As a half Welsh, half Breton who speaks both languages, I was intrigued to receive the dvd which explore the Breton national anthem and its origins. The half hour long documentary by Mikael Baudu, a respected and experienced journalist and filmmaker in Breizh (Brittany in Breton), is available to view in both Breton and French so accessible to a wider market than Breton speakers alone.
The opening scenes tell us that Brittany and Cornwall share the Welsh national anthem and have quite lyrics, which immediate raises questions in the viewer’s mind. How and why is this the case ? From which country does the anthem originate ? Is it recognised nationally or by mere factions whithin the three Brythonic Celtic nations ? I hoped that the next half hour’s viewing would answer these questions.
Baudu’s film opens with Bro Gozh ma Zadoù being sung by thousands in the Stade de France in 2009 when two Breton teams, Rennes and Guingamp battled each other in the final of the French Cup. With Gwenn ha Du flags creating a current of Breton nationalism to go with the flow of the national anthem, and none other than Alan Stivell himself there to head the singing, never before had the national anthem, and indeed the Breton language, been allowed to breathe so lively in the centre of Paris. French newspapers carried Breton headlines and although one team had to lose on the day, all Breton people present in the stadium and viewing the game at home felt that something bigger had been gained.
To explain the significance of this moment, if people think that the Welsh language is still on the edge and faces an insecure future, then Brezhoneg (Breton language) is on such e thin edge that its existence hinges on chance encounters between two Breton football teams in the final of the French cup.
In Brittany, there exists a strong pride in being Breton with its rich musical and gastronomic heritage, but there is also a passive acceptance that the principal nationality if French. The French unitary state has successfukky quashed efforts at devolution but the fight for survival of the Breton language goes on trough initiatives such as Breton medium schools (skolioù Diwan) which receive next to nothing from the French state, and mayoral efforts from various towns and villages in Breizh to use the language in official settings and events.
With that context in mind, let’s return to the content of the film and whether or not it successfullky answered my questions about the origins of the anthem.. I’m glad to say that it did, as it took me from Wales with the Eisteddfod and its Gorsedd, to Cornwall and Brittany where similar institutions were established. Through the medium of talking head interviews with several people, including members of Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, we are told that the original Welsh version of the anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, was written by Evan James and his son James.
The Bretonisation of the Welsh anthem came about through William Jenkyn Jones, a Welsh Protestant missionary in Quimper. Jones influenced the composer of the Breton version of the anthem François Jaffrennou, later known as Taldir after being received in the welsh Gorsedd. The Cornish version of the anthem, Bro Goth Agan Tasow, was then translated by Henry Jenner, a Cornishman with connections to Brittany, thus creating a Brittonic triumvirate of shared culture.
One interesting point that Baudu makes is that the anthem has proven its worth as a uniting force in Cymru, Kernow and Breizh alike. The Welsh love to sing it before a rugby game, at the end of concerts, eisteddfod ceremonies, and down the pubs when the wheels are well oiled. The people of Cornwall take pride in singing it as they fight for any kinf of acknowledgment of their national identity from Westminster, and as they seek to rekindle the flame og the Kernewek language. The people of Brittany are not only bounf through it in the final of the French Cup, but also at times of crisis in their recent history, in the nazi camps as well as in public meetings to condemn the polluting caused of the coastline caused by the Amocco Cadiz oil spillage in 1978.
The shared anthem is therefore a reminder of the ties between the Brythonic Celtic countries, a bond often forgotten by many.
If there is a criticism to be made of the film, I would say that the freaming of the camera shots on many of the talking heads leaves a lot to be desired, but perhaps this was the intended style. On the whole, an enjoyable half hour, though you will need to have a grasp of either French or Breton to be able to view the film. One more thing, don’t be alarmed: if this film gives you your first glimpse of the Breton folk rock band, Tri Yann, not all people in Brittany have mad bleach blond hair and a sboran in the form of a crab ! Mat tre !