French Surjougs – a photo essay

There are many names for this charming complement to cattle draft – surjoug or soubrejoug (both ‘overyoke’), clocher (bell spire), chapelle (chapel) typical of the Pyrenees regions, especially in the central French highlands and foothills, as well as in the Garonne River valleys, right into the 1940s (Hautes-Pyrénées, Gers, Haute-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Ariège). Hewn out from a log of sycamore and occasionally elm, they were painted in bright colours, at times with decorative copper nails added, and were winter work often done by the farmers themselves, attached by a peg or pin in the centre of the yoke. Great objects of emulation, their makers strove for original designs of beauty and musicality, conferred by combinations of different-sized bells.

They were important for their practical uses, indicating a team was underway in poor visibility on often rough roads and paths, and may have lent real encouragement to the animals harnessed, signaling the beginning of the working day and converging with the rhythm of their own pace. Popular tradition also credited them with staving off lightning strike or evil spirits. Among the finest illustrations of their diversity can be found in the source this summary is based on, Mariel Jean-Brunhes Delamarre’s La Vie Agricole et Pastorale dans le Monde, Grenoble: Glénat, 1999, 130-131.

Fortunately, contrary to Delamarre’s lament that these artefacts had entered the realm of the now forgotten, they have become an object of highly charged (and highly priced) emulation once again in the areas they were traditional in. Just check out the term surjoug in a search machine.

With the kind permission of Jacques Holtz, Lucie Markey and Olivier Courthiade.

One comment

  1. This is lovely. Isn’t it interesting how humans in the past had time to make beautiful and useful things by hand, even without the aid of time and labor saving technologies?

Comments are closed.