We talk about tribalism in Africa. “What tribe are you from?” can be a good, or a dangerous question. During the riots after the election in Kenya in 2007 tribal affiliation decided your life. In Zambia, it reminds me more of Canada – your ‘tribal’ roots give you a feeling of belonging. So the Swiss tribe in northern British Columbia gathers every year in the Fort St. John area, to celebrate the Swiss national day, August 1.
The center of the celebration is the big pyramid of wood stacked up for the fire. It goes back to the legends of the founding of Switzerland, when the signal for victory was a bright fire on each of the high hills. There are drought years, when the fire can’t be lit for fear of lighting the forest or nearby grain fields. There was no fear of that this year!
Daniel and Susi Rötlisberger joke that most people come just for the bratwurst. Every year the two of them bring enough Bratwurst and Cervelat (this is the Swiss version, the ‘right’ one…) and grill them to perfection for the hundred or more people present. Others bring the Zopf – the Swiss bread, to go with it. Salads and Desserts – a mix of Canadian and Swiss recipes – round out the meal that’s laid out on a hay wagon.
Most people come from a two hour radius. Others, like me, plan long trips home to coincide with the event. My nephew initiates his new Canadian girlfriend into the rite.
There are visitors from Switzerland, who will go home to tell their compatriots that the Swiss in Canada have more fun celebrating the national birthday than those in Switzerland.
Almost all the old timers were there this year. The initiators of the event, they’re in their seventies and eighties now. Most of them were pioneer dairy farmers. They began with nothing, carving out an existence in this wilderness. They’re old and frail now, coming with grand children and great grand children, who wouldn’t miss the August 1 party for anything.
Canada allows us dual citizenship. This party celebrates that. The Canadian flag is present along with the Swiss. People eat their mix of Canadian and Swiss food in Canadian folding chairs. Eavesdropping in on conversations, I hear a mix of English and Swiss – often in the same sentence. They call that ‘Swinglish’.
I see Ruth Osterwalder brought her guitar. Later, she’ll lead the children in a ‘lampion’ parade – the kids swinging their paper lanterns in Swiss patterns with the candle light shining through, and singing the Swiss folk songs. Out in the pasture beyond, someone will start a soccer game, the Swiss national sport.
But the mainstay of the party will be visiting. It’s like a big family reunion, and really that’s what it is, a tribal reunion. Sort of like the Kuombuka celebration in Zambia with the Losi tribe in May, just not as big. Maybe we should start selling souvenirs?