COMBAT QUEENS OF THE ALPS
Queens of a Truly Aristocratic Stock
Like masterpieces of basalt sculptures they gaze at the snowcaps of the Southern Swiss Alps. Set against the backdrop of the deep blue sky, their shiny coats stamp black and reddish-brown forms into the lush, green meadows. These proud creatures are gifted with a subliminal awareness of the long trail their ancestors trod millions of years ago in the mists of mythology and mystery cults.
Their unique beauty, muscular power, ferocious determination, cunning and elegant movements have earned them the title of Combat Queens – reines de combat. Yet alongside their inherently aggressive nature, they display touching affection and loyalty towards their caring owners.
Divine gallo-roman bull
Gianadda Foundation, Martigny / Valais
Ancestors of the Combat Queens
Our combat queens are the result of sophisticated stockbreeding. Their chromosomes contain a mosaic of genes collected on the long trail of their evolution. There are elements from the Hindu-Iranian, Phrygian-Roman and Minoan races; there are traces of African cattle, European bison and aurochs, the Spanish Miura race and the wild herds of Camargue.
Some must have been brought into our valley by the Romans and their Kybele cult. In Martigny, gateway to the Saint Bernard Pass – formerly Octodure, an important way station for the Roman army – a bronze bullhead with three horns dating from the 1st or 2nd century A.D. was excavated. The middle horn, now broken off, was a symbol of spiritual communication with transcendental forces. Other ancestors of the combat queens most probably migrated up the Rhone River, spin-offs of the wild herds of Camargue or of Iberian stock with genetic roots in Africa.
The complex genetic make-up as well as domestication and sophisticated breeding have brought forth a wonderfully graceful and enigmatic animal: a Combat Queen with a muscular rump perfectly balanced on the shapely legs of a ballerina. A female Cassius Clay dancing like a butterfly and stinging like a bee – should the circumstances so require.
© photo GGG 2012
Rotigen / Turtmanntal
Whenever a herd enters new grounds their keen sense for rank within their social hierarchy turns them into fierce fighters.
Upon observing a fighting drama unfold, you are keenly aware of the fact that the principle of natural selection has not necessarily fostered the survival of the strongest but rather the survival of the fittest, i.e. the most courageous, most intelligent and most cunning specimen.
On an alp, where a herd of up to a hundred cows may spend three summer months, the fittest is the one which fights most successfully. The fittest is the one which deals best with steep mountain slopes, tricky hole-ridden terrain, hot summer days, cold nights, heavy rains and thunderstorms. The fittest one is the guardian of the herd.
During the Alpaufzug (moving on the alp) various owners bring their cows to form a herd during the summer looked after by a cowherd, who takes on great responsibility. The combat cows are not only loved by their owners, they are also high priced. In the autumn their owners expect to see them back strong, healthy and beautiful. A broken leg, other serious injuries or a snakebite may mean death for the animal and great loss for the owner.
Soon after their arrival on the alp the fighting begins, preceded by display behavior. This ranges from lowing to bending their bodies into the form of a banana to impress potential opponents with their sheer bulk; or pawing the ground and bathing their bodies in the excavated hollows. Some cows may fidget nervously or even try to escape the battlefield. Others soon engage in the ancient rites of fighting. Horns and heads clash with a loud thud. There are sweating bodies, bulging muscles and eyeballs, and all kinds of tricks from disengaging, standing motionless and all of a sudden lunging at the opponent again, aiming at the gullet and trying to lift her body off the ground.
A Ritual Older than Mankind
To partake in such a ritual – much older than mankind – is a privilege. The drama reminds you of how man and animal, culture and nature are intrinsically enmeshed. It is as if the powers of myth and mystical rites hover still in the air, bestowing a sacred meaning upon the event and offering a quasi-spiritual experience to the human observer. It is an epiphany, a glimpse at the sheer beauty and power of cosmic forces on our planet.
© photo GGG 2012
Combat of queens
Alp Tschorr / Ergisch
Electronic Age meets Stone Age
The number of combat cows and their aficionados keeps rising in the Canton of Valais. This suggests that in a world of rapid and profound social change the love for and breeding of these ancient creatures offer a sense of identity and a solid anchoring in the history of life on our planet.
to the dedicated breeders and owners of the superb race of Eringer cows, vaches d’Hérens, as they are called in the French speaking Val d‘Hérens.
© Gottlieb GUNTERN, 2011