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Great Regional Cultures: Walser

International Assosiation for the Walser

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Who are the Walser?

The Walser culture forms a piece unmistakable, self-willed existence in the alpine region, and they are also today still often coined/shaped of that survival will, which made it for them possible in the long run to endure during more than 700 years in the highest situations of our mountain world. The Walser is however not simply a urchiges Relikt from past times. These people live in and with the mountains, and they have the will to do this also in foreseeable future. So become in the meantime from an Alpine herdsman a restaurant operator or a furniture carpenter and from a mountain farmer a hotel employ or a village teacher.
These are actually positive realizations. Nevertheless we know that the Walser is a culture there and there endangered, threatened or unfortunately at disappearing. We regret this, but it is for us neither a reason for resignation nor for loud opposition, although we know to quite resist some developments of the alpinen areas. Which us appears important: Who knows more about the Walser, which reside over 300 kilometers scattered in approximately 150 settlements in the central alps, will also understand them better .




Approximately around the year 1000 a small group of Alemannen arrived from the north plateau of the Goms, at that time the high-altitude of all alpine settlements. We do not know exactly, what might have led to it that a part of these hirten, cattle breeders and mountain peasants left the upper Wallis already soon again in all directions, in order from Walliser in this way Walsern to become gradual. Was there the large child number, which caused an over population, were natural catastrophes or climatic modifications, was simply the pest or the impulse after adventure? The feudal lords in the alps with its relational and friendly connections, which permitted it to settle subjects in inhospitable areas played a central role in order thereby a strengthening of the requirements for rule, a increase of the population and the cultivated area as well as the maintenance and the check of the alpine passes to carry out. As payment for this colonisation activity under less favourable conditions the Walser different rights and liberties concerned itself in, which were not natural for all at that time yet by any means: the full personal liberty, the right for the education of own court municipalities and the right of the free hereditaryborrow, that mentioned that with the death of the settler the property turned into on its inheriting, which paid an unchangeable interest for it.

Walser Settlements

The migrations of the Walser, which were favoured by, the relatively mild climate in the alps, dominant at the 12th /13th, led to the north into Bernese upper country, to the west into the French Chablais and particularly to the south, into the highest Italian alpine valleys, into the Pomatt and south the Monte Rosa one according to Gressoney, Alagna, Rimella and Macugnaga, Rima and Ornavasso.
In at least three different thrusts the German-speaking settlers pulled immediately eastward according to Raetien, in the Graubünden upper country (where Obersaxen remained as a settle of Walser), at Rheinwalden and to the Landwasser near Davos. From the first master colonies spread into the neighbouring villages in the valley: from Hinterrhein to Vals, Safien and possibly also to Avers and Mutten, from Davos monastery and by the Praettigau to against Schiers with the upper settlements St.Antoenien, Furna, Valzeina at the valley edges as well as in the neighbouring Schanfigg to against Churwalden. Little clarified is the moving way in the St. Galler upper country, to Liechtenstein, Tirol and Vorarlberg, where at the beginning of the 14th Century the Kleinwalsertal and thus the end of the later inneralps people migration were achieved.



One detects a Walser not by his expressing, even if certain conceptions of high-grown people with blue eyes and reddish-blond hair, with leisurely-far step and a reserved, locked character exist still today in some heads.

Walser Migrations

The Walser were active during centuries as farmers and guides. This led to the fact that in the Walser regions the same or similar work forms and devices were developed. We mention for example the curved scythe, from the hay drying system process and the hay course in the winter, as well as from different wood devices in the milk processing...

The private alpine herdsman, which almost disappeared today in favor of the more profitable cooperative operation, can be called "Walser feature", which was to be found from the Walliser native home into the eastern Vorarlbergs. We know also corresponding motives for legend and figures like for instance the wild Mannli or the Togg. Besides was common to the Walsern the admiration of the first Walliser bishops, the holy Theodul.

Various plate conceptions exist to regarding the Walser such as for example "Walser (as Alemannen) build only timber buildings, novels (as Latin) against it stone houses. Walser as individualists live in scattered housing estates, novels against it in closed villages" correct are that strewing building method and timber constructions are to be found during the Walsern particularly frequently.

