In August 2014, I went to Georgia looking for traces of Romanian shepherds who migrated there in the early 20th century. None came
to light in the short time available (apart from a tantalising similarity in village names), but instead I met Armenian and Azeri herders, Kists in the Pankisi Gorge, youngsters campaigning to save an inner city park, and dozens of free spirits. This was all thanks to an adventurous guide called Devi, who introduced me to some of the above. You can read about it
The streets were too hot to bear in August but Tbilisi had some cooler backwaters, and it was in one of them, a shabby chic restaurant called Purpur (Purple), that I met Beka Gonashvili. Beka was head of the country’s main sheepbreeders’ association. He still practised transhumance, and had collaborated on a documentary about it. But he wasn’t a fan of walking sheep over long distances. He said it was too time-consuming and spread disease. I’d been hoping for a more romantic or at least conciliatory attitude that recognised unremitting growth as a danger in itself, but this was a hard-headed guy more interested in modernisation than tradition. He was trying out new ideas for sustainable agriculture which included using hydroponics to grow winter fodder. The country’s pastures had been terribly run-down, he said, and the pressure from decades of grazing large numbers of sheep and cattle in quite limited areas (a Communist legacy) had depleted the soil and the plants that grew on it. Because of the language difficulty, English-speaking Beka was the only Georgian shepherd I could get down to brass tacks with. He told me his father had bought the family’s first sheep by selling a saddle.
The grey stallion shown in this sequence was being ridden to Germany from Kyrgyzstan by a Bavarian shepherd. The shepherd had taken his violin with him. Now he was more like my idea of a wandering herdsman but of Romanian pastoralists I could find no trace…