Some countries count many bears on their territories, many others have only few left, or none. France is one of these countries where bears have not been welcome for centuries, and where the few still living there (about 20, shared with Spain in Pyrenees mountains) make a lot of troubles, at least in people’s minds and newspapers.
But while bears have almost disappeared from forests and mountains, they still keep a very strong place in people’s (French and others) life and in collective imagination, through myths, legends and believes of all times. Stories based on real facts (like bear symbol of renewal because of winter sleep and spring awakeness), reality influenced by stories (bear demonized in narratives and killed through vast hunting campaigns), the history of bears and people is rich and complex… and totally fascinating.
Since last October and until the beginning of August, the Natural History Museum of Toulouse, France, presents a very interesting exhibition about this relationship between bears and people “Bears, myths and realities”. On our ways through different projects and lives, two of Kuterevo volunteers managed to meet in Toulouse to visit this exhibition.
Following bear tracks in dark corridors, the visit lead us through several rooms: from myths… to reality.
Tales and legends from all over the world, etymology of the word “bear” in different languages, symbols and believes related to bears in various cultures, coats of arms, traditional celebrations… step by step, the exhibition takes the visitors through history, and shows how the bear has been a spiritual guide, a magical figure, a creature so close to humans that they could breed together, how he has been admired, hunted and tamed. And how, in a modern world which doesn’t give much space to him, like to any kind of wilderness, people keep looking for tenderness and reassurance with the bear, with the stuffed figure of the Teddy bear.
Natural and biological facts follows cultural aspects, taking visitors to another kind of reality: presentation of the eigth species of bears is completed by information about bear conservation and coexistence with humans.
The visit is beautiful. One regret: it stays a museum. Lots of information, very interesting facts, great pictures and drawings, everything well documented… but at the end, the feeling that something is missing: perhaps a call to take action, to see more than facts and to think about what can be done.
But the last quote of the visit will as well be the conclusion of this article:
By killing the bear, his parent, his fellow creature, man has for a long time killed his own memory and more or less symbolicaly killed himself.
Michel Pastoureau, L’ours, histoire d’un roi déchu.