We return again to the Middle Ages: As the Walser at the 13./14. Century in their new homeland, were the well cultivatable surfaces arrived filled by the old-established inhabitants, by the majority novels, long. Thus usually only the inhospitable mountain areas, which were often situated over 1500 m, at the Avers over 2000 m sea level, remained for them. Here there was only little even soil, which would have been suitable for the system of a village. Since one in this altitude besides a large reversal needed, in order to collect the necessary fodder, the Walser, which supported its existence almost exclusively on the cattle ranch, was often forced, to establish itself with its yard settlements far scattered from each other. Where the topography did not permit a dispersion however, as for instance at Rima, Bosco Gurin or at the Rheinwalden, developed closed village settlements.

The conditions of the environment coined/shaped also the building of houses, which particularly impresses the visitors of a Walser Region. Usually it bandelt itself around timber buildings, but it would be to be maintained falsely, for Walser built only timber buildings. The Walserhaus, which one finds everywhere, does not give it at all, because this developed depending upon settlement region very differently. So one can speak of a fascinating multiplicity of walser house types, for which those building materials arrived at application, which in the environment in sufficient measure were available.

While we find the installation house in completed shape for instance in the Walser settlements south the Monte Rosa, at Gressoney or Alagna, another type prevails forwards at grey federations and Vorarlberg: Here form house, stable and barn separate yard buildings, whereby slope downward the arranged living area, to which back a bricked kitchen section attaches, covers usually a wooden block with room and sleep chambers.

The language - an old Walser Inheritance

Something simplified is often maintained, the culture of the Walser, a "simple mountain-rural fate community", is lately a language culture. Among this people was and is the language also today still more than just a communication medium: It represents over 700 years history between all Walsers Settlement in the central alpine region and the country of origin to the Rhone, and it becomes in view of the increasing devastation of our environment that medium, in which still the native land is noticeable. Paul Zinsli does not write in vain: "which is able to still connect these humans living in the scatter by valleys and burrs away, is beside sorted to receive the remained and now again aroused consciousness of the common origin alone the possession of a language common in its fundamentals..".

Unfortunately however even this language is at some places threatened or at disappearing. Since there are people, which detect this problems, various efforts undertaken, in order to save with this language a valuable piece of alpiner way of life - and concomitantly the substantial item of the Walser culture - into the future.

A few features of the Walser language, alemanisch dialect, are the among other things unusual vowel wealth, the change of the "s" too "sch" (sie = schii, uns = ünsch/insch/iisch, Eis = Iisch, böse = böösch/beesch), the clarification of the sounds (e.g. Hüüs/Hiischi = Hus, drii = drei), the transformation of "- nk" to the softer "- CH" (trinken = triichä), the "ei” with verbs (sie geht= schii geit, schneien = schniiä), the characteristic of the reduction forms (Häuschen = Hüüschi, Mädchen = Meitjä, Kühlein = Ghüetschi). In addition comes a large number of special, usually locally expretions.

Associazione Internazionale per Questioni Walser

Bosco Gurin:
Leonhard Tomamichel Speerstrasse
142 CH - 8805 Richterswil
P ++41(0)1/ 784 29 44 Fax
++41(0)1/784 29 64

Rosangela Pirazzi - Cresta Im Moos I
- 28030 Macugnaga/NO
cell. 0368/312 4011 P Tel und. Fax
++39/ 324 6533 1


Walser People in Bosco Gurin and Macugnaga

Bosco Gurin Ticino


In the year 1253 its own church could be inaugurated in Gurin. The vellum document, reported like the oldest in the municipality archives, tells: “ In the name of God our Lord. Amen. In the year twelve hundred fifty-three, on Sunday, the tenth day at the beginning of the monthly May. The priest Girardus brother member of the inferior brothers order, which works and lives at the church of the holy George in Locarno, consecrated in the name of the bishop of Como in the place, which is called ad Buschum, a church and lent to it the rank of a hospice for the area of Quarino.

It consecrated it in honours of the allpowerful, the all-most blessed virgin Maria, the Apostels James and the holy Christophorus. Were present following men and citizen of Bosco: Mr. Heinrich, Sohn of the Mr. Peter Burkhard, Gonsole and chief of the municipality and the place Bosco, Anricus and Peter, brothersr of the mentioned Heinrich, the brothers Walter and William, the brothers Anseim and Philipp, Peter, Konrad´s son, Konradin, son of the Anricus of Tirono, Guido of Casso, Peter, son of the Guido of Faedo Plano, Walter of Faedo Plano, Homodeus of Pichinzollo and Anricus Branca.

All this people above gel for itself and their descendants to give their goods as pledge that they want to ensure for all times for the church. As requested witnesses were present Mr. Johannes, priest at the church of the holy Johannes at Cevio, Mr. Massio de Duno, son of Mr. Raynerius de Duno from Ascona, Peter, son of Martin, fisherman from Ascona, Martin, son of the Ingelfred of Ascona, and the notary Guericus from Lodino. The document write at behest of the Brother Girardus the notary Bonfantus of Ascona, son of the Mr. Marcus Zanetti.”

