THE EGGS OF ROERO

OF SONGS AND OF EGGS


“Canter j oeuv”, literally “to sing the eggs”, is an old tradition in Roero villages and farmhouses: it was probably born out of boredom as well as the desire of getting out of the stables. Stables were, in fact, where farmers and their family used to spend a few hours every day, in winter, after the evening meal: this was the only warm place in the house therefore the only place one could spend the few hours between supper and bedtime.

So, one can easily imagine how young people, pretty tired of sitting idle every evening of the week, in the same stable, listening patiently to the same tales being told by the same people, striving for some fun, like meeting friends and girl friends out of the watchful eyes of parents and priests, and practice the cheapest form of entertainment then available: singing. Solo or in a choral.

The opportunity for actions must have presented herself out of a little greed, the approaching end of the Easter fast, and the coming of Easter’s Monday, traditionally the day when the fast officially ends: Easter’s Monday is spent with friends and girl friends pick-nicking in the fields, out of sight from mothers, fathers, and the ever-present priest.

Eggs were scarce and precious in those days: they also represented a commodity which could be traded for essential things, like food and clothing, in a season when no harvest was forthcoming. Eggs were stored in the house, preferably in places kids could not get to, and were sold at the local market to richer people. If one had enough eggs for sale, one could even buy a pair of shoes, a suit to be worn on Sundays, or better, if young and single, and with a mom with hens, a gift for the girl one’s ached for.

Thus, young people, in need of some fun and some money, found a way to get a little of both by getting their hands on eggs, for free and preferably their neighbour’s, not to get whacked by their mothers should they be stupid enough to steal her eggs.

So, the tradition of “singing the eggs”, was born. It was a pagan tradition. It was to be held the lasts weeks of the Easter’s season in order to get the money to be spent on Easter’s Monday.

The tradition consisted in a group of friends, say four or five of them, enough of them, anyway, to fend off any irate neighbour, visiting one farmhouse after the other, right after supper, for unsolicited, and sometimes unwanted and unwelcomed, singing.

The payback: eggs.

The musical equipment was generally very simple: the ever present accordion, sometime a trumpet, a drum, home made, and a flute, made of the local cane tree. The young boys would dress in the traditional black woollen cape, and would carry a straw basket to bring back the booty.

The songs were simple and were intended to mollify the audience, or praise the hens, or both, and inspire people to give an egg for a song. Sometimes the eggs were given so the neighbour could go back to sleep. But in most cases the singers were invited in, were joined in their singing, were given something to eat and drink, and then let go with the reward of a few eggs.

A lot of imagination, and hard work, went on to sing the right songs, and thus better the chances of a warm and welcome reception, and eggs.

This one song, for instance praised the hen of which the owner was very proud:

O give, give a few eggs

Those from the white hen

The one

Which never tires of making them

Whereas this one praised the woman, of a certain age but still single, who could not find a husband, but who welcomed the visit of these young people, as well as their singing, and was gracious enough to depart from some of her eggs::

It is said that in this house

Lives a lady

Still to be married

But truth be said

She’s young, merry, and gracious.

(You will notice that the song fell short of hinting that the lady would find a husband).

But the preferred songs would praise the woman raising the hens if eggs were given, or curse her and her family if she left the singers empty handed.

The praise:

Here lives dame Florenza

Known for her beauty, her charm, and her hens

never tired of producing eggs

Big and white

Renown by all

And the curse:

Play, play violin play, play for nought

If there is a woman single here,

May she go stale

If there is a fat woman here

May she rot on the mattress

May the water well get dry

May the cock’s ass parch

May the hen’s crest fall off

This tradition is maintained today. Every year, just before Easter, singers get together in one of Roero’s villages to sing all night long: foe the pleasure of singing, not for eggs any longer.

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