Many Valais villages and valleys practise their own unique, centuries-old customs and traditions. It’s a breathtaking spectacle when the Tschäggättä, Sunnetreelleta and other mythical figures move through the streets and farmyards, chasing away winter and the evil spirits. Locals spend hours creating unique costumes and terrifying masks, later to be used in performance, and do not mind being watched at their work. This is a truly magical experience guaranteed to induce gooseflesh.
According to oral tradition, the celebration of Carnival in Bratsch and Erschmatt goes back to the start of the 19th century. Back then, people would dress with their clothes inside out, paint their faces with grease, soot and/or white flour and tie around sheep bells or small cowbells (size ‘Chamonix 3’). These ‘Füüdi’ would walk through the village as lone bell ringers.
Around the year 1930, the marchers began to go about in masks in ‘white.’ Without bells, but dressed in a cardboard hat with paper scraps and a head cloth with holes for the eyes, the ‘Füüdini’ would preserve the Carnival tradition.
In the 1940s, the marchers started wearing half-masks and fur. Starting in 1945, the ‘masqueraders’` wore inside-out drill gowns with scraps going down to the bells. The scraps were cut from old clothes in various colours.
The first rubber masks were worn in the early 1950s. The clothing has also changed. 41-year-old Peter Tscherry was the first to wear a gown with two rows of scraps (one at the shoulder and the second at hip level), in blue, red and green. Later, the colour yellow was added. The clothing itself has not changed much to this day. The colours have remained the same, but more rows are sewed on today, and only monochromatic materials are typically used.
The bells, mostly of the ‘Chamonix’ brand, have been replaced by angular, yellow gold-coloured bells, which can be ordered from the following persons and companies: Della Bianca in Visp, Hartmann in Susten, Meichtry in Leuk-Stadt and Brenner AG in Steg. Stefan Passeraub, Arnold Schnyder and Peter Tscherry were the first to carry two such bells each, in the year 1959, in sizes 8, 9 and/or 10. A few years later, the first size 15 bells appeared. Alois Schmidt of Erschmatt and Paul Schnyder of Bratsch carried bells of this class. In the year 1974, Hans-Peter Steiner was the first to carry a steel bell, a more stable type of bell which has since proved useful. Up to that point, mask wearers typically went about alone.
In the year 1970, several ‘Füüdini’ from Bratsch and Erschmatt took part for the first time in the Upper Valais Carnival procession in Brig-Glis. Since then, the cow bell ringers have been represented at various processions every year as a self-contained unit.
As mentioned above, ringers used to march alone. At the end of the 1970s, interest in the subject returned after a ‘latent’ period, and more women started to take part as well. Today, cowbell ringing is undergoing a true renaissance.
These historical remarks are only a cursory overview, and do not claim to be complete.
Schedule: during the whole carnival