Breton song traditions and the case of the gwerzioù : women's voices, women's lives
Derived from the Latin versus, in the sense of poetic verse, the term gwerz [plural gwerzioù] refers to a Breton genre of narrative song often equated with ballads. Infanticides, murder, kidnapping, rape, debauched clerics, promiscuous girls, corrupt noblemen, poverty, betrayals, incest. Such is the stuff of which the gwerzioù are made. They embody an oral tradition of song practice which is associated primarily with women. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, spinners, domestic servants, beggar women, agricultural workers, the singers of the gwerzioù tell for the most part not of war or glory, but of intimate life: the family, the home, the village community, and the threats and tensions inherent therein. Jealous lovers, incestuous fathers, vengeful brothers, adulterous husbands, deceitful in-laws, treacherous stepmothers, impious priests: all appear, all are painted. The portraits are not beautiful. To what extent are they “true”? The author, Natalie Anne Franz, is an Associate of the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.