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VMVMUMU MUMU archivesCornailles 2005


Cornaille, an ancient game.
by Patrizia Nuvolari

To know a bit more …

cornaille saperne di più

CORNAILLE, an ancient game.

The 52nd Mostra-Concorso dell’artigianato valdostano di tradizione (Exhibition-Competition of traditional valdotain handicrafts), organised by the Regional Assessorship of Industry and Handicrafts and dedicated to the subject of the high alpine pastures, has presented, in the category games, Cornaille. The VMV wishes to emphasise, with an exhibition, the importance that this rudimentary game has had, and still has, in pastoral culture.

But what is a cornaille ? It’s a small stylised cow made from a little forked branch of wood. In mountain regions it has been the favourite game of generations of children. During the long and boring days in the pastures, the herdsmen passed the time sculpting objects like saints, small animals and cornailles. If the children of the town amused themselves with little soldiers in plastic and inventing their wars, the little herdsmen played at war with their cow-toys with the long horn: precisely the cornailles. Farther back they amused themselves with the cones of the conifers which, according to the colours and the size, represented the complete bovine lineage: without doubt the animals of the stall being the best-loved. Later, the synthetic figure of a scarcely shaped body with well-pointed horns, became, by autonomasy, the toy of the alpine pastures. Brocherel, collector and specialist of valdotain culture said in this respect: The proportions are somewhat arbitrary, the horns cover in length and width the shrunken stump which should be the animal’s body, lacking head and limbs, but those details aren’t important, what is essential is that there are well-developed horns. Not for nothing, these rudimentary toys came to be called in the valdotain dialect: cornailles. Just a few knife cuts were enough to improvise the toy, then the child tried to make it better, sharpening the horns, scraping or cutting the bark to simulate the fair or piebald coat of the cow which, in the mind of the child, had to represent a cow with which he was familiar."

We can imagine those children, in the humid warmth of the cowsheds, with the game, repeating their parents’ tasks. The primitives toys lined up on the table awaiting a battle, amuse the youngsters through the boring winter evenings. In the agro-pastoral society a few pieces of wood, simply notched, were more than sufficient to ensure hours and hours of amusement.

Today these “archaic toys”, as Brocherel defined them because of the evident analogy with the primordial forms found in numerous grotto engravings, have become objects of collection for the most refined of tastes.

Unfortunately there is not a very ample bibliography on valdotain toys; here below we list out the books that we have found and which could be useful for an eventual researcher:

  • BARBERI S., DAUDRY P., Tatà, pouette, borioule..., Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta, Tipografia valdostana, Aosta 2004
  • BARBERI S., JALLA D., Arte popolare valdostana, la collezione di Jules Brocherel dei Musei Civici di Torino, Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta, Musumeci, Aosta, 1999.
  • GIBELLI L. Memorie di cose prima che scenda il buio, attrezzi, oggetti del passato raccolte per non dimenticare, Priuli & Verlucca, Ivrea, 1996
  • BROCHEREL J. (a cura di), Arte popolare valdostana, Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta, Musumeci, Aosta, 1990.
  • DAUDRY P. Jeux et jouets de la tradition popoulaire valdôtaine Regione Autonoma Valle d’Aosta, Musumeci, Aosta, 1983.
  • JANS C., JUNOD L., Artigianato tipico valdostano, Musumeci, Aosta.
  • BROCHEREL J. (a cura di), Jouets rustiques valdôtains, in Augusta Praetoria, n. 3, Aosta 1950.

The information provided above has been suggested by the research conducted by Cyrille Chevalier, a participant for the prize for historical research at the 52nd Mostra-Concorso dell’artigianato valdostano di tradizione (Competitive-Exhibition of traditional valdotain handicrafts), organised by the Regional Assessorship of Industry and Handicrafts.

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