The year 1253 is not also the date of the establishment of Bosco/Gurin. For the first time Gurin is mentioned in one at the municipality file kept document from the year 1311. In this document, one is a arbitrator decision in controversies between the municipalities Bosco and a Losone, to the fact refers that waward to a contract from the year 1244 the municipality Losone leased some Alp pasture in areas of Buscho de Quarino to certain people of Formazza on 29 years. This document continues to say, the pastures mentioned were then given according to the contract from the year to 1273 those by Bosco into eternal hereditary body.

Bosco Gurin, a Walser Settlement

Bosco/Gurin is a Walser settlement. The settlement of Bosco/Gurin might have taken place at the most some years before 1244. Which are the reasons, which led to the Walser migrations? The Walser migrations is almost throughout on the highest levels of some alpine valleys. Already Agidius Tschudi knew these settlements and came to the actually obvious conclusion the fact that an originally Germanic population had been back-pushed toward by the Romances and only in the highest heights could itself state.

It might be certain today, particularly owing to the thorough linguistic researches, that all the Walser settlement was settled indirectly or directly from the Wallis. One in former times generally assumed, overpopulation and economic problems would have led to these migrations. That may apply probably. But the people are not going on their part on search land. They were arranged to it. Before beginning and at te thime of the Walser migrations was quite small the number of the free farmers at the Oberwallis, the majority belonged to the unfree ones.

At this time Italian landowners had numerous possession at the Oberwallis. For their feuds these landowners needed war-people and entourages, and they recruited her from the population of the Wallis become hard in the constant fight with the mountain. They settled then these resistant people in almost inaccessible valleys. The landowners promised them protection. For the performed services the settlers enjoyed for this time an incomprehensible privileged position. Everywhere, where always the Walser established itself, they were free people.

The land did not belong to them, but had it however in freer hereditaryborrows, had own low jurisdiction, was free from restrictions of marriage and enjoyed full liberality. They possessed large autonomy and created rural municipalities according to kind of the lombardischen municipalities. As return for further settling they demanded therefore always the preservation of their liberties "sicut eorum consuetudo" (like it were used to it).

At present the establishment of the confederation, with beginning of the decay of the feudalism, the Walser are in the whole central area of the alps, at the most important transitions from the north to the south. "The colonial activity of the Walser was an event, that our country economically, politically and linguistically deeply affected (L.Joos). Professor Karl Meyer, to which we owe so much over the origin of the confederation, made up noticing on the interrelations between the liberty fights of the lombardo municipalities against the Staufer and the liberty efforts of the original cantons.

The war service was the most important service in return, which the Walser had to pay to the landowner. After the decay of the Feudalismus, in north Italy after the end of the Staufer period, they were canceled their obligations. Their liberties had however remained to them. This precious property they brought to their members of the tribe beyond the alps. And it is probably no heresy to say that the pact of 1291 was not at the beginning, but rather culmination of a liberty movement, at which the Walser had a portion, which may not be estimated highly enough.

Settlement of Bosco Gurin

Which now have can the reasons for the settlement of Gurin been? At this time the Capitanei exercised of Locarno the direct rule in the Valle Maggia. Capitanei was the title of the noble kinships of Locarno: Oreib, Muralh, Magoria. These kinships, probably langobardischen origin, settled in the golden age of the Feudalismus in the Tessin. They were enfeoffed by emperor Barbarossa and protected very much. The most famous among them is Simone Oreib, which played an important role in the fight Friedrichs II. against the Pope and the lombardischen cities.

The emperor tried to control the alpine transitions. Thus it came that Simone Orelb, at that time Podestae of Biasca, and the baron von Sax Sax-Misox, who controlled the Mesolcina, to which alpine passes went merrily. The two separated from the emperor and turned to Milan. The Pieve of Locarno was then for a while in fact an independent state under Simone Orelb. In the service of Milan and conquered he vaptured with Heinrich of Sax Bellinzona. Among its war people also Walser from the Pomat may have been, in areas by Buscho de Quarino were then settled and as in another place under the protection of the Feudal gentlemen to remain.

