The Mounaques, these funny Campan dolls

Campan
The Mounaques, these  ...
In the heart of the central Pyrenees, Campan is a small rural village of ordinary appearance, nestled in an abundant natural setting between the high peaks of the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d'Aspin. However, when you linger there for a stroll, you discover an atypical town still largely inhabited by the past, by traditions and by a strange population of inhabitants : the "Mounaques".

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Who are the “Mounaques” of Campan?

mounaques
mounaques


From the plains of the Campan Valley, the silhouette of the village rises on the horizon. As I approach the village, I catch a glimpse from my car of a first couple of “Mounaques” who greet passers-by from the window of a house. Then a second couple in a field catches my eye. Then a third in a garden! The “Mounaques” are everywhere. A stop is essential to explore this village in search of these extraordinary "locals" posted on balconies, in gardens, in cafes, behind a window or at the bend of an alley...

But in fact, what are the “Mounaques”?

mounaques  mounaques


The “Mounaques” are life-size dolls, made of rag and filled with hay, dressed in clothes and entirely handmade. Staged in the streets, they are the guardians of an ancestral tradition which has lasted since the 19th century and which reflects the folklore identity of Bigorre. Every year, from July to September, exploring the picturesque village on foot, eyes wide open in search of “Mounaques”, offers visitors a fun and instructive discovery.

An ancient tradition of Haut-Adour

History reports that in the past, in the Campan valley, couples united in villages, a traditional custom linked to the system of inheritance between people of the same community. When a romance was announced, and this norm was to be thwarted - in the case, for example, where a young girl was considering marrying a boy from another village, or even if a widower married a young girl - the person in question was the subject of a "hullabaloo", a very noisy demonstration of discontent of the villagers who demanded a kind of compensatory tribute. If the man who came to take away an " heiress " from the young people of the village did not pay his tribute, these young people would go every evening during the month preceding the wedding around the house of the bride with cowbells to make noise and attract attention.

A couple of rag dolls, "the Mounaques", also hung from her house, like a caricature of the bride and groom and their flaws. If this ritual did not discourage suitors from elsewhere, this well-established custom today plunges us into the authenticity of the rural world and popular traditions of yesteryear.

Rest assured, these good-natured mockery ended all the same on the wedding day!

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In search of "Mounaques"

mounaques  mounaques
wedding mounaques
mounaques  mounaques


Each year, nearly 160 dolls are exhibited throughout Campan, judiciously arranged in all the crossroads of the small village. In front of houses, cafes, in the park, these little characters are omnipresent. Two families of "Mounaques" celebrate their union in the courtyard of the Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Campan and offer a fabulous wedding scene. Women wash clothes in the laundry. Firefighters, caregivers, scouts, “Mounaques” children enliven the streets and the built heritage of Campan.

Every year, on the second Sunday in July, the Fête des Mariolles is held in their honor, organized by the brotherhood : parades, folklore shows, local products, a grand ball on the square… Festive atmosphere guaranteed!

To see in Campan!

mounaques workshop


To find out more about these funny dolls, open the door of Mounaques et Compagnie, a workshop for making small “Mounaques” from an artisanal collection made by volunteers from fabric, wadding and wool, entirely hand painted. Likewise, to discover the life of the Campanois mountain dwellers and the inhabitants of the valley at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the Carrefour des Patrimoines museum offers a fabulous journey into the past (reproductions of photos, permanent exhibition of traditional objects and costumes).


heritage crossroads museum

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Finally, on the curiosity side, the Campan Monument to the Dead is quite surprising. Sculpted by Bordeaux artist Edmond Chrétien in 1926, the sober and moving statue represents a woman in mourning, far from the usual representation of heroic soldiers. Dressed in a long black capulet, the traditional mourning garment of the valley, her invisible face symbolizes generations of women bereaved by war.


Memorial  church

The Monuments to the Dead and the interior of the 16th century Church


Advice to walking enthusiasts! Campan is a starting point for grandiose hikes in the Pyrenees : La Hourquette d'Ancizan, the Col d'Aspin, the Col de Beyrède...


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Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson


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