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Two DVDs Recorded For University Of The Basque Country PhD Thesis On Methods For Reapers To Correctly Hone And Fix Scythes

January 25, 2011

Rural life and competitions amongst reapers of grass and cereals have developed in a parallel manner. When the scythe was a fundamental tool on the farmstead, farm laborers and farmers participated more in these competitions and the high point was at the beginning of the 80s. So, as the system of production of the farm modernized, the use of the scythe in tilling the land became less common; likewise the number of farmers taking part in competitions. As a result, the reapers of today have little to do with those of bygone days; they are not farmers or farm laborers, bur sportspersons who expressly train for competing in this activity.

This is the conclusion that Xabier Etxepare, a Physical Education teacher, wished to get across with his doctoral thesis which he presented at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and entitled Segalaritzaren bilakaera 1955etik 2005era Gipuzkoan: orduko eta gaurko segalariak (The development of competitions amongst reapers from 1955 to 2005 in Gipuzkoa: reapers now and then). He studied the modern period of reaping competitions with the idea of gathering data and avoiding their loss, as he believes this category of sport is in danger of extinction. This is why Mr. Etxepare recorded two DVDs for the PhD: one on the correct fixing of the scythe to its pole and the other on how to properly hone the blade of the scythe.

Country vs. city

To carry out this research, Mr. Etxepare used in-depth interviews as his main source of information. He undertook 32 interviews in total, with persons related, in one way or another, to competitions between reapers held between 1955 and 2005. As complementary sources he also analyzed the minutes of the contests held over these years, apart from news published in the press.

Mr. Etxepare concluded that, with the scythe disappearing from the farmhouse and becoming an exclusively sporting instrument, the situation and characteristics of reapers have changed. Given this, many reapers today have been brought up in an urban environment, as opposed to the traditional rural one. Thus, they have gone from learning to use the scythe in their own farm to doing so outside their home; and to having experience of some ten years before entering competition to having training of just one or two years. The author of the thesis also observed that, in its heyday, the culture of competitions was based on betting, while today what is involved is championships.

They do not know how to hone scythes

All these changes have brought various problems to the competitions, it being necessary to continually adapt and update the regulations governing the sporting competition. Mr. Etxepare listed these problems in his thesis. It should be especially noted the great difficulties that reapers find as regards acquiring the tool and its honing.

To start with, he explained that the best scythes were made in the Patricio Etxeberria factory in Legazpi in the province of Gipuzkoa and that, since 1985, these are neither made nor sold there. Moreover, the thesis author states that young reapers today are not very skilled in grinding and honing tasks. He also stated that, although a temporary solution has been found to this by having a person at each competition responsible for these tasks for all competitors, he pointed out that these experts are elderly and there is no new generation replacing them. The same happens for the correct fixing, angling and adjustment of the scythe to its staff as, currently, there is only one person who does this at competitions. This is why, and so that the legacy might continue, Mr. Etxepare has filmed two DVDs for the thesis: the first one, lasting 55 minutes, records the techniques used by this latter expert for fixing the scythes; the second, 18-minute clip, deals with grinding and honing techniques for scythes.

Other lacunas are mentioned in the PhD thesis. For example, the lack of meadowlands for practicing, the difficulties to get a suitable team together, the scarcity of heats and competitions and the great skills gap amongst competitors. Mr. Etxepare pointed out that, 50 years ago, these aspects were covered within one farmhouse and, in order to fill the gaps, find a substitute for this work and resolve these problems, it is necessary to have a club, to face the future. On this point, he praised the work of Almitza, the first association of this kind and which, amongst other activities, provides classes for learning how to use the scythe.

About the author

Xabier Etxepare Garin (Irún, 1965) is a graduate in Physical Education. He undertook his PhD thesis under the direction of Mr. Luis María Zulaika Isasti and Mr. Julen Idarreta Galarraga, from the Department of Physical and Sports Education of the Faculty of Physical Activity Sciences and Sports at the UPV/EHU; and defended it at the Department of the Theory and History of Education of the Faculty of Philosophy and Education Sciences. To carry out the thesis, he worked with the federation of rural sports. Mr. Etxepare is currently a teacher of Physical Education in Secondary Education.

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