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The Circle Of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community
by Sandra Ott
University of Nevada Press, 1993
Paper: 978-0-87417-224-9 | eISBN: 978-0-87417-447-2


Ott provides an excellent ethnography of a French Basque agrarian and sheepherding community. The commune of Sainte-Engrâce extends along a mountain valley in the southeastern corner of Soule, one of the three Basque provences in France. In The Circle of Mountains, Sandra Ott examines the importance of cooperation and reciprocity as the essential basis for the main institutions within this community. These French Basques visualize their community as a circle, and their vision of living in "the circle of mountians," rather than in a valley, reflects their perspective on the society in which they live. The first half of the book incorporates material on history, ecology and economy, and delves deeply into the domestic organization, kinship, and neighborliness of this Basque community. In the second half of the book, the author introduces the males' customary roles as shepherds and cheesemakers. Following a detailed commentary on these vocations, Ott suggests that these seemingly prosaic activities represent the male attempt at symbolic fulfillment of the female procreative and nurturing roles. In a new afterword, Ott discusses developments that have impacted life in the pastoral community of Sainte-Engrâce since the original publication of the book—including the acquisition of telephones and the construction of roads to nearly every home.The Circle of Mountains will be of interest not only to social anthropologists but also to those concerned with the Basque language and culture and to scholars and students of ethnology, international studies, and political science.

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