The Orelli possessed numerous landed property in the Maggiatal and its follower, which had carried on the condition of the settlement war service for them out, on its reason and soil will have settled. In addition, in this area the municipality of Losone possessed some alps. These were probably given, on veranlassung of the Feudalherren, the Gurinern in lease. It was not possible to accommodate it in other villages because the Vicinien (municipalities), strongly was already at that time anxious particularly to take up no strangers and no fremdsprachigen intruders.

The settlers formed equal its own municipality, as this is shown in the fair document. They may have confessed also further under the special protection of the Orelh. Border conditions with the neighbour municipality Cevio were however not regulated and their objection had by transfer to be bought. The owners did not agree however with it, and it came to a correct feud. The documents speak of fights, wounds and homicide. The two municipalities agreed then to let the Zwist settle by an arbitrator. The trade was submitted to the Mr. Guyfredus de Orelli, who made in the year 1311 a judgement, which favoured obviously Gurin. That suggests that the Guriner was favorites of the Oreih and them also still after the settlement of war services carried out likes. The contrasts however still continued and in the year 1404 by an arbitral award were only settled. The Guriner paid backward interest to 700 Pound, received however the right to replace the fee in tail. They sat now on own reason and soil.

From the year 1400 the fate Gurin is connected closely with the valley shank Valle Maggia. The valley shank separated 1406 from Locarno, which many aristocrat arranged, their tenth (it is a type of tax, 10% of the harvest), to sell alps and properties in the valley. 1412 was set up the statutes the valley shank. 1410-1411 and 1416-1422 the valley was for the first time occupied by the oath comrades. To the battle of Arbedo it came again into the possession of the Visconti of Milan, which accepted however the separation from Locarno as happened.

Influence of the Swiss federal Governors

After the conquest of the duchy Milan by the Frenchmen 1500 also the valley shank came under their control. 1512 then the Valle Maggia came finally into the possession of the Swiss citizen and became the Ennetbirgischen protectorate Meynthal and Lavizzara. With this year begins the rule of the Swiss federal governors, which lasted until 1798. The governors, more still the individual municipalities, enjoyed however a certain autonomy. It is difficult to decide whether the rule of the Governors the Tessin was more by disadvantage than of advantage.

Partially bad states prevailed. But under Swiss federal protection remained the Tessin spared by the war actions, the close Lombardei was exposed to which. The municipality autonomy was preserved to a large extent and remained in such a way germ cell for later independence. One says also, the Guriner would have enjoyed into the time of the governors certain advantages because of their German-languageness. That might have been however hardly the case, because there were language contrasts at that time hardly.

A federal governors remained also only two years in the office. In places such as Schwyz and Glarus the office was assigned publicly to the highest bidder. These governors were then anxious to drive this purchase price and still much more out from their farmyard. Nevertheless it gave some splendid governors, but straight these might have made hardly differences.

Fall of the old Confederation

With the fall of the old Confederation Helvetica in the year 1798 the long and relatively calm period of the farmyards went to end in the Tessin. The Tessin people received its liberty and independence, and the big majority known enthusiastic to Switzerland. The consciousness to be Swiss must have been nevertheless already deeply stamped, which testifies, that the rule of the old Confederation was not suppression. In Gurin changed not much, because with the large autonomy the new liberties may have meant little. The Valle Maggia accepted the Helvetica condition. It belonged to the canton Lugano. Under the selected delegates into the Helvetica big council was also a Guriner, Jacob Theodor Tomamichel.

Theater of war

In the year 1799 Switzerland became the theater of war of strange armies. Also the Tessin and the Maggia Valley were affected of it. From three sides pressed the Austrian brigade highest bush in the Goms only avoiding over the Gries and the Nufenen remained. Main power, 5000 men, pulled over the Gries and from there over the Gurinerfurka after Gurin, where the troop referred one day and one night accomodation. For the village was a heavy load, because oppressive requisitions were raised. In the municipality book the writer reports: “It by-pulled an imperial troop of 5000 men, coming from Pomat, here. They all stopped themselves one day and one night in the municipality.

The poor municipality had to supply 6 cows, over five one hundred rye breads, to them with twelve Pound of cheese and a calf. We do not know the number of the goats and sheep, because these carried them forward themselves. As memories to this examination we sacrifice all God the allpowerful as penalty for our sins. God is thanked that it sent us this incident."

Ticino becomes a soveraener canton

In the year 1803 the Tessin became a sovereign canton of the confederation. Bosco/Gurin was one of its municipalities. It was the only German-language municipality and an ethnical unit in the Italian canton.

For all the lovers of the Walser People
A people, plenty with the yearning to live in freedom

Translated to English by Rodolfo

We all want to be free
Live the freedom

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