There is very little information about all this on the internet. There’s, in fact, barely any information at all. No matter in what language, even in Spanish. There are very few photos as well. From the one hand, this is a local event, and people only 100km away from it might not know much about it. From the other side, this is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world, gathering up to 1 mln. people. There are not many tourists and “outsiders” among the participants in romeria. The main part of people here are the pilgrims themselves.
Romeria takes place in a small village called El Rocio (Huelva province, Spain), which is not a very populous place normally. Up until the mid-XIX century, the whole village had only a few houses, and the pilgrims camped in their wagons. Later, each of the brotherhoods built its own house with stables, few dozens of bedrooms (with bunk beds like in a dormitory), and a large hall for the big celebrations. There are some private houses too. Such a village house, very basic and Spartan, costs about 1-2 mln €. During the pilgrimage dates, the daily rent reaches about 10 thousand €, while a room in a local hotel costs about €500 instead of the usual €60. The streets in the village are unpaved, everything is adapted to the animal-powered transport and horse riding.
The main attraction of the area, and the site of the annual pilgrimage of billions of people is the El Rocio chapel, where the pilgrims go to pay tribute to the patron saint, Virgin del Rocio. The actual pilgrims come on horseback, staying overnight for 3-4 nights in their wagons on their way. For many people this is the most important annual event, while other people in Spain have never even heard of it. And neither, of course, people from the other countries did.
Romeria in El Rocio does not resemble a religious event at all. It’s a feria, a moveable feast, where life itself is celebrated, with people dancing, singing, drinking over the top, and loving each other (in all senses). Christian and pagan beliefs are joined together here seamlessly.
Below are my 20 photos from El Rocio, made during the two days of my visit. This is not a report or a story. I did not make an attempt to follow the sequence of the events, as it is not very interesting to me. I was trying to embrace the overall atmosphere, the mood of the people, and of course the color of the “cowboy”-ish romeria. These are my visual impressions on the life of the pilgrims in El Rocio.
Do you know what it a “bull”? It’s a reindeer. They stand in separate herds, or right next to chums in a small corral. By the way, do you know what corral is? It’s an enclosure for deer. It is usually quite large, with enough space for conducting veterinary and zootechnical treatment. Sometimes small corrals are made up for the “bulls”, so that they are always within reach. Large ones are made up rarely, usually twice a year – in the spring and summer, for the piece count (corralization) and marking the herd. Otherwise, deer graze in an open field, procuring reindeer moss with their hoofs within 3-5 km from chum. And do you know what is a “piece”? It’s a part of a herd that departed the main group and went roaming God knows where.
It’s not difficult to trace the “piece” and get it back to the herd in winter. Deer rarely go further than 5 km within one night, which, compared to the size of tundra is just a block away. It’s more complicated when a “piece” joins the herd of the neighboring brigade, since it’s hard to separate them without a corral. Even if there are 10 heads in the “piece” it’s quite some problem, what to expect, when there are 200…
It does occur quite rarely. The “pieces” sometimes do leave the herd, it does indeed happen. But the probability that it would come across another herd in the vast territory of tundra, is very small. Moreover, the migration routes of deer are predetermined and mutually agreed upon in advance. But it does happen every now and then. And if it does, want it or not, the brigades need to catch the “alien” deer and get them back to their herd.
To witness this large scale operation you need to have quite some luck. Matvey, our guide in tundra, said that he has seen it for the first time in the last 10 years. Usually you catch deer for meat, and you only need just 1-2 heads. It takes some 10-15 minutes, maybe even less. Thus, the major part of the photos documenting the process are set acts. Photographers simply do not have enough time to get good photos within such a short period of time, and ask reindeer herdsmen later on to pose, as if they are noosing with tynzyan (Nenets noose for catching deer). I have seen myself a few times how this kind of set acts are taking place.
This time, though, the situation was completely different. The process of catching 200 heads, took… 2 whole days! Not counting an extra day for the preparations. Both me and Sasha Sorin had a chance to watch this process for 5 hours, and even to participate in it. We could have continued to take part, but we were tapped out by then – running in banks of snow, sinking into it up to your waist is quite tiresome.
So, here are some photos from the large scale deer catch. With some comments.
My name is Pavel Kosenko and I’m from Russia. I am a photographer, and my major interest is street and art photography. I like to work and experiment with colors in photographs. Travel is the main source of my inspiration.
You can also read my Russian blog using Google Translate.