Sunday, 7 July 2013

Wild Shepherdess

I've labelled this post Crafts in Media although it is tangential, really. The BBC has made a documentary series about shepherding in distant places (distant to the UK, that is.) And since no-one outside the UK can access i-player, it seems, briefly, it's as follows: Episode one - sheep herders in the Wakhan corridor, Afghanistan. Episode two - llama and alpaca herders in the Andes, Peru. Episode three - sheep production in Australia.

I started with the Peruvian episode, since I came across it on iplayer. That one really had a crafts element, as the village herders had a sideline in spinning yarn and weaving beautiful fabric, with inca-type designs. It was fascinating, but if you're thinking of watching with your kids, I recommend pre-viewing, as there was a lot of information and footage of, er, breeding. I found the entire programme not only really interesting, but also positively focused on the future for alpaca production in Peru.

When I watched the episode from Afghanistan, I had quite a different reaction though. No TV presentation could alter the almost unendurable hardness of the life of these people, or hide the fact that what we were looking at, basically, was terrible poverty. It made uncomfortable viewing. The animals - a mix of sheep, goats and yak - were mainly herded for collection of milk and milk products, occasional meat (maybe monthly).  The shepherds' diet comprised mainly tea and flatbread, with the occasional stew with sheep's milk, flour and a bit of fat. They also used the animals' fibre for insulation (the yurts had felt panels on the sides), and made rope from yak hair for fastening loads on their animals for transport. There was no crafting shown, or any information on where the brightly coloured clothes worn by the women came from.

The Australian episode showed a much more comfortable way of life, with motor vehicles, electric power, pumped water. Here, the shepherding had a focus on meat production. They didn't even say what happened to the fleeces.

I found the presentation of ethical issues interesting. There was much discussion on live meat transport (in the Australian episode), scientific approaches to fertility and reproduction (Australia and Peru) but almost nothing on addressing poverty, which I felt was by far the worst concern thrown up by the series. And in saying that, I'm not trying to downplay the importance of animal welfare at all. Just remarking that there are two sets of issues here.

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