The reed in Camargue

In the Petite Camargue, in the marshes of Vauvert and Gallician, there is just a handful of peasants left who cut reeds - sagne in Provençal - by hand.

This 700 year old tradition, not very profitable, has been given over to mechanization. Plunge into the heart of the reedy marshes, at the side of the last reed cutters of Camargue.

Wearing high wading boots and holding his sickle, André Calba, reed cutter of Camargue, plunges in to the marsh. He grabs an armful of reeds, pulls it towards him and cuts it with a sharp blow. 

The sun is just beginning to rise over the marshes of Vauvert, in Petite Camargue. André, reed cutter in Camargue, counted three hoarfrosts and a good Mistral wind before commencing the harvest of Phragmites australis, reeds - sagne in Provençal. The leaves have fallen ; the sagne rises, upright and golden, ready to be cut.

He checks the width of the bundle with the curve of his sagnadou - his sickle - and binds it with wire. He removes the debris from the reeds and packs the bundle against the flat bottom of his small boat, placing it fanned out on the bundles already gathered.

André repeated these gests, taught to him by his father, every day from November to April, for twenty years. This time, he will stay hardly a week in the midst of the reed marshes, for his own pleasure.

"Twenty five years ago, I'd bring back an average of 200 bundles per day, high and slim reeds, magnificent. We were fifty-odd reed cutters in Camargue and we lived well. Today, there are only about four or five who cut by hand."

Working "from night to nighttime, they bind up a maximum of just 120 bundles, because the reeds are becoming rare." André since works in a factory in the region, but he can't ignore the call of the reed marshes, where he comes to recharge his batteries.

"It's a magic universe. When I'm in the heart of the marshes, surrounded by reeds several meters high, which swing and sing in the wind, I feel completely free."

Sagneur, or traditional reed gatherer, on his boat in the Camargue

Landscape of reeds in the Camargue

Sagneur (reed gatherer) tying together a bundle of reeds

Reed cutters in the reed bed

Misty landscape in the Camargue

Reed bed and marsh in the Camargue

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