Workcamp “Bear Art 2”

As last year’s Bear Art workcamp was a nice experience for both the volunteers and the refuge, we continue the tradition – Bear Art II workcamp is here again with volunteers from all over the world! Participants from Croatia, Italy, Spain, France, Czech Republic, Germany, Bulgaria, Latvia, Taiwan, Poland and Ukraine have arrived to make Kuterevo more colorful together with the camp coordinators – almost local French Amelie and Kristine from Latvia.

While many other volunteers are working hard on the new enclosure for bears, digging, carrying stones and making concrete, our job for 2 weeks is kind of different but we  believe as much useful: we are working on an educational trail for visitors coming to visit the refuge. Thus, they will get some more information about bears, their habitat, diet, and other important facts, but more than that we want to inspire them, to make them think about our relation with bears and how we live with them. For this, we are hard… painting, drawing, creating 🙂

The camp started on 10th of August – everybody arrived and the challenge of getting to know each other and memorizing each other’s names began. Second day was spent exploring the refuge, learning more about the refuge project, the village and the campaign, and trying to understand the place and its idea better so we could contribute.

In the following days we began working around the refuge: painting bear stories and symbols on a mural, on wood, rocks, souvenirs… we are continuing work on the educational trail that was started by the Understanding Bears workcamp just few weeks ago.

In the trail, we work on the Meditation Corner, Bear Mythology corner, Animal Track corner, make little fences to mark the trail, paint bear-related names of people and places on the big fences.

For this we need to be inspired, so every morning we have meditation time – before breakfast each one of us go to look at the bears, to get to know them better. And this must be working, because during this past week we have created lots of beautiful things here!

After the work part of the day we have many other activities as part of the study part – we watch documentaries, play games, we organized a bear talk evening, informing others about bears in our countries, and also had intercultural evening, sharing food, drinks and stories from our cultures.

Moreover, the workcamp this year is a part of Service Civil International Create Climate for Peace campaign – it’s main aims are contributing to the transformation of our cultures from consumerism and violence towards sustainability and peace on all levels. This make our will and inspiration even stronger to go deep into what we are doing and why and to make everything possible to spread the world. We hope that our paintings and trail will help raising awareness of so many visitors and volunteers, and they can get a bit of consciousness of the global connection between all of us, our lifestyle, our impact on bears, on wilderness and on climate, putting everything we know in danger…


The first half of the workcamp has almost come to an end. It has gone so fast, seems we’ve just arrived yesterday. For some of us it is the first time seeing bears, and looking at them (even meditating with them!) in this idyllic little hamlet between Croatian mountains is so pleasant, it’s easy to forget our everyday lives in the city!

In Kuterevo everything is eco-friendly, and you can live in real contact with nature without spoiling or polluting anything. Here we meet and live with people coming from all over the world, and share with them our culture. That’s feeling of a citizen of the world!!

We will have our free day on Sunday, that we will spend in the Northern Velebit Mountains and the seaside. Next week we will finally explore the forest camp Kopija and spend some few days there, getting more inspired and creating more and more, living even closer to nature, without electricity and Wi-Fi! We just hope the weather will be nice! 🙂

Monica, Kristine, Amelie

Bears, myths and realities – exhibition in Toulouse, France

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.


More about the exhibition.
More about bears and people on this blog.

Grand father, I am sorry I must kill you

Outside her family’s winter hunting lodge, a lone Eastern Cree woman sits, legs crossed, on a birch bark mat. A small black bear skull rests in her lap. Her right thumb is covered with vermilion. She draws it twice across the top of the skull and makes two neat, broad lines.

“See how handsome you are now?” she says in a low voice, speaking to the skull. “Bring my husband a good dream.”

Turning the skull, she makes two red circles on the back with a twisting motion, then two more circles on the upper part of the mandible. She turns the skull to face her again and makes a broad short line across the end of the snout. After wiping the dye from her hands, the woman ties ribbons of caribou hide through the eyes sockets. The ribbons are elaborately decorated with quillwork.

“Short tail,” she tells the bear, “you have been treated well here. Tell your relatives what it is like to be killed by my husband.” She stands, holding the skull carefully with both hands and steps into the lodge where her husband sits. She hands it to him. “I am finished” she says.

Her husband places a plug of tobacco in the skull’s jaw. Using leather thongs, he ties it to the frame of the lodge just above the place where he rests his head when he sleeps. Two other painted bones are also tied there. The Cree all this place taawpwaataakan, “that which brings dreams.”

From a birch bark cup he scoops out a small amount of warmed bear grease, and, asking the bear to bring him a dream, he smears the soft white fat all around the dream place. He pauses for several moments, as if recalling a hunt or a dream. Then he rubs the grease left on his hand into his hair and, speaking to the skull again, he says, “Bring me a good dream, Grandfather. Bring me a dream of your relatives, that they may lie down as you have.”

Ritual used by the Eastern Cree, an Indian group of northeastern Canada.

Giving Voice to Bear, North American Indian Myths, Rituals, and Images of the Bear. David Rockwell.

Highly respected in many cultures, the bear was however often hunted. But this was much more than just a “hunt”. In most of the places where the bear has lived, that was a very important tradition and ritual. The hunting process and the following celebrations were done with extreme respect for the animal and its spirit. The bear was often considered as an ancestor, a spiritual guide or even a god and it was very important to communicate with him. In some cultures, the hunted bear was not even considered as being killed, but as a messenger he would come back to life and bring prosperity to the tribe (especially good hunt, what was necessary to feed the people) if the ritual was done correctly.