|(Nova Scotia with counties from a government website. Cape Breton Island is on the upper right, encompassing the top four counties. Here's another, more detailed map.)|
This coming week, I have the opportunity to present a paper at the Singing Storytellers Symposium in Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The symposium is being held in conjunction with the annual Celtic Colours International Festival, which for 17 years has brought Celtic musicians to Cape Breton Island for a week of traditional music.
Why Cape Breton? In turns out that a sizable majority of Cape Breton’s population is of Scottish descent—and not only Scottish, but Scots-Gaelic. In events called the “clearances” in the 19th-century Scotland, many poor Scots-Gaelic people were kicked off their land by the English-assimilated upper class to make room for sheep. Approximately 50,000 of these outcasts settled in Cape Breton, which had many similarities to their native highlands. Even today, a few of the older generation’s first language is a dialect of Scots-Gaelic. In this relative isolation, Scots-Gaelic culture may have been preserved in Cape Breton even better than in Scotland, where the Scots-Gaelic were marginalized and persecuted.
Modern-day Cape Breton’s tourism is heavily based on the Celtic culture. I love the picture of happy people waulking at the top of this Celtic Tourism webpage tourism website—now middle-class people are enjoying what used to be the hard manual labor of making wool soft enough to wear. Of course, the traditional Gaelic call-and-response songs that accompanied waulking make it culture. Otherwise, I'm not sure they could get tourists to do it.
Over the next two weeks on the blog, I’ll present a modified version of my paper, about the music of Scottish folk music group Capercaillie.
Vocab: waulking, call-and-reponse