood pigeons every year to be used as decoys the following year.
He cares for the birds and even feeds them by hand during the hunting season. This is called gorging.

Jean Barrère et ses palombesFondation du patrimoine

At the end of the hunting season, the birds used as decoys are released, so that they can continue their migration route.
Those who are captured are kept to prepare for the hunt the following year, some are prepared as salmis, others as capuchins, and the rest are released.

Rencontre avec Jean Barrère - Ambassadeur des traditions gasconnesFondation du patrimoine

In his video, Jean Barrère shares with you his passion for Gascon traditions: the Course Landaise and wood pigeon hunting.

Credits: Story

We would like to thank Jean Barrère and Jean-Claude Dupuy, known as Pickwicq, for their invaluable help in creating this content.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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